75 years on, Britain prepares to mark the anniversary of the day Britain received the news that the war in Europe was over. Here’s our pick of the best virtual events
For anyone who lived through the war, 8 May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, was probably one of the greatest days of their lives.
After six years of war and an estimated 60 million fatalities, the war in Europe ended on 7 May 1945. The following day was declared VE Day, and impromptu celebrations sprung up all over the nation. Street parties with strangers embracing each other saw Britons mark the end of years of austerity, rationing and fear. People huddled around wireless radio sets to listen to Winston Churchill’s now famous VE Day speech, broadcast at 3pm. Later, the Prime Minister addressed the crowds gathered in Whitehall, offering such stirring words as, ‘‘My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny” and ‘‘God bless you all. This is your victory!”
Bunting and flags were draped all over house fronts and streets and the people wore rosettes and patriotic paraphernalia as the public enjoyed a day of drinking and merriment. King George VI and the Queen appeared eight times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace while outside its gates, a carnival atmosphere took over and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret mingled with the crowds.
Sadly, the country cannot come together to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday 8 May, but it’s still possible to take part in a number of virtual commemorative events. Our pick of the best is below.
Best VE Day 75 events
These National Military Service Museums, plus the Army Museum, will be hosting their first tri-service celebration with the Virtual VE Day 75 Festival taking place online from Thursday to Saturday offering free virtual events that will bring the Second World War to life for the nation at home, including live debates and activities encouraging members of the public to get their gardens and homes decorated and prepare for a VE Day party, as well a live swing dance class followed by a sing-along concert with the Bluebird Belles.
On Friday, English Heritage is calling on the nation to Dance for VE Day. At midday, learn to dance 1940s-style on English Heritage’s social media channels with professional lindy hop dancers, while at 5pm you can dance to the strains of a swing-time troupe and band. English Heritage are also offering a special VE Day 75 pack with dance-steps, music and recipes available.
The National Trust will commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day across the week, as part of the charity’s regular weekly programme of digital content. On Treasure it Tuesday, there is the opportunity to explore stories online from the places looked after by the National Trust that have wartime connections. Learn about objects in the Trust’s collections and share your own treasured wartime items on the charity’s social media channels. On Thursday, discover stories of kitchen gardens, allotments and other growing spaces that the National Trust cares for that were used as part of the Dig for Victory campaign. The charity will also have a fun-packed Weekend Challenge for families and supporters of all ages – with special VE Day celebration activities and favourite National Trust recipes to try out and share.
Imperial War Museums will be marking this national anniversary by sharing first-hand testimonies of the end of the Second World War from their diverse sound archive. Voices of War will be released on IWM’s website and social media channels on Friday and will echo how families heard that war in Europe had ended on the wireless – in kitchens and living rooms, bedrooms and gardens around the nation.
York’s National Railway Museum will have an online exhibition telling the stories of the various ways the railways were involved in the Second World War and VE Day, as well as a series of classic railway posters with the ‘stay safe stay home’ message.
Many country houses and churches played an important role during the war and several are commemorating their famous residents. Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, will be sharing VE Day quotes and videos on their website. Harewood House in Yorkshire investigates the role the house played, together with its inhabitants, during the First and Second World Wars. In both wars, Harewood House was turned into an auxiliary hospital, to care for the sick and wounded who came back from war. Waddesdon will be posting on their social channels the story of 100 evacuee children from London who stayed at Waddesdon during the war, and will be remembering how James and Dorothy de Rothschild, after hearing about the Kindertransport, sponsored 30 boys from a school in Frankfurt to come to the UK, finding them a house in Waddesdon village.
The Museum of London and the Museum of London Docklands will be bringing its permanent galleries online for digital visitors to view to commemorate VE Day. Films with personal accounts about London during the Blitz and footage from Black Saturday in 1940 showing a heavily damaged Royal Docks will be available to view on their social channels. They will also be showing images from their archive that remember the Blitz and the war effort.
Other members of ALVA (Association of Leading Visitor Attractions) marking the day are the British Museum, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, Royal Collection Trust, Royal Academy, V&A Dundee, Kew Gardens and Oxford University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums. www.alva.org.uk