Victory in Europe
75 years ago . . .
by Claire Law
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider the events of VE Day and why they are significant.
Preparation and materials
- You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Victory in Europe) and the means to display them.
- Have available the YouTube video ‘VE Day in London – 1945’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 9.49 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEavcsrMoMw (show up to 1.31 minutes)
- Optional: you may wish to prearrange for two students to read the prayers in the ‘Time for reflection’ part of the assembly, in which case they will need time to rehearse prior to the assembly.
- Have Slide 1 showing as the students enter the room.
Show Slide 2.
Ask the students whether they know what the two images on the slide have in common.
The answer is that both have been affected by plans to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day.
- In June 2019, the government announced that it would move this year’s early May bank holiday from Monday 4 May to Friday 8 May 2020. This was a one-off change to ensure that the bank holiday coincided with the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day. This affected calendar manufacturers because many of them had already printed calendars for 2020. They had to choose whether to leave the calendars as they were, complete with the wrong bank holiday date, or spend lots of money printing new copies.
Four months later, the government announced plans to extend pub opening hours across England and Wales to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day. The chance to stay open for longer than usual made many pub landlords happy because they would be able to sell more drinks and make more money.
- So, what is VE Day?
On 8 May 1945, at 3 p.m., Winston Churchill, the UK prime minister, announced to the nation that the war in Europe was over. This meant an end to nearly six years of war that had cost the lives of millions of people; destroyed families, homes and cities; and brought huge suffering to the populations of many countries.
Millions rejoiced at the news that Germany had surrendered, relieved that the intense strain of war was finally over. In towns and cities across the world, people marked the victory with street parties, dancing and singing. However, this was not the end of the conflict, nor did it end the impact that the war had on people. The war against Japan did not end until September 1945, and the effects of the Second World War were felt long after Germany and Japan surrendered.
- Let’s take a closer look at what happened on VE Day 75 years ago.
Show Slide 3.
Here, we see service personnel and civilians dancing for joy in the streets because the war in Europe was finally over. An estimated 50,000 people took to the streets around Piccadilly Circus in London to dance and celebrate. The joy of the day broke down normal social conventions, and people spoke to and hugged people whom they had never met before. Music was provided by gramophones, accordions and barrel organs, and revellers sang and danced to the popular tunes of the day. Licensing hours were extended so that people could toast the end of the war with a drink or two, and dance halls stayed open until midnight.
- Show Slide 4.
In this picture, we can see a group of young revellers enjoying themselves by wading in the fountain at Trafalgar Square.
- Show Slide 5.
Here, another group of people are giving the sign for victory.
- Show Slide 6.
This picture shows Winston Churchill waving to a huge crowd. Earlier that day, he had addressed the nation on the radio to announce that the war in Europe was over.
Show the YouTube video ‘VE Day in London – 1945’ up to 1.31 minutes.
- Huge crowds - with lots of people dressed in red, white and blue - gathered outside Buckingham Palace in London. They cheered as King George VI and his family, including Princess Elizabeth (our current queen) and Princess Margaret, came out onto the balcony to greet everybody.
Show Slide 7.
Princess Elizabeth and her sister were allowed to leave the palace to celebrate with crowds outside, although they had to do so secretly. The future queen described it as ‘one of the most memorable nights of my life’.
- Many people also attended church services to thank God for the victory and, throughout the country, churches rang their bells to signal the end to the fighting.
Germany had actually signed the document of surrender on 7 May, and it was to come into effect the following day. This had been reported on the radio late in the day on 7 May, so many people in the UK didn’t wait for the official day of celebration on 8 May. Instead, they began the festivities the day before, as soon as they heard the news.
After years of wartime restrictions and dangers, including food and clothes rationing, nightly blackouts and bombing raids, people were understandably eager to let loose finally and enjoy themselves. Colourful bunting and flags soon lined the streets of villages, towns and cities across the UK. On the eve of VE Day, bonfires were lit, people danced and the pubs were full of revellers.
- However, not everyone felt like celebrating on VE Day. The hardships of the war years had taken their toll on many people, leaving them with little energy for rejoicing. For many, the celebrations were tinged with sadness.
Show Slide 8.
These two girls waving flags stand on the rubble of a bombed-out building. For those who had lost loved ones in the conflict, it was a time to reflect. Indeed, the two girls we saw earlier in the fountain went to St Paul’s Cathedral before making their way to Trafalgar Square. Before they celebrated, they wanted to go to church to spend some time in prayer and remember relatives who had been killed in the war.
Amid the street parties and rejoicing, many people mourned the death of a friend or relative, or worried about those who were still serving overseas. For some, the noise and jubilation as people celebrated VE Day was too much to bear, so they felt unable to take part.
- After the celebrations of VE Day had died down, it took time to rebuild the country. Shortages continued for several years: clothes rationing lasted until 1949 and food rationing remained in place until 1954. Even today, for some people, their memories of VE Day are still tinged with sadness. We live in a world where conflict and war still exists, and people are still affected by the legacy of past conflict.
Time for reflection
As we consider the seventy-fifth anniversary of VE Day, we should stop and think about how we personally will celebrate it.
Across Europe, many events have been planned to celebrate VE Day. Here in school, we are (insert plans for celebrations). In our local area, there will be (insert plans for celebrations) and across the country, people will take part in street parties, celebrations and times of reflection and prayer to commemorate this important occasion.
Ask the students to think about what they personally could do. Encourage them to consider what they can and want to do to acknowledge the peace that we now enjoy because of the sacrifice of so many.
Encourage the students to consider their own actions as they think about VE Day. Could we be more attentive to each other, kinder, more compassionate? Could we help to create feelings of safety or be peacemakers in situations that crop up?
In our time of prayer today, we are going to use the same prayer that was used during a VE Day service at Westminster Abbey in 1945.
Optional: invite the two prearranged students to read the prayers.
Reader 1: Let us remember with pride and all honour those who have laid down their lives in the cause of freedom and justice.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Reader 2: Let us remember also any who may still be detained in prison camps and those who are prisoners of war in the Far East.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Reader 1: Let us offer ourselves afresh to God, praying that we may be enabled to fulfil his purpose in the world.
Pause to allow time for thought.
Reader 2: Let us sum up our prayers and praises by joining together in the prayer our Lord himself has taught us, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.