Silence descends in Portsmouth as city unites to honour VE Day
SILENCE fell in Portsmouth as thousands of people paused to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day as families were urged to draw on the ‘same spirit of national endeavour’
Communities across the area paused at 11am to remember those who served in the Second World War, and the price so many paid for freedom.
The poignant moment was led by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who each laid a wreath at a memorial near Balmoral.
In Portsmouth, the city’s lord mayor, Councillor David Fuller, stood alone to lay a wreath at the war memorial in Guildhall Square in his final duty as the island’s first citizen.
Speaking to The News afterwards, he said: ‘It was very surreal, standing there alone in front of the cenotaph remembering the fallen and the people that contributed to us being liberated.
‘It was incredibly emotional and something that I won’t forget for a very long time. It was a very emotional way to finish my time as mayor.’
About 60 people spread out across Guildhall Square to pay their respects.
Among them was Second World War veteran Albert Meek. The sprightly 94-year-old served during the tail-end of the war and was in Margate, Kent, preparing to travel to Japan when VE Day was announced on May 8, 1945.
Recounting his memories of the celebration, the former Corporal ,of Lord Street, Landport, said: ‘There were street parties everywhere. Everyone was getting smashed and all the lads were taking women home for the night. It was a really great celebration.’
The former paratrooper, who also served in the Hampshire Regiment and later the Devonshire Regiment, added he was on a troopship in Singapore when Japan finally surrendered months later, in August.
He added: ‘Us old guys tend to try and forget the war. Our experiences were so bad during the war we just try to forget them. It was awful.
‘I remember being evacuated to the Isle of Wight when I was 12 or 13, with my sister. The bombing of Portsmouth was so horrific in those days. It’s something I will never forget.’
Military personnel paid their respects during the two-minute tribute.
Sailors on Portsmouth-based HMS Dauntless, currently in Birkenhead near Liverpool, stood on the Type 45 destroyer’s deck to honour the silence.
A bugler from the Royal Marines Band Service sounded the Last Post at Portsmouth Naval Memorial in Southsea, in honour of the 15,000 naval personnel killed during the war.
While later, musicians from the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines at Fareham’s HMS Collingwood performed for the nation to kick-start the day of commemorations.
Tributes were also paid by workers at the Hilsea bus depot, who stopped to line the street to mark the two-minutes' silence.
The RAF staged flypasts across the country, with the Red Arrows soaring through the sky above Buckingham Palace and the London Eye and Typhoon fighter jets flying over Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
In a letter to veterans, the prime minister assured them that despite the ongoing lockdown, their efforts to defeat a ‘ruthless enemy’ would not be forgotten.
Boris Johnson said: ‘On this anniversary, we are engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus which demands the same spirit of national endeavour that you exemplified 75 years ago.
‘We cannot pay our tribute with the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past; your loved ones may be unable to visit in person,’ he said in the letter.
‘But please allow us, your proud compatriots, to be the first to offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.’