After Election 2015, London quickly made the segue into a weekend-long remembrance and celebration of victory in Europe in 1945 on May 8.

Ceremonies and celebrations

That Friday afternoon a ceremony took place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, at which all the party leaders — including those who had resigned just hours earlier — were present.

The Daily Mail‘s Robert Hardman reported:

If Mr Cameron exuded the authority of a man freshly delivered of a clear mandate from the British people, it should also be said that the outgoing leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties showed great dignity, too. There was no yawning, no fidgeting or the faintest hint of a scowl from two men who had just gone 36 hours without sleep, lost the fight of their lives and, subsequently, their jobs.

Both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg could have deputed this ceremony to someone else and gone to bed. Instead, both had dressed immaculately – as had Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Both joined in all the hymns and prayers (not bad for two professed atheists). Both sang the National Anthem with gusto (unlike Miss Sturgeon, who appeared to chew it instead).

As for the ceremony:

All stood solemnly to attention as Randolph Churchill, 50, a former Royal Navy officer, recited his great-grandfather’s immortal VE Day broadcast: ‘After gallant France had been struck down we, from this island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year,’ said Mr Churchill.

‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’

The first VE Day was hardly the end of the war for a number of those in active service:

After the party leaders had laid their wreaths, Mr Churchill stepped forward to lay one with former Able Seaman Robert Gale DSM, 92, from Headley, Hampshire. Mr Gale and his landing craft flotilla had been through all the big Allied amphibious landings before VE Day, by which time he found himself in India preparing for the final push against Japan. ‘I was bloody annoyed because they were celebrating the end of their war and we were still fighting out in the Far East,’ he said.

Various events took place in London for the veterans and their families at the weekend. Some were open to the public, who seized the opportunity to wear 1940s attire.

The BBC televised the main events.

Westminster Abbey Service of Thanksgiving

On Sunday, May 10, a special service took place at Westminster Abbey. The Royal Family, religious leaders, military officers, dignitaries and representatives of the political parties (Harriet Harman for Labour, Tom Brake for the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage for UKIP) joined 1,000 Second World War veterans and their families.

Canon Dr John Hall led the service.

The Abbey choir sang the processional hymn Praise to the Lord so exquisitely, it was as if we heard the voices of angels.

(I am using the ESV for the Scripture readings below. The Psalm, set to music, no doubt has lyrical variations.)

The first reading was Isaiah 58:6-9a, 11-12:

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of wickedness,
    to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed[b] go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
    and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
    the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
    you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

11 And the Lord will guide you continually
    and satisfy your desire in scorched places
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to dwell in.

The choir sang Psalm 107:1-16:

1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
    whom he has redeemed from trouble[a]
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
    they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Prime Minister David Cameron read Romans 8:31-39:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, gave a brief sermon. He emphasised not only peace but also the reconciliation of peoples that took place after the Second World War.

Military cadets and veterans read out the prayer petitions which followed. Winston Churchill’s great-granddaughter and a veteran shared another reading.

Excerpts from King George VI’s unforgettable VE Day speech were also read:

Armed or unarmed, men and women, you have fought and striven and endured to your utmost. No-one knows that better than I do, and as your King, I thank with a full heart those who bore arms so valiantly on land and sea, or in the air, and all civilians who, shouldering their many burdens, have carried them unflinchingly without complaint.

With those memories in our minds, let us think what it was that has upheld us through nearly six years of suffering and peril. The knowledge that everything was at stake: our freedom, our independence, our very existence as a people; but the knowledge also that in defending ourselves we were defending the liberties of the whole world; that our cause was the cause not of this nation only, not of this Empire and Commonwealth only, but of every land where freedom is cherished and law and liberty go hand in hand.

In the darkest hours we knew that the enslaved and isolated peoples of Europe looked to us, their hopes were our hopes, their confidence confirmed our faith. We knew that, if we failed, the last remaining barrier against a worldwide tyranny would have fallen in ruins.

But we did not fail. We kept faith with ourselves and with one another, we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith, that unity have carried us to victory through dangers which at times seemed overwhelming …

There is great comfort in the thought that the years of darkness and danger in which the children of our country have grown up are over and, please God, forever. We shall have failed and the blood of our dearest will have flowed in vain if the victory which they died to win does not lead to a lasting peace, founded on justice and good will.

To that, then, let us turn our thoughts to this day of just triumph and proud sorrow, and then take up our work again, resolved as a people to do nothing unworthy of those who died for us, and to make the world such a world as they would have desired for their children and for ours.

This is the task to which now honour binds us. In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and he has been our strength and shield. Let us thank him for his mercies and in this hour of victory commit ourselves and our new task to the guidance that same strong hand.

As his speech shows us, George VI was a devout Anglican, unafraid to speak of the Almighty.

The last hymn was Christ is the World’s True Light, sung to Martin Luther’s Now Thank We All Our God.

Veteran’s walk and lunch

Most of the veterans participating in this year’s VE Day commemorations will not be returning if there is a 75th or 80th anniversary.

They are at least 90 years old now.

After the service at Westminster Abbey, the veterans and their families walked up Whitehall, past the Cenotaph to Horse Guards Parade and, finally, to St James Park for a delightful picnic lunch.

When passing the Cenotaph, they saluted it, remembering their fallen friends and family members. One veteran also blew a kiss.

As I watched these men and women walk, I was struck by their relatively robust health. Although, not surprisingly, a good number of them were in wheelchairs or required walking sticks, there were many who walked unaided — and briskly. This is a testament to the NHS and postwar medical care.

The Prince of Wales — Prince Charles — and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, greeted the veterans when they arrived at Horse Guards Parade to listen to the massed bands before lunch.

One veteran was so thrilled to see them that he leapt out of his wheelchair and rushed to shake their hands. They all talked for a few minutes. The elderly man had difficulty returning to his wheelchair; the two women accompanying him helped him, but it took a few minutes.

The gathering ended with a flypast with the Red Arrows as well as Spitfires and Hurricanes. The Lancaster scheduled to fly was out of service, unfortunately.

The Daily Mail has magnificent photos of Friday’s events and Sunday’s. Looking at them will make you feel as if you were there.

Youngest looking 93-year-old

The BBC interviewed several men and women who saw active service or participated in the war effort.

I shall look at their memories tomorrow.

For now, SpouseMouse and I were amazed to find out that one of the interviewees, Frank Tolley, is 93 years young. He served in Bomber Command and is very physically active. He has very few wrinkles and looks as if he were in his late 60s. More power to Mr Tolley. Whatever he’s doing is working a treat.

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