VE Day 65 years on: Veterans recall jubilation
BBC News, Whitehall
It is hard to imagine the joy that greeted Winston Churchill's announcement on 8 May 1945 that the war in Europe was finally over.
Millions who had shared more than five dark years now shared their excitement as they took to the streets to celebrate the defeat of the Nazis.
There were celebrations at home and a multitude of foreign posts, as the guns finally fell silent in Europe.
But it was also a time of sombre reflection for those who would not return - sentiments echoed by the 200 or so veterans who sat proudly through the 65th anniversary service at the Cenotaph in London.
As the Last Post sounded and Whitehall fell silent in cold and rain to observe a minute's silence, they bowed their heads to remember colleagues and friends who never came home.
Prince Charles laid the first wreath, followed by the heads of the armed forces, the leaders of the three main political parties, then a selected band of old warriors.
The veterans' societies raised their standards while the band of the Royal Marines played, and those who earned their medals as young men and women sat in quiet reflection in a sea of berets.
After wreath laying, prayers and readings, the service ended, and the crowd of some 2,000 broke into spontaneous applause and cries of "hip hip hooray" as the veterans rose to their feet and marched off.
Many of his fellow seaman were asleep, but that did not stop him switching on the loud speakers and broadcasting the momentous news.
"I knocked the switch down and woke everybody up, and of course all hell broke lose, cheering, laughing and shouting," he told the BBC.
But he said the real party started two days later when they got to Copenhagen.
"They were waiting on the jetty, thousands of them on the jetty, and as we stepped ashore they just grabbed hold of us and took us off to their homes for eggs and bacon, which we hadn't seen for a long time," he said.
"You remember all the people who got killed who never made it, friends of yours, so you've got two memories - happy and sad."
Bayden Hall, 85, was also in Copenhagen on VE Day and recalls some colleagues being asked for autographs and mischievously signing Charlie Chaplin and Glenn Miller in their jubilation.
Cyril Tasker, 87, from Lewis in East Sussex, served in the 6th Airborne Division and later took part in the D-Day Landings.
He celebrated VE Day with comrades and the Russian Army, swimming with them in Baltic Sea.
"It was out of this world, we were dancing with those Russians in the streets and having a few drinks. I don't drink a lot but I did that day," he said.
"With all we'd gone through, all our friends and mates we'd lost, it was absolutely fantastic."
remembers trying to climb a lamppost in Regent's Park when she heard the news.
The Cypher decoder, who went on to have a successful career as a costume designer, had been seriously injured three years earlier by a bomb at the Cafe de Paris in London which killed 80 people.
Now 89 and in a wheelchair, she recalled: "When VE Day came it was wonderful, the terrible fighting was going to end, but you also thought of friends in Japan who were prisoners of war where the fight was still going on.
"But one did think life was ahead of you suddenly, one felt there was a whole new world out there.
"We weren't in Piccadilly, but I do remember in a mad way trying to climb a lamppost. There were so many people the atmosphere and excitement was just fantastic."
The veterans, who went on to a reception on Horse Guards Parade hosted by the Royal British Legion, were flanked at the Cenotaph by personnel from today's three armed forces.
Capt James Hulme, 26, from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, has just returned from a four-month tour of Afghanistan and has several relatives who served in WWII.
They include one of the first officers to liberate the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.
He said it was "very humbling" to stand alongside the veterans at the national monument of remembrance.
"Lots of people representing serving forces at the moment would have just come back from tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and I dare say there were troubled times out there.
"It's good to know we're not the only generation that's experienced hardship, and fighting for a cause. It's nice we've got something to share across the generations."
As the veterans left - on foot and in wheelchairs - reflecting on the eternal virtues of courage and sacrifice, it was moving to think, for some, this may be their last major anniversary.
Reasons behind Russia's bigger focus on Victory Day
Backgrounder: Basic facts about World War II
|Russian soldiers attend a rehearsal of the parade marking the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, on the Red Square in Moscow, May 4, 2010. Military parades are planned to be held in 18 cities across Russia on May 9, the 65th Victory Day. (Xinhua/Lu Jinbo)|
MOSCOW, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Seventy Russian cities will hold military parades this coming Sunday to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Victory Day that marks the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
This year's commemoration is not only a nationwide celebration in Russia, but also a multilateral diplomatic event as leaders from more 20 countries and international organizations will attend the Moscow parade on the Red Square.
It has been 65 years since the first Victory Day. Why is Russia holding such a grand, high-profile celebration this year and what is the implication of this celebration?
Victory Day marked the Allies' victory in 1945 on the European front of World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War in Russia.
In June 1941, Nazi Germany launched a bloody invasion of the Soviet Union, two years after World War II broke out in Europe. In May 1945, the Soviet Union, together with the United States and Britain, seized Berlin and forced Nazi Germany to surrender.
The four-year war was a catastrophe for the Soviet Union, which lost 27 million people, including 8.67 million Red Army soldiers, in the fight against Nazi Germany.
At present, quite a few young people don't have impressions of the war. They have not experienced the sufferings of war. Therefore, such a celebration event is necessary to remind the younger generation not to forget the catastrophe of war and avoid the reoccurrence of such a tragedy, the observers say.
BUILDING UP CONFIDENCE
The observers say another purpose of Russia holding this event is to build up confidence in national rejuvenation in the post-crisis era.
The international financial crisis hit Russia hard, with its gross domestic product (GDP) contracting by 7.9 percent last year. The economic downturn triggered more criticism of Russia's development model and fuelled pessimism about its economic outlook.
However, since the end of last year, Russia's economic situation has brightened. In general, Russia will keep its momentum of economic recovery in years ahead.
Russia wants to increase patriotism and confidence among the public in a bid to create a political environment for national rejuvenation, according to the observers.
DEFENDING RUSSIAN REPUTATION
Many observers regard Russia's grand commemorative events as countermeasures to efforts in some East European nations and member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to re-evaluate World War II history and the Soviet Union's role in the war.
Last year, Russia declared war on historical distortion. President Dmitry Medvedev signed a presidential decree establishing a committee to fight the distortion of history. The committee is responsible for examining the behavior of distorting history and slandering the Russian national image as well as implementing relevant measures to address that.
Medvedev warned that the history of the Great Patriotic War should not become a bargaining chip in any political games.
ADDRESSING CHALLENGES TOGETHER
By inviting many heads of state or government to Moscow, observers also say, Russia wants to stress the need to renounce confrontation and promote cooperation in addressing global challenges such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, drug trade and piracy.
Countries joining together in commemorating victory over Fascism is in itself an effort to safeguard stability in the world, they added.
Through the event, Russia is also expected to strengthen ties with neighboring countries and improve relations with the West, East European nations and CIS member countries, observers say.
here is an article about this year's celebration. Military units from around the world will be taking part, including from the USA.
and here is the link to the livestream: http://rt.com/On_Air.html
(MODS, can we have a livepost if there is enough interest?)
If you know a veteran of WWII, today's the day to thank them for their service. The world would be a far different place without them.