It is one of the most famous pictures in royal history, a moment when a Monarch and his people were completely united. As World War Two came to an end in Europe, King George VI and his family stood on the balcony of Buckingham Palace surrounded by the cheers of thousands. With them, the wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, whose leadership had already made him a legend. On the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Royal Central looks back at an iconic image of royalty.
May 8th 1945, London: VE Day
In the first days of May 1945, it became clear that war in Europe was coming to an end. Within days of the suicide of Adolf Hitler in Berlin on April 30th, liberation had come to nations across Europe. The Nazis signed an instrument of surrender in Berlin on May 8th signalling the end of that conflict in the continent. That day, a Tuesday, became Victory in Europe Day.
Celebrations began in towns, cities and villages across the UK. London became a focal point with tens of thousands of people spilling out onto the streets on VE Day to rejoice. Huge crowds gathered at Buckingham Palace where, in the balmy air of a day in May, King George VI led his family on to the balcony to celebrate.
There would be eight balcony appearances in total on VE Day but the most famous moment came when the royals were joined by Winston Churchill. The Prime Minister had lunched at Buckingham Palace before returning to Whitehall to complete his victory speech. But when peace was finally declared he joined the royals to receive the cheers of the crowd.
The image of Churchill, standing at the centre of the House of Windsor, is one of the most iconic images in recent royal and British history. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth had become hugely popular figures during the War for their determination to remain in London and face what their fellow citizens had to face. Now, with their daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, at their sides, they became the centre of celebrations.
Looking back at that moment 75 years on, it is clear that all those on the balcony share the same sense of shock mixed with happiness that swept across Europe as six horrific years of war finally came to an end. The King, his Queen and their Prime Minister look tired while the young princesses are almost overcome with emotion. In his diaries, George VI often showed how heavily the human cost of conflict impacted on him. It is perhaps why this image is so iconic – there is joy in victory but still heartbreak at all that has gone before.
Three quarters of a century on, it symbolises a moment in history that millions will stop to remember with gratitude.