LONDON: Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday attended a thanksgiving service at London’s Westminster Abbey on the final day of commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day).
She was accompanied by husband Prince Philip, son Prince Charles, Prime Minister David Cameron and around 1,000 veterans and their families.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, leader of the Anglican church, delivered an address at the service, which was followed by a parade of serving military personnel and veterans past the balcony of the Treasury building, where wartime leader Winston Churchill made his famous VE Day address.
“We gather again, 70 years on, thankful for victory over the greatest darkness of the 20th century, perhaps of all history,” he said.
“The peace for which we give thanks today… remains an ongoing project of reconciliation, not only for us but as a gift to the world, where conflict and extremism destroy hope, devastate prosperity, vanquish aspiration to a better life,” he added.
Veteran Alistair Wicks recalled the surreal atmosphere of 70 years ago.
“On VE Day we sailed in and took over the port at Cuxhaven from the German command,” said the 91 year-old, a former minesweeper with the Royal Navy.
“We didn’t know immediately that the war was over. It just sort of filtered down. There was no battle. It was quite emotional because we were frightened and hopelessly outnumbered.”
Current and historic aircraft — including wartime Hurricanes and Spitfires — then performed a flypast over central London.
VE Day itself fell on Friday, when commemorations kicked off with a service at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London attended by Cameron, whose Conservatives were re-elected to government the previous day.
On Saturday, bells rang out across the country to symbolise the end of WWII and recall the moment that churches could sound their chimes after six years of wartime silence.
London’s St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey joined in the tribute while the HMS Ocean, one of the Royal Navy’s largest ships, sounded its horn.
Celebrations carried on into the evening with a concert at Horse Guards Parade in London, including performances from opera diva Katherine Jenkins, pop singer Pixie Lott and veteran rockers Status Quo.
Hundreds of spectators waved flags as the artists performed 1940s-inspired songs.
After six years of air raids, blackouts, economic hardships and fighting that claimed the lives of almost 400,000 Britons, people poured into the streets to celebrate the end of the war on May 8, 1945.
The queen herself joined in the celebrations, although she was only a 19-year-old princess at the time.
Her first cousin Margaret Rhodes, 89, recently lifted the lid on their night of “wonderful bedlam” as they joined in London’s massive street party.
“I think it’s one of the things that the Queen remembers with great happiness,” Rhodes told the Mail on Sunday newspaper last month.
She also described how the 19-year-old princess took part in a conga line in front of shocked diners at the exclusive Ritz hotel.