Celebrating VE Day in lockdown

This article was written by Damian and published in the Herald group of papers on the 7th May:

Someone we have all become very familiar with in recent weeks – Captain (now Honorary Colonel) Tom Moore – had just celebrated his 25th birthday when VE Day was declared in 1945. He, along with many others who lived through the Second World War, will no doubt remember the news of Germany’s surrender that led to the announcement on the 7th May that the following day would be a national holiday.

Streets across the country were packed with tens of thousands of revellers and were awash with red, white and blue bunting. Pubs and dance halls had extended hours, and the mood was heady with celebration. Although many workers were still busy in the factories supplying the war effort, the two day holiday was an out-pouring of relief and joy.

75 years on and it is once again coinciding with a national holiday, but the parades and street parties of 1945 will be replaced with private events as individual households stay home. The lockdown may have closed our pubs and banned gatherings, but technology will still provide us with an opportunity to celebrate together: a collective two minute silence, an address from our monarch, and being led through a national sing-along.

The contrast could not be more marked, but strangely, there are also parallels be to be drawn. The world today is at war with a virus that is engaged in battles right across the globe, and although the peak of our own battle may have passed, we still have a long way to go before it is no longer a threat.  

I was interested to be reminded this week about the address made by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill on VE Day, stating “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead”, as of course it only marked the end of hostilities in Europe and fighting continued elsewhere in the world.

As we reflect this week on the nation’s victory in May 1945, and the sacrifices made by so many to keep us safe, we can also pause to think about the great national effort that is underway right now to beat Covid-19. We are now relying on the courage and expertise of the NHS and thousands of other key workers, but our appreciation for them is no less than it was for the armed services who protected us all those years ago. And that effort goes on.

So, at 11am on Friday, we can take part in a national moment of Remembrance with a Two Minute Silence, to honour all of those who served in the Second World War. The British Legion is hosting a VE Day 75 livestream, sharing stories and memories from those who served and sacrificed during the war, and later in the day the Legion has partnered with the BBC to create an evening of memories and music from 8pm on BBC One.

Members of the public are then invited to enjoy a moment of celebration and thanksgiving during the programme by taking part in a UK-wide rendition of Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’, with the Queen’s address scheduled for 9pm.

Hampshire County Council is inviting local residents to join them online to watch a specially prepared film on the day, with more details available on their website.  Reverend Canon Will Hughes from St Peter’s in Petersfield will lead a service at 2.40pm, live streamed via You Tube - https://youtu.be/e6fwuMXhOO8 - with contributions from the Chairman of East Hampshire District Council and the Mayor of Petersfield. And of course there will be other celebrations, including Pipers and Town Criers joining the national ‘Cry for Peace’ and virtual parties hosted by church and village groups across the area.

Perhaps our current predicament enables us to shine a brighter light on the past. Maybe we feel a greater connection with those who experienced the war; their fighting spirit, selflessness and sense of community.

On this very special VE Day, we certainly have reason to be very proud of those who came before but also for those among us now, including the remarkable Captain Tom Moore.