“OUR streets are not empty,” the Queen said in her speech on the 75th anniversary of VE Day. “They are filled with love.”
And from one end of our country to the other, I would bet my life that millions felt exactly as I did — and were suddenly moved to unexpected tears.
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Because the Queen gets it right.
No, it is far more than that — she understands the mood of this nation so completely, and she knows exactly what we are feeling, and she has it within her to strike exactly the perfect note.
In the time of coronavirus, the VE Day celebrations could have easily felt like a flat anticlimax — just one more hotly anticipated event that we had to cross out of the 2020 diary.
But the Queen’s speech marked this historic landmark the way it deserved.
She spoke for just four minutes. And in those four minutes she summed up the sacrifice of the generation who fought the Second World War, she spoke of the pain of our own time and she explained what it all meant.
I will never forget her speech.
Because the Queen understands this country, and she understands our people, like nobody else ever will again.
Her Majesty does not merely lift our spirits — she defines them.
This is her second address to the nation in little over a month.
“We will meet again,” she said in her April broadcast on coronavirus, and 60million people knew that things would get better, even if we don’t know where, and don’t know when.
Aged 94, after 68 years on the throne, she embodies the living history of our country like nobody has before and nobody ever will again.
When she speaks of the war that still defines this country, she does so with a unique authority.
She was there in 1945, standing on the balcony of Buckingham Palace with her family and Winston Churchill, a 19-year-old proudly wearing her khaki Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform, soon to slip off into the euphoric crowds with her kid sister.
Like my parents, the Queen lost her teenage years to the war — a child when the conflict began, she was a woman when it ended, celebrating her 18th birthday in 1944, when the conflict was still raging.
For her VE Day speech she wore the two diamond brooches her father gave her to mark that birthday.
The Queen is a veteran of that terrible conflict too.
It was not simply what she said. The Queen does a video backdrop better than any Zoom-savvy teenager.
As she spoke for those unforgettable four minutes, your eyes drifted to the photograph of her father, King George VI (who pinned a Distinguished Service Medal on my own father’s chest) and her service cap and a picture of her family on the balcony on Buckingham Palace on VE Day.
The streets are not empty. They are filled with the love and the care that we have for each other
We talk a lot in this country about that generation, and have wondered often if we could do what they did.
It is the Queen who has told us, more than once, that we are still the same people who freed the world 75 years ago.
And you thought of the selfless NHS workers — and also the drivers of bus and Tube, the care home workers, the delivery guys, the bin men, the supermarket workers, all those unsung heroes who risk their lives so that others are safe — and her words rang so true that it broke your heart.
“They risked all so our families and neighbourhoods could be safe,” said the Queen of the greatest generation. “We should and will remember them.”
I have been privileged to know many veterans of the Second World War. They are all gone now.
But yesterday their spirits were with me again because of the Queen’s speech.
I felt their presence, I understood their sacrifice and I was grateful once more for all the freedoms they bought with their blood.
Those of us who were lucky enough to be born after the war come to take our freedoms for granted. The generation who we saluted on Friday know better.
“At the start the outlook seemed bleak, the end distant, the outcome uncertain,” the Queen said. “But we kept faith.”
The Queen was speaking of the war but her words resonated through our own struggle fighting an enemy we can’t see.
WISDOM AND LOVE
“Today it may seem hard that we cannot mark this special anniversary as we would wish,” she said.
“Instead we remember from our homes and our doorsteps. But the streets are not empty. They are filled with the love and the care that we have for each other.”
This 94-year-old Queen is grandmother to the nation now.
In her we glimpse mothers and nans and great-grandmothers long gone, and in her we see the wisdom and the love and the grit of our people.
“Never give up, never despair — that was the message of VE Day.”
Plain words, spoken from the heart, and inspirational.
Because she understands that behind those jubilant VE Day crowds were families that had been shattered, mourning wives and sweethearts and mothers and orphaned children, and an army of angels in khaki and light and dark blue who never came home.
And she acknowledged that on VE Day men were still men fighting and dying on the other side of the world.
This Queen misses nothing. Indeed, she gets it so right that it takes your breath away.
“When I look at our nation today,” she said, “and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.”
When the nation’s grandmother tells you that the greatest generation would be proud of us, she convinces in a way that no politician — nor indeed any other member of the Royal Family — ever could.
We are so very lucky to have her.
But, my God — what will we ever do without her?
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