Below is Mr Major’s speech at the 50th anniversary of VE Day Commemorations at the opening ceremony at Hyde Park on Saturday 6th May 1995.
Your Majesty, your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Fifty years ago today, Europe was still at war. For many servicemen, it remained a time of danger and hardship. War continued to rage in the Far East. As one eyewitness to the celebrations on VE night said: “for me, as for tens of thousands of others, the war started again at the end of leave”.
But here in London that weekend there was a great sense of expectation. Outside St Paul’s, as bell ringers stood ready to start the peal of thanksgiving, the crowds gathered spontaneously.
Today, fifty years on, as we commemorate those events, our thoughts are of thanksgiving and remembrance.
There is much to remember:
– those who were lost,
– those who returned wounded,
– those who were scarred by years of captivity,
– those whose lives were irreparably changed by loss.
But for many, there was the sheer joy of reunion, as our servicemen and women came home.
Today, above all, we give thanks for the quiet bravery and decency of those men and women who defeated a tyranny beyond imagination, and in so doing, enabled future generations to enjoy the blessings of freedom, democracy and peace.
It is very easy to take these for granted. When we have them, they sound like comfortable abstractions. But when you have to fight to regain them, as so many did, they become very real.
At the end of the war, there was a famous cartoon. It was an illustration of a wounded soldier, standing amid the rubble of war, holding out the laurel leaves of peace in Europe, saying “here you are, don’t lose it again”. In that single picture were the hopes of millions.
The responsibility for us, who have grown up since the war, is not to forget that plea. It is our responsibility to keep faith with those who fought to prevent future wars.
The institutions which have grown up since 1945 – the United Nations, NATO and others – may be imperfect. Conflict still erupts around the globe. But they represent a consistent effort to find a better way to resolve disputes than by war. An effort to build on a common faith in democracy and freedom.
Tomorrow, in St Paul’s, leaders of countries which fought so bitterly in Europe will join with Second World War veterans to reaffirm that faith, in a service of reconciliation.
The Veterans have a special place in these commemorations. But it is right that the whole nation should join in. The war was a national struggle in which everyone played their part.
The Merchant Navy was our lifeline to the outside world. The Bevin Boys, the Women’s Land Army, and many who had never been in a factory before, kept wartime production going. The emergency services mobilised to fight the Blitz. Thousands opened their homes to children evacuated from the cities.
Sometimes, those who speak of the wartime sense of community go on to say it couldn’t happen now. I don’t believe that. In the lesser conflicts of the Falklands and the Gulf the same national spirit was evident. This country hasn’t changed. Nor have its instincts.
This weekend, all over the country, people are taking part in local commemorations and events to mark VE Day.