Friday, 01 May 2015

‘I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life’

…that’s how the Queen remembers it. But 70 years on, the Royal British Legion is urging us to keep the VE Day celebrations going, says Melonie Clarke

Written by Melonie Clarke
Get out the bunting, open the bubbly and prepare lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam – it’s the 70th anniversary of VE Day and Britain is in the mood to party. Help is at hand, too. The Royal British Legion is working with the government to mark the anniversary and hopes that community halls, public spaces and homes will be decked out and playing music to recreate 1945’s celebrations.

Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson CB CVO, National President of the Royal British Legion, is honoured to help people mark this anniversary – and pay tribute to those who lived through it.

‘We are honoured to play our part in helping the nation mark 70 years since the end of the Second World War in Europe,’ he said. ‘The Legion has a responsibility to help the memories of those who fought and died in our nation’s Armed Forces live on. We hope that all communities will use VE Day to thank them and celebrate the role they played in our nation’s history.’


On 8 May 1945, some 50,000 people, including the young Princess Elizabeth, gathered between Trafalgar Square and Big Ben minutes after the end of war was announced. Queen Elizabeth recalls that day ‘... my sister and I realised we couldn’t see what the crowds were enjoying... so we asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves... After crossing Green Park we stood outside and shouted, “We want the King”, and were successful in seeing my parents on the balcony, having cheated slightly because we sent a message into the house to say we were waiting outside. I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.’

Eric Goldrein, now 94, from Liverpool, served with the Royal Artillery and was stationed in Italy when news came that the war in Europe was over.

‘We celebrated in a field, the Signallers set up speakers playing music and the locals came out and joined in too, happy that the war was finally over,’ he recalls. ‘I heard about the street parties back home and I’m looking forward to being part of these 70th anniversary celebrations.’

For ideas and tips on event planning:

The Royal British Legion’s top tips and ideas for hosting a VE Day celebration

Organise a 1940s-style tea dance, bring out the bunting and encourage vintage dress. You can hold a best-dressed competition. 

Have a go at recreating some hairstyles from the 1940s (if you go to we have some tutorials that will help you with this one. Just type 1940s updo into the search box). 


Organise a community singalong of wartime songs to take everyone back to the era. 

Eat for victory! Use ration recipes to create the food for your celebration. Have a look at for recipe ideas. Another great place for recipes is who, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of VE Day, has brought Potato Pete back to life, giving his recipes a modern makeover. 

Invite local face painters to paint Union ˆflags on children’s (and adults’) faces at your event.

As The Lady saw it… on 10 MAY 1945

‘Now, at last, we are out again into something like sunshine, at the end of the hideous tunnel we entered on that sunny Sunday morning, years ago, when we heard a sad voice announce that we were at war with Germany. The tunnel has not brought us back to where the grim journey began. We are out in strange territory, still difficult and full of possible dangers, but the daylight is about us and there are glorious hopes and promises in the air. We can hang out our old flags with the pride of victorious crusaders and join in what is surely the greatest collective sigh of relief that has ever been breathed on Earth!’


As The Lady saw it… on 17 MAY 2015

‘Rejoicings at the triumphant close of hostilities in Europe went on not only in that little area in the centre of London that newspapers call “the Heart of the Empire”, and in the great cities, but in villages and scattered homes throughout the kingdom. Bonfires appeared as by magic as nightfall came, and children who had in their lives never seen fireworks or the strange beauty of familiar places lit by flames were transported with joy.

‘One woman, sitting late on VE night with a group of village women finishing a parcel of garments for the needy Dutch, heard the bangs of nearby explosives and smiled as she knew that there was no need now to fear when such noises came… They fell to discussing the good things learnt during the war – the adoption of simpler ways of living; the lack of pretence; the better use of food, with better cooking and less waste; the improved care for children; the greater skill in domestic crafts and the happiness that comes with doing things oneself; the feeling of being part of a community…’


Within minutes of the announcement that the war had ended, boats on the Thames honked their horns and people  flooded into the streets in London.

At the end of Churchill’s speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, the crowd sang For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.


Buckingham Palace was lit up by floodlights for the ­first time since 1939. Fireworks, which had been banned during the war, were let o„ff.

The bon­fires that were lit in the streets in celebration often left big black holes in the road where the tarmac had melted.

The weather forecast was no longer top secret and it featured in newspapers and on the BBC Home Service.


Eric Atkins was at school when he heard about the end of the war. He was allowed to go home early, and his street was having a party. He remembers that his mother and neighbours didn’t have any bunting so they hung their knickers on washing lines across the street instead.


Fred Colton was celebrating his 22nd birthday on VE Day. When given an extra rum ration he thought that it was due to his birthday – it wasn’t until later that he realised he was given the tipple to celebrate the end of the war.

Bessie Shackley (now Thomas), who served as a radar operator, remembers having a drink to celebrate, saying it was ‘the one and only time I had ever been tipsy, which worried me because I wondered what my mother would have said if she had seen me.’

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