Seventy-five years ago, towns and cities in Canada, Europe and allied nations witnessed an outpouring of emotion as residents took to the streets to celebrate. May 8, 1945 was Victory in Europe Day, or VE-Day, and it signalled Germany’s unconditional surrender and, for some, the end of the Second World War.
This year, while the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, commemorations of this historic day will be smaller than usual as local Royal Canadian Legion branches ask community members to take a few moments of remembrance from home.
“We need to reflect what they did for us and what we have today,” said Norm Scott, president of Royal Canadian Legion Branch #91 in Langford. “We have to be thankful for what they died for, to give us what we have today.”
In Langford, Scott said they’ll lay candles and a wreath at the cenotaph in Veterans Memorial Park. He hopes flags will be at half mast as well, noting that the Legion’s flag is already at half mast to honour the Canadian Forces members recently lost in the Cyclone helicopter crash in the Ionian Sea.
“I ask that the community take two minutes out of their day on [May 8] for remembrance,” Scott said.
The Royal Canadian Legion Trafalgar/ProPatria Branch #292 in Victoria had a few plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War but due to the pandemic, will be cancelling them.
Angus Stanfield, dominion vice president and chair of the Poppy and Remembrance Committee, said it’s unfortunate they won’t be able to hold the event, noting that this year marks the end of the Battle of the Atlantic as well.
The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest continuous military campaign in the Second World War in which Canada played a central role.
“Without a doubt I’ll be holding a few moments of silence,” Stanfield said. “I have it in mind that I’m going to go down to the cenotaph when it’s not going to interrupt anybody … I even thought I might take my [bagpipes].”
In Sooke, Royal Canadian Legion Branch #54 tried something new.
President Richard Steele said they combined ceremonies for the Battle of the Atlantic and VE-Day on May 3, with a Facebook livestream for community members to watch from home. A bagpiper, Steele and one other person were at the cenotaph to lay a wreath and call out the names of ships that went down during the battle. The fallen soldiers who recently died in the helicopter crash were remembered as well.
Steele said this way, the community could still join in remembrance despite the pandemic.
“Why is it important to remember? Perhaps one of the main reasons is so we don’t fall into the same traps as were set then,” Steele said. “We need to teach our young people that we don’t glorify war, we glorify those who went to war for us so we can live in the world.”