Quiet reflection replaces parades for VE Day commemoration

The British Royal Air Force Red Arrows conduct a fly past over the statue of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in London to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) in Britain on Friday, 8 May. - Photo: UK Ministry of Defence/Crown Copyright 2020

Veterans in Cayman will quietly mark a momentous milestone on Friday – the 75th anniversary of the victory of allied forces in Europe that ushered in the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

Amid the turmoil of the coronavirus crisis, some feel Victory in Europe Day would inevitably be overlooked this year.

But the global pandemic and the extraordinary conditions that many are living under have drawn comparisons with a wartime situation.

Queen Elizabeth II invoked the spirit of World War II in a rare national address last month when she encouraged British subjects to show the resolve and character of generations past as they cope with the COVID-19 lockdown.

“We will meet again”, she said, referencing the most famous song of the war years.

The queen is scheduled to deliver a pre-recorded speech at 9pm UK time (3pm Cayman time) because it is the exact time that her father, King George VI, gave a radio address 75 years ago to mark the end of the fighting with Germany.

VE Day is the anniversary of the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces in 1945.

For the Cayman Islands Veterans Association, the anniversary is a major occasion and well worth commemorating.

Though there can be no parades or services of remembrance in Cayman because of a current ban on public gatherings, the association and its members instead are urging people to quietly reflect on the sacrifices made.

It will be a marked contrast to the scenes witnessed 75 years ago.

“The joy on 8 May 1945 is easy to imagine,” the association said in a press release.

“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as a young princess was among the hundreds of thousands celebrating in London’s West End.”

Britain’s Prince Charles (known as the Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland) lays a wreath after observing a two-minute silence to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day at the Balmoral War Memorial, Scotland, on Friday. – Amy Muir/Pool via REUTERS

Along with millions around the United Kingdom, Prince Charles held a two-minute silence outside his family’s Balmoral estate, while military jets flew over the UK’s four capitals, and 1940s-style tea parties plus singalongs were planned in homes, news agency Reuters reported.

The original plans for extensive events to herald VE Day were scaled back in the UK and across the world after governments banned social gatherings to curb the coronavirus.

A veterans’ procession and other events involving crowds in the UK were scrapped, but flags and banners still fluttered, and people stuck at home due to the lockdown enjoyed a day of special television and radio programmes. On the white cliffs of Dover, a lone piper played bagpipes as wartime Spitfire planes flew by.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson invoked the “heroism of countless ordinary people” in his tribute to the millions of Britons who fought and lived through the war.

“Today we must celebrate their achievement, and we remember their sacrifice,” Johnson said in an address published on Twitter. “We are a free people because of everything our veterans did – we offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.”

There were commemorations too across the water in France, where President Emmanuel Macron held the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invoked the wartime allies’ cooperation in telegrams to US President Donald Trump, Britain’s Johnson and others suggesting they should rekindle such togetherness for today‘s problems.

In Germany, where Nazism, the Holocaust and the devastation of war still shape identity and politics, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid wreaths at Berlin’s Memorial to the Victims of War and Dictatorship.

That replaced a previously planned ceremony with foreign diplomats and young people, plus a range of events including an art installation documenting the last days of the war and tracing the path to democracy, which will now go online.

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