On the 7th May 1945, 69 years ago, the German Military formally surrendered to the Allies and Soviets ending a brutal conflict that had cost the lives of some 70 Million people. More than 1 Million people took to the streets of London to celebrate the announcement with crowds massing in Trafalgar Square and the Mall.
The day has come to be known as VE or Victory in Europe day and is celebrated in numerous forms across much of the world. It is formally known as a “Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation for Those Who Lost Their Lives during the Second World War” an annual day of remembrance designated by UN Resolution 59/26. The resolution urges ‘Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and individuals’ to pay tribute to the victims of World War II.
The effects of the war are still being felt into the 21st Century. The United Kingdom only finished paying off it’s war debt to the United States in 2006, rationing continued until 1954 and it is a crime in Germany to replicate the “Hitler Salute” for example.VE day allows us to reflect on the hardships endured and the massive human cost of the war.
But as much as it is remembrance for those killed in the war, it is a celebration of the heroic and dedicated service of the Armed Forces. The British Armed Forces fought gallantly throughout the conflict but at various points in the war they showed true valour in the face of overwhelming odds. During the Battle of Britain the average life expectancy of an RAF fighter pilot was 86 Flying Hours when the flights of Spitfires and Hurricanes often had to take on hundreds of enemy aircraft at one time. Or the daring attacks by the British Airborne to secure bridges over the river Rhine in Holland; the lightly armed Paras having to face off against the 9th SS Panzer Division!
It seems however that VE day is not nearly as well celebrated as it used to be. Where once you would have seen an explosion of celebration, now you see tributes sent through Twitter. VE Day today has been overshadowed, forgotten.
Perhaps that is because it is not the true end of the Second World War, which did not come until August 1945 with the surrender of Imperial Japan. Perhaps because of the significance of Remembrance Sunday and November 11th.
Yet still VE Day should be more than a simple footnote in the calendar, in history.
Those of us who do remember, who are thankful for the sacrifice of millions will be forever in debt.
“Grant rest, O Lord, to those no longer with us;
Who died protecting us and this their land.
Bring healing, Lord, to those who, through their service,
Bear conflict’s scars on body or in mind.
With those who mourn support and comfort share.
Give strength to those who for hurt loved-ones care.
And some there be who no memorial have;
Who perished are as though they’d never been.
For our tomorrows their today they gave,
And simply asked that in our hearts they’d live.
We heed their call and pledge ourselves again,
At dusk and dawn – we will remember them! “
– Remembrance, Charles Henrywood