Boris Johnson hails the 'greatest generation of Britons' on 75th anniversary of VE Day

8 May 2020, 00:01

Victory over Germany celebrated at Trafalgar Square in 1945
Victory over Germany celebrated at Trafalgar Square in 1945. Picture: Getty
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The prime minister has recognised "the greatest generation of Britons who ever lived" as he paid tribute to the UK's war veterans as the country prepares to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

In a letter to the UK's servicemen and women who took part in the war, Boris Johnson wrote: "Those of us born after 1945 are acutely conscious of the debt we owe.

"Without your trial and sacrifice, many of us would not be here at all; if we were, we would surely not be free. To us, you are quite simply the greatest generation of Britons who ever lived."

Despite restrictions caused by the coronavirus lockdown, the nation will today mark exactly 75 years since the guns of the Second World War fell silent across Europe - a day known as Victory in Europe Day.

On the 7th of May 1945, German troops signed an act of unconditional surrender in Reims, France, which was then authorised by newly-appointed Reich President Karl Dönitz the following day.

Nazi Germany's acquiescence to the Allied Forces sparked widespread celebration throughout the battle-worn continent and in the UK people took to the streets to rejoice.

Celebrations will take place across the country today, including a two-minute nationwide silence, an RAF flypast around key parts of the country, and a message to the nation from the Queen tonight.

Britain every year remembers the lives lost during the conflict and the heroic stories of veterans on the front line and workers back in Britain, who all fought to protect the UK and liberate Europe.

Read more: WW2 vet who escaped Nazi execution recalls tearful return home for VE Day

This year, coronavirus lockdown measures have scuppered the country's original plans, which usually involve street parties, military parades and the nation coming together to celebrate.

But, just like those who contributed to the war effort 75 years ago, the UK has not given up, with a whole raft of events in place to ensure commemorations go ahead.

Red Arrows flying over Horse Guards Parade to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day
Red Arrows flying over Horse Guards Parade to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Picture: PA

What is happening throughout the day?

A two-minute silence will be held today at 11am to commemorate those who gave their lives in the war effort.

15 minutes later, the nation will be invited to join in with the Royal British Legion's (RBL) VE Day 75 Livestream, which will feature stories from those who served and sacrificed, as well as recognising the difficulties people are experiencing today.

At 3pm, you can take part in The Nation's Toast to the Heroes of World War Two. Join in by raising a glass, cheering and clapping on your doorsteps and saying: "To those who gave so much, we thank you."

Throughout the day, LBC and LBC News will be talking with veterans and the families of veterans involved in the conflict so be sure to tune in on the radio, while plenty of regional events are also going ahead.

Then, at 9pm, a pre-recorded address by the Queen will be broadcast at the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a radio address on May 8 1945.

If you fancy a sing-a-long afterwards, join the nation in coming together to sing a rendition of Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again on BBC One.

Boris Johnson's letter to veterans

"I am delighted to offer my profound thanks for your service in the Second World War. I write with deep humility because the truth is that no other generation of Britons can rival your achievement.

"When Hitler conquered almost all of Europe, the survival of our country - and of freedom everywhere - rested in your hands. If you had yielded, then Britain and our entire continent would have succumbed to tyranny. The world today would be unrecognisable and safe only for oppressors.

"But you did not yield: you persevered through every ordeal and hardship and you prevailed against a ruthless enemy, achieving victory 75 years ago.

"Those of us born after 1945 are acutely conscious of the debt we owe. Without your trial and sacrifice, many of us would not be here at all; if we were, we would surely not be free. To us, you are quite simply the greatest generation of Britons who ever lived.

Boris Johnson's letter to veterans
Boris Johnson's letter to veterans. Picture: Downing Street

"Our celebration of the anniversary of victory might give the impression that Hitler's downfall was somehow inevitable. You know better. You will remember moments of crisis, even desperation, as our country endured setback, defeat and grievous loss. What made the difference was your valour, fortitude and quiet yet invincible courage.

"On the Home Front, women broke the enemy codes, worked the factories, sustained the economy and fired the anti-aircraft guns, even as our cities were bombed night after night. And all the while, on battlefronts across the world, our soldiers, sailors and airmen fought a remorseless enemy.

"The Cabinet War Rooms, a stone's throw from where I write in Downing Street, preserve the atmosphere of that consuming struggle. I have often visited the underground chamber of reinforced steel where Winston Churchill took agonising decisions. His leadership was magnificent yet he was the first to say that it was you, the Britons of that generation, who possessed the lion's heart; his task was to give it the roar.

"Today, you are honoured by countries across the world for your part in their liberation. Norway sends a Christmas tree to Trafalgar Square every year; France awarded the Legion d'honneur to every British Normandy veteran; schoolchildren in the Netherlands tend British war graves.

"On this anniversary, we are engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus which demands the same spirit of national endeavour that you exemplified 75 years ago. We cannot pay our tribute with the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past; your loved ones may be unable to visit in person. But please allow us, your proud compatriots, to be the first to offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered."