Queen leads veterans in VE Day thanksgiving service

The Queen touches the wreath laid at the grave of the Unknown Soldier
The Queen touches the wreath laid at the grave of the Unknown Soldier
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The Royal Family joined around 1,000 military veterans at Westminster Abbey for a special service to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales and other senior Royals attended the service of thanksgiving to remember those who sacrificed their lives during the Second World War.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive for the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive for the service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey

Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha were among the congregation, with members of the Armed Forces and representatives of the Allied nations and Commonwealth countries that fought alongside Britain.

Addressing the congregation, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “We gather again, 70 years on, thankful for victory over the greatest darkness of the 20th century, perhaps of all history.

“Our gratitude is not simply for victory in Europe, but also reconciliation in Europe that followed, neither obviously or automatically.

“The peace for which we give thanks today – 70 years of the greatest peace in Western Europe since the departure of the Roman legions – remains an ongoing project of reconciliation, not only for us but as a gift to the world, where conflict and extremism destroy hope, devastate prosperity, vanquish aspiration to a better life.”

Our gratitude is not simply for victory in Europe, but also reconciliation in Europe that followed

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

It is the last of three days of events held to mark the anniversary, seven decades after the announcement that Germany had offered the unconditional surrender to the Allies that brought about the end of the war in Europe on May 8, 1945.

More than 580,000 members of the UK and Commonwealth forces lost their lives, with 67,073 British civilians, during six years of conflict.

After entering the abbey, the Queen touched a wreath which was laid at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior before she took her seat with the Duke, Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Duke of York, Earl of Wessex and the Duke of Kent were also at the service, with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Home Secretary Theresa May and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are greeted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall (right) as they arrive at Westminster Abbey

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are greeted by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Dr John Hall (right) as they arrive at Westminster Abbey

The Dean of Westminster Dr John Hall, who led the service, said: “On Victory Day 70 years ago, 25,000 people came to services of thanksgiving held throughout the day and evening here in Westminster Abbey. We share the spirit of that day of rejoicing.

“We give thanks for the valour and bravery of the sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilians who gave all they had, and for the determination and skill of their leaders.”

Actor Simon Russell Beale read a passage from the VE Day speech by King George VI, before prayers were read by veterans and current servicemen and women. Sir Winston Churchill’s great-great-granddaughter Zoe Churchill read the act of rededication with VE Day veteran John Wilson.

Following the service, the Queen was introduced to Second World War veterans including Eric Buckley, who served in the Royal Navy as an engineer aboard motor torpedo boats during the D-Day landings in Normandy.

The 89-year-old, from Leicestershire, said he was serving in the Netherlands on VE Day and celebrated by drinking rum.

“The Dutch people came to us with drink. It was a really good day,” he said.

After the service, 1,000 military veterans joined a parade of bands and current servicemen and women as they made their way from the abbey along Whitehall – past the balcony where Sir Winston made an historic speech before vast crowds.