On 8 May 1945, euphoric crowds gathered by Buckingham Palace and across the UK to celebrate Victory in Europe Day, which marked the end of World War II in European countries.
‘In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this,’ remarked the legendary Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who’d worked tirelessly to secure victory and restore peace. He was later knighted by the Queen and therefore granted the title Sir.
In the light of the tremendous historic and social significance of VE Day’s 75th anniversary (commonly referred to as VE Day 75), the UK government made 8 May 2020 a Bank Holiday. That special day brought time for reflection, as well as celebration.
Events to Honour WWII Heroes
VE Day 75 was marked by a series of events, including:
- A two-minute silence led by The Royal British Legion, a charity supporting members and veterans of the British Armed Forces and their loved ones. Everyone was encouraged to reflect on the enormous sacrifices made by those involved in the struggle to protect our freedom during WWII.
- A Red Arrows flypast – the RAF’s display team flew over Buckingham Palace and other landmarks, leaving plumes of smoke in the sky in the Union Jack’s colours.
- The Nation’s Toast, during which people paid tribute to wartime heroes with the words, ‘To those who gave so much, we thank you.’ The actress Dame Joan Collins, who supported the event, emphasised: ‘This meaningful gesture recognises the importance of not only the brave veterans who fought on the front lines but also the courageous women who put their lives on the line for this nation’s struggle.’
- The Queen’s Piper’s rendition of ‘When the Battle’s O’er’: Pipe Major Richard Grisdale of The Royal Regiment of Scotland played the bagpipes from the Round Tower at Windsor Castle, where the Queen currently resides.
The Queen’s Historic Speech
The day was brought to an elegant conclusion by the monarch herself. The Queen gave a televised address to the nation at the same time as her father, King George VI, had spoken to his subjects 75 years previously. She recalled him describing VE Day as ‘a great deliverance’.
Referring to the heroes who fought in the War, the Queen asserted: ‘I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.’
A Young Woman Eager to Contribute to the War Effort
Look closely at the TV footage of that historic speech and you’ll spot a military cap on the Queen’s desk. Did you know that it’s part of her own uniform from the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, the branch of the army she joined during the War?
In February 1945, the Queen (then known as Princess Elizabeth and aged just 18) became the first female member of the Royal Family to serve in the British Armed Forces. Eager to play her part in the war effort, she trained as a driver and learned how to repair engines.
In recognition of her work, she was promoted from Second Subaltern to Junior Commander.
The monarch, whose many regal titles include Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces, is the sole surviving head of state to have served in WWII.
Vivid Memories of VE Day
On 8 May 1945, the Queen shared the UK population’s joy; VE Day made a great impression on her. ‘I vividly remember the jubilant scenes my sister and I witnessed with our parents and Winston Churchill from the balcony of Buckingham Palace,’ she said during her TV speech.
The Royal Collection features a photo of the Royal Family on the balcony, taken on that momentous day. The Queen is wearing her military uniform.
She and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, later celebrated amid the crowds.
The Royal Family Talks to WWII Veterans
Other senior members of the Royal Family, such as the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, helped the Queen to mark VE Day 75. They spoke via video link to WWII veterans at a Royal British Legion care home and elsewhere.
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