Queen to lead nation in marking 75th anniversary of VE Day

The Queen will lead the nation in marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day with an address to the country – her second televised message during the coronavirus outbreak.

The message will form part of a series of events on May 8 commemorating the sacrifices of the Second World War generation, whose qualities of stoicism and bravery have been held up as characteristics to emulate during the Covid-19 pandemic.

After the broadcast, the public will be invited to join a moment of celebration and thanksgiving by taking part in a rendition of Forces’ Sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime anthem We’ll Meet Again, during a BBC One programme of music and memories.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced a new programme for the VE Day commemorations after the original plans, which included a veterans’ procession and street parties, had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Traditional VE Day celebrations have been scaled back due to coronavirus. Neil Hall/PA Wire
Traditional VE Day celebrations have been scaled back due to coronavirus. Neil Hall/PA Wire

He said: “We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the greatest generation that served in combat and on the home front during the Second World War.

“Whilst we now need to celebrate VE 75 in our homes and on our doorsteps, rather than in parades and street parties, I know the nation will come together to mark this historic occasion.

“In these difficult times, acts of remembrance are even more poignant and I am sure that millions will want to join me to remember and give thanks to those who gave so much to secure peace, freedom and prosperity in Europe.”

The Queen’s pre-recorded televised address will be broadcast on the BBC show at 9pm – the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a radio address on May 8 1945.

It will follow her address to the country on April 5 when she delivered a message of hope, saying if we remained resolute in the face of the outbreak “we will overcome it”.

And she echoed Dame Vera’s words by telling those in lockdown “we will meet again”.

Two televised addresses in just over four weeks reveal the unprecedented times the nation finds itself in under lockdown and with freedoms curtailed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The monarch’s words aim to reassure the country during the outbreak and offer her guidance, based on her many years of experience.

An extract from King George VI’s diary from May 8 1945 which describes VE Day, including the royal family’s memorable Buckingham Palace balcony appearances, will be read by his grandson the Prince of Wales in a pre-recorded video message screened during the BBC show.

The commemorations will also feature Second World War veterans and those who served on the home front taking part in a series of video calls with members of the royal family, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Culture Secretary, with First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford hosting calls with veterans in Wales.

Official commemorations will begin at 11am on May 8 with a national moment of remembrance and a two-minute silence, with the Royal British Legion (RBL) encouraging all generations to participate, and also reflect on the impact of Covid-19 on lives across the world.

Bob Gamble, the RBL’s director of commemorative events, said: “As we face some of the most challenging times since the Second World War, now more than ever it is important to unite in recognition of people’s service to the nation, just as communities did 75 years ago.”

He added: “There are many parallels between the struggles of the Second World War and what we are going through today.

Wartime leader Sir Winston’s Churchill’s historic address to the nation to announce the end of the war in Europe, will form part of VE 75 events.PA Wire
Wartime leader Sir Winston’s Churchill’s historic address to the nation to announce the end of the war in Europe, will form part of VE 75 events.PA Wire

“As we mark 75 years since Victory in Europe, we look to our Second World War generation to learn from their experiences, and the Legion continues our critical work to protect them from the threat we currently face.”

Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8 1945 marked the formal acceptance of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender by Britain and its Allies following almost six years of brutal warfare during the Second World War.

It saw spontaneous celebrations break out across the country, and even the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, ventured out with a group of friends, including her sister Princess Margaret, to experience the excitement, with the events forming the basis of the film A Royal Night Out.

The Government had moved the traditional early May bank holiday from May 4 to May 8 to allow for celebrations to take place.

But social distancing requirements have meant the cancellation of street parties, the creation of Victory Park, featuring examples of Second World War life, in London’s St James’ Park and broadcasts from public spaces of Sir Winston Churchill’s famous victory speech.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Other highlights of the VE Day commemorations include the contribution of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who will record a special reflection and moment of prayer.

A pack with ideas for homemade VE Day bunting, original recipes, games, and educational and creative activities for children has been produced by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, so families under lockdown can create their own experiences at home.

And NHS volunteer responders will be deployed to give a number of Second World War veterans a call and provide an opportunity to share their stories.

As part of special BBC programming, extracts from Churchill’s victory speech will recreate the moment peace in Europe was announced 75 years ago at 3pm and the Prime Minister will speak about the importance of VE Day.