VE Day anniversary: Party leaders join in Cenotaph ceremony

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Media captionPrime Minister David Cameron, and outgoing Labour and Lib Dem leaders Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg laid wreaths

Party leaders put aside their election differences to join in marking 70 years since Winston Churchill announced the end of the war with Germany.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nicola Sturgeon laid wreaths at the Cenotaph in London's Whitehall.

The Queen later lit the first of hundreds of ceremonial beacons.

Events this weekend will commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day - the end of World War Two on the continent.

The Queen and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh greeted crowds gathered to watch the lighting ceremony at Windsor Great Park.

A series of beacons were also due to be lit at events throughout the country, including one at the Tower of London.

On 8 May 1945 people across the country lit hundreds of bonfires and beacons to celebrate the end of the war.

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Image caption The Queen was joined by the Duke of Edinburgh in lighting the first of hundreds of beacons
Image caption Prince Andrew led those laying wreaths at the Cenotaph

Earlier, more than 100 veterans joined Prince Andrew - a former Royal Navy helicopter pilot - along with senior politicians and military figures for the ceremony.

Among them was Mr Cameron, who was joined by Mr Miliband and Mr Clegg, in their last major roles as leaders of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats following their post-election resignations, to lay wreaths.

SNP leader Ms Sturgeon also laid a wreath, and defence secretary Philip Hammond and newly-elected MP Boris Johnson also attended.

The Band of the Welsh Guards started the events by playing music by Handel and Lyell Cresswell with the buglers of the Royal Marines and Trumpeters of the Royal Air Force.

At 15:00 BST - the moment Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcast the news of the German surrender to the nation - a two-minute silence was held.

Churchill's great grandson Randolph Churchill also read an extract from the speech the war-time prime minister gave 70 years ago.

Image caption The band of the Welsh Guards played during the commemorations in London
Image caption Carwyn Jones and Nicola Sturgeon, first ministers of Wales and Scotland respectively, laid wreaths with Northern Ireland minister Arlene Foster
Image caption Randolph Churchill gave an extract from the speech made by his great grandfather Winston Churchill

What was VE Day?

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Image caption London revellers dancing in the streets on VE Day
  • VE Day held on 8 May, 1945, celebrated the end of war in Europe
  • The British government had been planning the celebration from late 1944. The code word 'MOUSETRAP' alerted ministers when VE Day was imminent
  • Bunting was taken off rations, pubs stayed open late and searchlights were used to light public monuments
  • Churchill broadcast to the nation at 3pm from Whitehall. Listeners later heard their first weather forecast since war had begun

VE Day: How did the British plan to celebrate?

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Image caption Then prime minister Winston Churchill addressed thousands of people from the Treasury balcony 70 years ago

The Queen - who as Princess Elizabeth waved to the crowds on VE Day from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, alongside her parents King George VI and Queen Elizabeth - will attend a service of thanksgiving on Sunday at Westminster Abbey.

After the service, veterans and serving members of the armed forces will parade along Whitehall, past the Treasury balcony from which Churchill delivered his historic address.

In addition to the remembrance ceremonies taking place, there will also be street parties and concerts across the UK to recreate the spirit of celebration on the day 70 years ago.

The biggest will be at Horse Guards Parade on Saturday, where musical acts including Pixie Lott and Status Quo will perform wartime songs and actors John Simm, Julia Sawalha and Laurence Fox will give readings.

The Royal British Legion, which has worked with the government to prepare the commemorations, will host a reception for 2,000 veterans at the park.


Sarah Campbell, BBC News

In a 24 hours which has been all about politics, the Service of Remembrance has been a time for a truly momentous day in British history to be remembered.

Seated around the Cenotaph were more than 100 veterans, sheltering under umbrellas from a light rain. Watching from behind metal barriers, the public.

Standing shoulder to shoulder were the Prime Minister David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband as well as Nicola Sturgeon. This was clearly no time for party politics.

After the laying of wreaths, Randolph Churchill, the great grandson of Winston Churchill, read an extract from the speech he gave exactly 70 years ago. "We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget the toil and efforts ahead."

Hundreds of smaller community events have been planned across the country after schools and local authorities were encouraged to take part.

There will also be commemorations in other European and Commonwealth countries.

Russia, which lost more citizens to the war than any other nation, is holding a Victory parade on Saturday in Moscow's Red Square. The UK, US and Germany have declined to send a representative in protest at Russia's actions in Ukraine.

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