Page last updated at 16:17 GMT, Saturday, 8 May 2010 17:17 UK

VE Day 65 years on: Veterans recall jubilation

By Peter Jackson
BBC News, Whitehall

Cyril Tasker
Cyril Tasker was posted to Palestine after the war until 1946

As the Prince of Wales leads a service marking 65 years since the end of World War II in Europe, veterans recall the joy and sorrow of the occasion.

It is hard to imagine the joy that greeted Winston Churchill's announcement on 8 May 1945 that the war in Europe was finally over.

Millions who had shared more than five dark years now shared their excitement as they took to the streets to celebrate the defeat of the Nazis.

There were celebrations at home and a multitude of foreign posts, as the guns finally fell silent in Europe.

But it was also a time of sombre reflection for those who would not return - sentiments echoed by the 200 or so veterans who sat proudly through the 65th anniversary service at the Cenotaph in London.

I do remember in a mad way trying to climb a lamppost. There were so many people the atmosphere and excitement was just fantastic
Julie Harris

Now in their late 80s and 90s, many fought in the most significant battles in living memory.

As the Last Post sounded and Whitehall fell silent in cold and rain to observe a minute's silence, they bowed their heads to remember colleagues and friends who never came home.

Prince Charles laid the first wreath, followed by the heads of the armed forces, the leaders of the three main political parties, then a selected band of old warriors.

The veterans' societies raised their standards while the band of the Royal Marines played, and those who earned their medals as young men and women sat in quiet reflection in a sea of berets.

After wreath laying, prayers and readings, the service ended, and the crowd of some 2,000 broke into spontaneous applause and cries of "hip hip hooray" as the veterans rose to their feet and marched off.

Rob Harris (left) and Bayden Hall
The sailors received a rapturous VE Day welcome in Copenhagen

Among them was Ron Harris, 85, from Manchester, a telegraphist on board HMS Offa who was the first on the ship to learn that victory had been declared in Europe.

Many of his fellow seaman were asleep, but that did not stop him switching on the loud speakers and broadcasting the momentous news.

"I knocked the switch down and woke everybody up, and of course all hell broke lose, cheering, laughing and shouting," he told the BBC.

But he said the real party started two days later when they got to Copenhagen.

"They were waiting on the jetty, thousands of them on the jetty, and as we stepped ashore they just grabbed hold of us and took us off to their homes for eggs and bacon, which we hadn't seen for a long time," he said.

28 April: Mussolini is executed
30 April: Hitler commits suicide during Battle of Berlin
7 May: Germany's unconditional surrender is signed at General Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims at 0241
8 May: Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces that the war is over
15 August: Japan surrenders after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

"It means a hell of a lot to be here today, one never anticipated living this long, I'm very pleased that I made it... but obviously you remember the sad times as well.

"You remember all the people who got killed who never made it, friends of yours, so you've got two memories - happy and sad."

Bayden Hall, 85, was also in Copenhagen on VE Day and recalls some colleagues being asked for autographs and mischievously signing Charlie Chaplin and Glenn Miller in their jubilation.

Cyril Tasker, 87, from Lewis in East Sussex, served in the 6th Airborne Division and later took part in the D-Day Landings.

He celebrated VE Day with comrades and the Russian Army, swimming with them in Baltic Sea.

"It was out of this world, we were dancing with those Russians in the streets and having a few drinks. I don't drink a lot but I did that day," he said.

"With all we'd gone through, all our friends and mates we'd lost, it was absolutely fantastic."

Julie Harris
Julie Harris won an Oscar for costume design on the film Darling

Back home Julie Harris, a 24-year-old in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, remembers trying to climb a lamppost in Regent's Park when she heard the news.

The cipher decoder, who went on to have a successful career as a costume designer, had been seriously injured three years earlier by a bomb at the Cafe de Paris in London which killed 80 people.

Now 89 and in a wheelchair, she recalled: "When VE Day came it was wonderful, the terrible fighting was going to end, but you also thought of friends in Japan who were prisoners of war where the fight was still going on.

"But one did think life was ahead of you suddenly, one felt there was a whole new world out there.

"We weren't in Piccadilly, but I do remember in a mad way trying to climb a lamppost. There were so many people the atmosphere and excitement was just fantastic."

The veterans, who went on to a reception on Horse Guards Parade hosted by the Royal British Legion, were flanked at the Cenotaph by personnel from today's three armed forces.

Capt James Hulme
Capt Hulme has just returned from four months in Afghanistan

There was a strong sense that the tributes were no longer just for those fallen in distant conflicts but for those still prepared to lay down their lives today.

Capt James Hulme, 26, from the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, has just returned from a four-month tour of Afghanistan and has several relatives who served in WWII.

They include one of the first officers to liberate the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.

He said it was "very humbling" to stand alongside the veterans at the national monument of remembrance.

"Lots of people representing serving forces at the moment would have just come back from tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and I dare say there were troubled times out there.

"It's good to know we're not the only generation that's experienced hardship, and fighting for a cause. It's nice we've got something to share across the generations."

As the veterans left - on foot and in wheelchairs - reflecting on the eternal virtues of courage and sacrifice, it was moving to think, for some, this may be their last major anniversary.

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