8th May this year marked the 70th anniversary of the VE Day, or the “Victory in Europe Day”. This was a key turning point, as the day marked the official end to World War Two in Europe. As Hitler committed suicide and the Nazi German regime toppled, Germany surrendered its armed forces unconditionally to the Allies of World War Two on 7 May 1945. The act of military surrender was signed on 7 May in Reims, France and on 8 May in Berlin, Germany.
Crowds gathered in London when 8 May was declared a public holiday
As the Germans were defeated, celebrations erupted across the world. Millions of people in Europe rejoiced in the streets to mark the end of the European part of the war. Perhaps most famously for Britain, in London, crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square all the way up to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds. All over Europe, there had been years of austerity, hardship and rationing of food for the people, in the UK alone there were half a million homes destroyed, thousands of civilians killed and many millions of lives disrupted.
Princess Elizabeth – the future Queen Elizabeth II – waving from the balcony of Buckingham Palace
This year, ceremonies were held in numerous locations across Europe. Serving soldiers, veterans and families joined these events in celebration of the day and in memory of those who deceased in the War.
In the Polish port of Gdansk, a ceremony was attended by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a number of leaders from eastern European countries.
In Paris, French President Francois Hollande was joined by US Secretary of State John Kerry for the commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe, site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. President Hollande called VE Day a “victory of an ideal over a totalitarian ideology”.
In Germany, parliament held a special session in which speakers paid tribute to both Western Allied forces and the Soviet Army who brought the war to an end. Parliamentary Speaker Norbert Lammert called 8 May 1945 “a day of liberation” for Germans.
Flowers lie at the Soviet War Memorial in Berlin
In the UK, a remembrance service was held at the Cenotaph in London and 250 beacons were lit across the country.
A chain of around 250 beacons were lit across the UK as “flames of peace”
The Queen lit the first of the beacons at Windsor Great Park
In the US, President Barack Obama gave a radio address, praising a “generation that literally saved the world”. A ceremony was also held at the national World War Two memorial in Washington, followed by a flypast of vintage fighter planes.
Hundreds of veterans joined the parade in London, receiving a warm welcome from the crowd
The veterans were greeted by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall
The Queen watched as a wreath was laid at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior
Days of remembrances like these form an extremely important part of European tradition, practice and culture, and the end of the war reminds many post-war generations (including ourselves) that freedom and liberty has not come easy. We should always remind ourselves of the mistakes in the past, and should get to know them well so that they will never be repeated again. This ethos has contributed greatly towards the cooperation and the founding of a united European community, which was later to develop into the European Union, as we discussed in this article.
Here are some VE day memories, recalled 70 years on:
(Video) The day London celebrated the end of WW2 in Europe
(Video) German memories of the end of war