THE Royal Family joined around 1,000 military veterans at Westminster Abbey yesterday for a special service to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day.
The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and other senior royals attended the service of thanksgiving to remember those who sacrificed their lives during the Second World War.
Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha were among the congregation, with members of the armed forces and representatives of the Allied nations and Commonwealth countries that fought alongside Britain.
Addressing the congregation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said: “We gather again, 70 years on, thankful for victory over the greatest darkness of the 20th century, perhaps of all history.
“Our gratitude is not simply for victory-in-Europe, but also reconciliation-in-Europe that followed, neither obviously or automatically.
“The peace for which we give thanks today – 70 years of the greatest peace in Western Europe since the departure of the Roman legions – 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.”
It was the last of three days of events being held to mark the anniversary, after the announcement that Germany had offered the unconditional surrender to the Allies that brought about the end of the war in Europe on 8 May, 1945.
More than 580,000 members of the UK and Commonwealth forces lost their lives, with 67,073 British civilians, during six years of conflict.
After entering the abbey, the Queen touched a wreath which was laid at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior before she took her seat with the Duke, Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
The Duke of York, Earl of Wessex and the Duke of Kent were also at the service, with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Theresa May and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
The Dean of Westminster, Dr John Hall, who led the service, said: “On Victory Day 70 years ago, 25,000 people came to services of thanksgiving held throughout the day and evening here in Westminster Abbey. We share the spirit of that day of rejoicing.
“We give thanks for the valour and bravery of the sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilians who gave all they had, and for the determination and skill of their leaders.”
Actor Simon Russell Beale read a passage from the VE Day speech by King George VI, before prayers were read by veterans and current servicemen and women.
Sir Winston Churchill’s great-great-granddaughter Zoe Churchill read the act of rededication with VE Day veteran John Wilson.
Following the service, the Queen was introduced to Second World War veterans including Eric Buckley, who served in the Royal Navy as an engineer aboard motor torpedo boats during the D-Day landings in Normandy.
The 89-year-old, from Leicestershire, said he was in the Netherlands on VE Day and celebrated by drinking rum. “The Dutch people came to us with drink. It was a really good day,” he said.
The Queen also met Barbara Weatherill, 89, from Selby, North Yorkshire, who served as a driver with the anti-aircraft command in the Royal Artillery during the war. She said: “There’s not many left of us now. We tell it as it was so future generations will know.
“It’s so easy to slip into war. People have tempers. People never seem to learn unfortunately.”
Ms Weatherill said she was handing out rations in Sunderland on VE Day. “I was working – it was one of the busiest days of my life,” she added. “Everybody else was singing and dancing.”
After the service, 1,000 military veterans joined a parade of bands and current servicemen and women as they made their way from the abbey along Whitehall – past the balcony where Sir Winston made a historic speech before vast crowds.
At Horse Guards Parade, Charles and Camilla watched a fly-past by the Red Arrows and aircraft that helped Britain and her allies win the war – a Lancaster bomber and Spitfire and Hurricane fighters.
The couple then travelled to St James’s Park to meet war veterans who were enjoying a picnic-style lunch hosted by the Royal British Legion
The royals went into separate marques where the former servicemen and women were being treated to ham and mustard sandwiches, mint raised pork pies, lemon drizzle cake and strawberry trifle.
Charles, who was wearing eight medals, was introduced to 93-year-old Stephen Kowalski who fled Poland to Italy in 1940 before serving with the Polish army under British command during the war.
Mr Kowalski said: “I told (Charles) I was in the Polish army and he said the Poles are still coming here and they are hard-working.”
His daughter Helena added: “He said he didn’t know what we would do without them.”
The Prince was handed a tie commemorating the 70th anniversary of VE Day by 97-year-old Australian veteran Jack Bell.
The former RAAF pilot, who was shot down in Africa in January 1942, said he was in a German prison camp on VE Day after being detained for three years, three months and three weeks. After meeting Charles, Mr Bell said: “It was just normal chat between a couple of blokes.”