AT 3pm on May 8, 1945, Winston Churchill sat in front of a microphone in No 10 Downing Street and declared that the war against Nazi Germany was over.

A week after Hitler had taken his life in a bunker in Berlin, the remnants of the regime had surrendered.

British people had been at war for 2,075 days, enduring bombing and the loss of loved ones. With their darkest days now behind them, they took to the streets to celebrate.

Cheering crowds flocked to Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly and Pall Mall in London, dancing in roads and fountains. Across the country, pubs were packed out, town squares were filled with crowds of revellers and street parties were organised to mark Victory in Europe Day.

This week is the 75th anniversary of that historic day - and the ever-shrinking number of veterans lends the commemoration a greater urgency. But there will be no street parties or parades, and the pubs are closed. Due to coronavirus restrictions, anniversary events have been cancelled or postponed, and celebrations and reflections will now take place on socially distant formats.

“The 50th anniversary (in 1995) was a big one,” says historian James Holland. “And ever since then we’ve been clinging onto these guys. It’s sad that we can’t celebrate the 75th anniversary properly, because the number of remaining veterans is very small.”

The anniversary comes amid the greatest national crisis since the end of the war, and widespread calls to channel wartime spirit. “There are some similarities, as Covid-19 affects the entire nation,” says Mr Holland, whose book Normandy ‘44 is published by Bantam Press.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars, has created a virtual ‘Wall of Remembrance’ for people to make their own VE Day tributes from home.

The digital remembrance campaign - available to the public now, ahead of the VE Day anniversary on Friday - invites people to submit a tribute to or photograph of loved ones, using #ShareYourTribute on social media or uploading onto the CWGC website.

One of those sharing a tribute is Deborah Hamlyn, 49, who honours the memory of her late grandfather John Allen.

Mr Allen, who grew up in Dudley Hill and later lived in Shelf, died in March aged 101. He was one of the last Dunkirk veterans and served in India and the bloody Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy.

Deborah, who herself served with the Royal Signals for six years, used to call her grandfather every day. “We used to have a giggle about things we’d both done, we’d trade stories. I could never beat his, though,” she said,

Deborah described John, who was a corporal by the end of the war, as an “honest hard-working family man” with a “mischievous sense of humour”.

He was 20 when he joined the 13th infantry division anti-tank and served in France before returning to the UK in the Dunkirk evacuation. After being posted to the east coast of Yorkshire, he was sent to serve in the Indian army, later moving on to Baghdad, Kuwait, Lebanon and Egypt. He was at the Battle of Monte Cassino before witnessing the end of the war in Trieste, Italy.

Last year he told the T&A about waking up surrounded by shrapnel in Italy, and of the long walk to Dunkirk, through French villages, fleeing from 100 Germans in an abandoned farmhouse and dodging Luftwaffe shelling as he waded out to sea to the famous flotilla. Rescued by a small fishing vessel, he witnessed a nearby boat blow up.

“Nothing compares to what he went through, what he must have witnessed,” said Deborah. “He said he was lucky. He got away with not a scratch. He wouldn’t describe himself as a hero... he would have said people who didn’t get to come home were the heroes.”

She praised the CWGC initiative as a great way to honour the wartime generation, and said her family will be putting up bunting, raising a toast and holding a video call with relatives on Friday. “It’s really important that we don’t forget, it’s a massive sacrifice from the previous generation,” she said.

Victoria Wallace, CWGC director general, said: “At this dark time, we want to give people a way to honour those brave men and women who gave their lives in the Second World War, creating this virtual Wall of Remembrance, so they can take part in VE Day.

“Whether it’s a simple thank you, a picture or a few lines of text, we want to collect as many tributes as possible. Despite trying circumstances, we will ensure that these men and women are remembered in perpetuity.”

l To add a tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission online Wall of Remembrance go to or share on social media using #ShareYourTribute

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