A new BFI collection offers a rare look at British life on the 75th anniversary of VE Day
75 years ago Victory in Europe was officially declared by Winston Churchill at 3pm on May 8 and Britain threw itself a party. After nearly six gruelling years of war, it had earned it. The BFI’s latest online archive collection, VE Day, available now for free on BFI Player, brings together some of the rare and precious home movies from this day, capturing the colourful street parties and parades across the length and breadth of the UK that took place in the nation-wide celebrations that followed. As we mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, this collection is an uplifting reminder of Britain coming together to mark the end of a national crisis.
Much of our film record of the war is official, notably the output of the government's Crown Film Unit. But for the true spirit of VE Day we should look not to the professionals, but to the amateurs, joyously filming their own families and neighbours, from John W.McHugh, an off-duty policeman, capturing the red white and blue bunting of the jubilant street parties in Gateshead in stunning Kodachrome VE Day May 8-9 1945 Thanksgiving Day May 14th1945 (North East Film Archive)to Swiss-born filmmaker William Baer in Littleover, Derby Baer: VE Day (1945) (Media Archive for Central England, University of Lincoln) filming a fancy dress parade and lively local football match, or the stunning colour of the VE Day Celebrations, Woodford (London’s Screen Archives), the blitz spirit shining through the smiling crowds and plentiful street parties set against the backdrop of bomb-damaged London streets.
Each of these selected films tell both a personal and collective narrative. Bursting with energy, joy and relief, and a sense of immediacy and unbridled emotion, each grinning face standing for countless more. As a nation stood together to remember those that had been lost and give thanks for what had been won in their name.
Home movie cameras were still rare in 1945, but anyone who had one that day would surely have used it. Although these amateur home movies are silent you can almost hear the cheering crowds, the impromptu sing songs, laughter and hoorays. These films are a priceless record of a monumental day for all who were alive to see it.
You can head over to the BFI Player to see all of these archived films for free.