VE Day: Beacons lit to mark end of war

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As evening fell on May 8 1945, people up and down the country lit hundreds of bonfires and beacons as the celebrations following the news of the German surrender went on into the night.

Communities across the UK will tonight recreate those jubilant scenes when more than 200 beacons are lit across the UK, from Guernsey and the Isle of Man to Belfast and Aberdeen.

British men, women and children celebrating 'VE Day' in a street, as seventy years after the nation broke out in jubilant celebration at the end of the Second World War, Britons will again take to the streets to commemorate VE Day. (PA Wire)

British men, women and children celebrating 'VE Day' in a street, as seventy years after the nation broke out in jubilant celebration at the end of the Second World War, Britons will again take to the streets to commemorate VE Day. (PA Wire)

The Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Household Cavalry Band and trumpeters, will light the first beacon - V-shaped, for victory - at 9.30pm at the top of the Long Walk in Windsor Great Park.

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Precisely two minutes later a series of beacons will be lit throughout the UK, events attended by veterans and people from local communities.

Among them will be a beacon at the Tower of London and one on top of Saxavord - the highest point of Unst, the most northerly populated island in the British Isles.

Blackpool’s famous tower will be illuminated in red, white and blue for VE Day, while Ken Church and Hannah Curd, who are getting married today at Farnham Castle, will light a beacon in the castle’s keep, where they got engaged, as part of their wedding celebrations.

Others will be lit at Britain’s Overseas Territories, including on Bermuda, Saint Helena, the Falkland Islands and the Cayman Islands.

The chain of beacons has been co-ordinated by pageantmaster Bruno Peek, who also organised beacons for the 50th anniversary and for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

“Beacons have been used as a form of communication in the UK and other countries around the world for many centuries,” he said.

“The beacon system in England was at its forefront in the reign of Elizabeth I. They were used to warn of invasion and in 1588 they were lit when the Spanish Armada was sighted off the English coast. The first one was lit in Cornwall and the message travelled all the way up to London.

“They started to be used as a form of celebration from the time of Queen Victoria. She was the first monarch to really use them for celebration, and beacons were lit for her Diamond Jubilee.”

On VE Day itself beacons were lit among communities across the country. Some were bonfires on hilltops while others were metal baskets on wooden poles full of pitch, tar and wood, often lit at the top of church towers.

For the 70th anniversary, along with the bonfire and basket beacons there will be 135 gas fire beacons, specially made to burn in a “V” shape.

Mr Peek said that as well as commemorating the end of the Second World War, the chain of beacons was a way to remember those who kept the home fires burning.

He said: “It is an important anniversary, one that many veterans won’t see again.

“But it is also an important time to remember those who stayed at home - the land girls, the firemen, aid raid wardens, the doctors and nurses who looked after the wounded, the wives and girlfriends and fiancees.

“Those people who were left behind to look after the family units and the nation mustn’t be forgotten, and that is why it is important that we light the beacons.

“It symbolises bringing people together, and is very much a celebration for them too.”

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