By Stephen Underwood
“Advance, Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!”
On May 8, millions in Europe celebrated V-E Day or Victory in Europe Day.
V-E Day commemorates the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied forces in 1945, ending World War II in Europe.
And while the celebrations are not usually a surprise, this year felt different for many Europeans.
Despite the ongoing pandemic that continues to ravage the world, appreciative citizens held black and white pictures from their balconies of loved ones who served all those years ago.
Towns having to forgo celebrations held signs outside their shops and cities displayed their gratitude on billboards and buildings.
Bagpipers played from atop the four highest peaks in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and bells rang from the towers of churches and cathedrals nationwide.
It has been 75 years since the tyranny of Nazi Germany reigned over Europe like a long hanging storm cloud.
While those who may have memories of the war are quickly fading, the impact is still felt throughout Europe.
On that fateful day of May 8, 1945 Prime Minister Winston Churchill proclaimed to a jubilant nation that its citizenry may rejoice but not forget the struggles ahead.
Across Europe, celebrations started early.
Crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square in London and up The Mall to Buckingham Palace, where the royal family stood on the balcony greeting the smiling crowd below.
Millions broke out in dances, song, parties and celebration.
For the first time in almost six years, people had something to celebrate.
While the war was not officially over, it was at least over in the hearts and minds of many.
With Nazi Germany defeated, Imperial Japan seemed to be a much more conquerable opponent.
For the last 75 years, V-E Day has become so seminal to the people of Europe that it is almost like the 4th of July in the United States.
Huge fireworks and shows cap off a day that millions have off from work as banks and businesses close.
But 2020 felt different….because it was.
Streets were empty and silent, pubs vacant, restaurants shuttered.
Europe was for all intents and purposes…closed.
The raucous celebrations that once defined V-E Day were no longer.
COVID-19’s scourge has been particularly hard in Europe as tens-of-thousands have died in a matter of months and millions are under stay-at-home orders.
Once again, Europe seems to be left ravished by an enemy intent on death and destruction.
Millions tuned in to watch Queen Elizabeth II’s speech at the very moment her father King George VI gave a radio address to the nation announcing Nazi Germany’s surrender.
The Queen remarked that the United Kingdom is “still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen would recognize and admire.”
Amidst the scourge of a global pandemic and 75 years to the day Winston Churchill flashed a “V” for Victory sign in Trafalgar Square, V-E Day took on new importance.
For just one day, Europe again had something to smile about.
“We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!”
Photo by: Airman 1st Class Rhonda Smith