This was a poignant occasion at Westminster Abbey. We were commemorating the day when the United Kingdom, united as never before, was at last able to reach out to the nations of Europe. But in the meantime we were trying to come to terms with an election result which seemed to suggest exactly the opposite was about to happen. Archbishop Justin Welby was also correct to remark in his address that in the present day, peace in Europe is once again ‘an ongoing project’.
My small task for this 70th anniversary service had been to set to music some lines from Psalm 136 which had been spoken on the hour throughout the day and evening at Westminster Abbey on May 8th 1945. This had some resonance for me as my mother was one of the thousands who celebrated in the streets of London on VE Day, and I remember her saying ‘At Westminster Abbey, there was a service every hour’, although I don’t think she and her friends went inside during their unprecedented day off from working at Bletchley.
The whole service is at present up on iPlayer, and for those who are interested, my anthem His Mercy Endureth For Ever begins around 01.31.30. But what you shouldn’t miss is the bellringing just as the Queen leaves the Abbey, which starts around 01.53. On this special occasion the bells were ‘fired’ – ie all struck at once. I have never heard a sound like it. It’s as if a mob of Xenakis enthusiasts had evaded security and made their way up the church tower into the bellringing loft. This really is ‘heavy metal’.
[Pictured: 1945 general election image from the Southbank Centre's recent exhibition.]