LONDON (Reuters) – Britons stood in silence and Queen Elizabeth was to address the nation on Friday’s 75th anniversary of “Victory in Europe” Day, though the coronavirus dampened commemorations for the end of World War Two on the continent.
Along with millions around the nation, Prince Charles held a two-minute silence outside his family’s Balmoral estate, while military jets flew over the United Kingdom’s four capitals, and 1940s-style tea parties plus singalongs were planned in homes.
The original plans for extensive events to herald VE Day, when allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, were scaled back after the government banned social gatherings from March to curb the coronavirus.
A veterans’ procession and other events involving crowds were scrapped, but flags and banners still fluttered, and people stuck at home due to the lockdown enjoyed a day of special television and radio programmes. On the white cliffs of Dover, a lone piper played bagpipes as wartime Spitfire planes flew by.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked the “heroism of countless ordinary people” in his tribute to the millions of Britons who fought and lived through the war.
“Today we must celebrate their achievement, and we remember their sacrifice,” Johnson said in an address published on Twitter. “We are a free people because of everything our veterans did - we offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.”
‘WE’LL MEET AGAIN’
There were commemorations too across the water in France, where President Emmanuel Macron held the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invoked the wartime allies’ cooperation in telegrams to U.S. President Donald Trump, Britain’s Johnson and others suggesting they should rekindle such togetherness for today’s problems.
In Germany, where Nazism, the Holocaust and the devastation of war still shape identity and politics, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid wreaths at Berlin’s Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship.
That replaced a previously planned ceremony with foreign diplomats and young people, plus a range of events including an art installation documenting the last days of the war and tracing the path to democracy, which will now go online.
Britain’s 94-year-old queen’s address was to come exactly 75 years after her father George VI gave a victory speech over the radio to the nation.
Elizabeth, a teenager when the war broke out, learned to drive military trucks and be a mechanic while serving in the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She was in Buckingham Palace when it was bombed in September 1940.
Since becoming queen 68 years ago, Elizabeth has rarely made broadcasts to the nation except her annual Christmas Day message, but her VE Day speech will be the third such address since the coronavirus outbreak.
Last month, she invoked the spirit of World War Two, calling for the public to show the same resolve and echoing the words of the song “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn which became a symbol of hope for Britons during the conflict.
As part of Friday’s celebrations, after the queen’s address at 2000 GMT, Britons were being encouraged to open their doors and join in a nationwide singalong of Lynn’s song.
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins was to give a solo performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, in the first concert behind closed doors in its 150-year history.
Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sybille de La Hamide in Paris; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Giles Elgood and Andrew Cawthorne