The coronavirus outbreak means people are commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day within their own homes. All public gatherings have been cancelled – but a series of events is still going ahead to mark the end of fighting against Nazi Germany in Europe during World War Two.
Socially-distanced wreath-laying, a two-minute silence, a re-broadcast of Winston Churchill’s speech and an address from the Queen are among the national events taking place. The government is encouraging people to watch the events on the BBC and to hold 1940s-style afternoon tea parties within their households.
What is VE day?
Victory in Europe (VE) Day on 8 May 1945 saw Britain and its Allies formally accept Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender after almost six years of war.
At 15:00, Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced on the radio that the war in Europe had come to an end, following Germany’s surrender the day before.
Spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country and the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret, ventured out with a group of friends to experience the excitement in London.
Which national events are still going ahead?
The government had moved the traditional Early May Bank Holiday from 4 May to 8 May this year to allow for a range of celebrations across the UK, including a veterans’ procession and street parties. But social distancing measures mean those have been called off.
However, various events are still going ahead, including:
- 10:50 BST – at a service in Westminster, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will lay a wreath on behalf of the Commons. Lord West will lay a wreath on behalf of the Lords
- 11:00 – a national moment of remembrance and a two-minute silence will be held
- 14:45 – in a special programme on BBC One, extracts from Churchill’s victory speech to the nation announcing the end of the war in Europe will be broadcast
- 14:55 – solo buglers, trumpeters and cornet players will be invited to play the Last Post from their homes
- 15:00 – as Churchill’s speech is broadcast, people will be invited to stand up and raise a glass in a national toast, saying: “To those who gave so much, we thank you”
- 20:00 – another BBC One special will feature Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins, actor Adrian Lester and singer Beverley Knight, who will be performing some well-known songs from the 1930s and 40s. The programme will culminate in the nation being invited to sing along to a rendition of wartime classic We’ll Meet Again
- 21:00 – the Queen’s pre-recorded address will be broadcast on BBC One at the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a radio address 75 years ago. It will be her second televised message during the coronavirus outbreak after a rare speech to the nation last month
- 21:30 – Spotlights will light up the sky in Portsmouth to recall the experience of blackouts during the war. The local council says the lights are also to remind people “that lighter times will come again”
How are people celebrating?
Samantha Fry-Fowler says every household in her street in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, has put £10 towards a fund to buy decorations – leading to a kitty of about £250. Over the past few days, the neighbours have been rigging up bunting and even Christmas lights on their houses in preparation for Friday’s celebrations.
“We’ve got bubble machines, party hats, whistles, glow sticks and bunting,” the 30-year-old bar worker says.
“I think it’s going to be a really fun day. It’s nice for the kids because they have something to look forward to after being stuck inside for so long.”
Most houses on the street have front gardens, so the residents will play games with the children while complying with social distancing measures. They plan to finish the day by joining in with the national We’ll Meet Again singalong.
“Everyone’s so excited. It’s just nice to see the whole street coming together – I’ve never seen anything like it,” Miss Fry-Fowler says.
A similar sense of community can be found in a street near Bromley, in south-east London – where IT manager Julie Ireland says every tree has a different coloured ribbon tied to it.
“Each time you go out for a daily walk it gets more and more colourful,” she says.
After the national two-minute silence, 42 of the streets’ residents will begin a socially-distanced marathon relay event – taking it in turns to run one kilometre along the street to raise money for a local cancer trust. They are hoping to finish the challenge in time for Churchill’s broadcast at 15:00 BST, when everyone will sit on their driveways with cups of tea and slices of home-made cake.
“Obviously we all hate the lockdown but it’s quite breathtaking how people have embraced this. We didn’t really know each other but people have had so many ideas [for how to celebrate], it’s just awesome,” the 62-year-old says.
How can I take part?
Armed forces charity Royal British Legion Industries has launched a campaign asking people to display images of a World War Two soldier in their windows to show their support for veterans. It says money raised from sales of its “Tommy in the window” stickers, and other commemorative products, will go towards helping veterans into employment.
The charity has also created various online activity packs to inspire people’s celebrations – including one teaching the steps of the Charleston Stroll, a popular 1940s dance.
And the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has produced a pack with ideas for homemade VE Day bunting, original recipes, games, and educational and creative activities for children.