I was lucky enough to be asked by the Royal British Legion magazine, Forward, to cover the VE Day anniversary party in Trafalgar Square, which began a summer of celebrations and commemorations for the generation that fought WWII.

The Long Goodbye

Where the flagstones of Trafalgar Square have been worn and their layered fabric revealed, the stones are marked with faint lines resembling the concentric bark rings of a tree. These whorls and fossil curves are as much a record of history and changing times as the Square's buildings and monuments because they're the composite fingerprints left by the people who have touched the stones. People like 22-year Able Seaman George Broomhead who, on the 8 May 1945 - what's now called VE Day - joined the tens of thousands gathered in the Square to celebrate the allies' victory in Europe. "I was perched up on a lion's head," George recalls, "singing along to a little old man playing an accordion. A Union flag was passed up to me, followed by the Hammer and Sickle, and then the Stars and Stripes. Crowds of people were floating around, while I was trying to conduct the singing."

Tonight, along with a small group of other veterans, he's returned to Trafalgar Square for the BBC's VE Day anniversary party - an evening of songs and readings that begins a summer of celebrations and commemorations for the generation that fought the Second World War and finally won the peace 60 years ago. It's the first time that George has been back to Trafalgar Square since VE Day. Naturally, the intervening years have reduced the company that shares his memories, but perhaps because their touch remains in those fossil fingerprints, George can still see the crowds that once packed the paving stones. "It's as if I were there: I can still see the dancing, hear the singing. Most of all though," he says, "I remember the spirit - there was such joy and happiness." But it was joy and happiness set against six years of hardship and loss, and this evening's Janus-face of sunlit storm clouds towering in the breezy blue vault of the spring sky seems an appropriate backdrop to an event that combines celebration with commemoration...

"I was perched up on a lion's head," George recalls, "singing along to a little old man playing an accordion."

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© David Roberts 2019