A Service of Remembrance was held at the Cenotaph in London to mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) today (Friday 8 May).
The service was attended by HRH The Duke of York, senior politicians, the Chief of the Defence Staff General Sir Nicholas Houghton, members of the Armed Forces, and representatives of Second World War veteran groups, both military and civilian.
At 3pm, the chimes of Big Ben and ceremonial guns at Wellington Barracks and the Tower of London marked a national two-minute silence. Guns were also sounded from saluting posts in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. Members of the public lined the streets and schools, organisations and companies across the UK participated.
Following the silence, the Last Post was played by a Royal Marine bugler and wreaths were laid by those attending. The service included a reading of extracts from Winston Churchill’s speech by Mr Randolph Churchill, Great-Grandson of Winston Churchill, hymns and a blessing and concluded with the playing of the National Anthem.
After the service, a reception was held in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the veterans taking part.
Attending the service was Charles Clarke OBE, 91, who served as a Flight Lieutenant in 619 Squadron during the Second World War. Speaking of his memories of VE Day, he said:
On VE Day I can remember listening to Churchill on a portable radio in Brussels, I felt a sense of excitement and relief as I’d been freed form the PoW camp just 10 days earlier.
Life on the camp was tolerable. Fortunately we were young and fit but food was in short supply. The uncertainty was the worst thing about it all. After the murder on camp of 50 people, anything was possible. We were just so relieved to be free at last on what became known as ‘VE Day’.
Corporal Peter Farrington, 36 from Newquay, is a drill instructor for the RAF’s Recruit Training Squadron in Halton. His grandfather Jonathan Howarth served as an RAF signaler in North Africa during the War and his grandmother, Violet served with the British Balloon Command in Newcastle, launching the Barrage Balloons, which were designed to keep German dive bombers high in the air and away from the city.
Peter, who attended the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph said:
It is important that we mark VE Day and remember the people who came before us. Being part of VE Day is an incredibly special experience and a moment to thank and honour all those who served during the War to protect the freedoms we all now have. It is important that we never forget what they all did.
My grandparents were a great inspiration to me in joining the RAF. I grew up listening to their stories, and whenever I have a bad day just spending some time with my grandmother is enough to keep me going - If I am as good a person as she is, I will be a very happy man.
Schools across the UK also celebrated VE Day by throwing picnics and street parties, inviting veterans to come into the school and tell children about their wartime memories, and also reading Winston Churchill’s VE Day radio broadcast.
At 9.30pm St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Trafalgar Square will be lit up with V-shaped beams of light and will remain lit until the end of the weekend.
At 9.32pm more than 200 beacons and bonfires will be lit across the UK, led by a national beacon lighting by Her Majesty The Queen on the Long Walk in Windsor. A beacon will also be lit at the Tower of London and local communities including Great Yarmouth, Island of Unst, Craig-Y-Dorth, Monmouthshire; Stokesby, Norfolk; and Lowestoft, Suffolk, will gather for an evening of entertainment and remembrance.
Gordon Thomson, Vice Chairman of Unst Community Council, said:
Unst Community Council is proud to support VE Day, particularly because of our island’s historic association with the RAF, and to remember the people from Unst who served in the war.
VE Day 70 events will continue across the weekend. At 11am on Saturday cathedrals and churches across the UK will ring their bells in a sign of victory, signifying the end to the years the bells had hung in silence during the Second World War.
On Saturday evening, a star-studded concert will take place at Horse Guards Parade in London hosted by The Royal British Legion, BBC and Live Nation, including performances influenced by the era from Katherine Jenkins, Pixie Lott, Status Quo and couples from Strictly Come Dancing. The event will be broadcast on BBC One.
On Sunday, HM The Queen will lead the nation in a Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, attended by veterans and their families, representatives of Allied nations and commonwealth countries that fought alongside the UK in the conflict, along with government and military representatives.
The service will be followed by a parade of around 1000 veterans, organisations and associations representing those who fought in the Second World War in Europe, led by 200 members of the Armed Forces. The parade will cross Parliament Square, before heading up Parliament Street and Whitehall where it will pass the famous balcony where Winston Churchill appeared before the crowds on VE Day after his famous speech to mark Victory in Europe. The Prince of Wales will then take the salute as they enter Horse Guards Parade.
At 1pm a flypast of current and historic aircraft from the Royal Air Force made up of the famous Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows will pay tribute to the veterans as they march, flying directly over Whitehall and St James’s Park, to conclude the celebrations. Veterans and members of the public will then enjoy an afternoon of Second World War era entertainment in St James’s Park.
Celebrations in London will conclude with musical performances at Trafalgar Square, scene of jubilant celebrations in 1945. Parties, picnics and events will also be taking place right across the UK to mark the end of the War in Europe 70 years ago.