Harmony key in VE celebrations

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The Independent Online
The Government has toned down the military side of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, to be unveiled today by the Prime Minister.

Rather than celebrating the Allied victory over German forces, the events will be dominated by civilian celebrations, and marked by a service of thanksgiving in London, which will be decidedly pro-European in tone.

The VE celebrations will include a service at St Paul's Cathedral with Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, but a full military march past has been reserved until Victory in Japan (VJ) Day celebrations in August.

Reports that the Army was not being invited to the VE celebrations to avoid upsetting the Germans was dismissed as "a load of old rot" by a Whitehall spokeswoman.

"For VE Day, it is much more the civilian side that we are emphasising. Obviously the army is involved in a whole series of things. After all, the war was still being fought. But VJ will be more military," she said.

While many old soldiers may be disappointed that Victory in Europe is not being marked by a triumphal march in London, ministers are keen to avoid a repeat of last year's debacle over its plans for celebrating the Normandy landings.

The Government is still stinging from the embarrassing climb-down it made over its plans last year for the 50th anniversary of the D Day landings. There were protests from the Royal British Legion and other veterans at the celebratory style of the anniversary, and the Government was forced to scrap a party in Hyde Park. Plans for Spam-fritter parties were also quietly dropped.

John Major will announce today that the Hyde Park party has been put back on the agenda for the VE celebrations. Ministers believe it is appropriate for the victory in Europe, but there is likely to be an effort to avoid accusations of trivialising the war.