The veterans came, they saw, and they sweated . . .

VE Day/ rejoicing in sunshine
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The Independent Online
IN GLORIOUS sunshine, with Union Jacks fluttering and massed brass bands playing, Britain yesterday began three days of celebration and commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

London's Hyde Park was the centrepiece of the VE Day festivities. There the Queen Mother, who will be 95 in August, opened the largest official celebration the country has seen since the Festival of Britain in 1951. Standing unsteadily in the blistering heat, she called on the nation to remember with pride and gratitude the courage and fortitude of the generation that conquered Hitler's Nazi regime.

A crowd estimated at 150,000, including many veterans, had gathered for the event.Some were in wheelchairs, the result of wartime wounds.

Hyde Park has been transformed for the celebrations. More than a million people are expected to visit the festival site, a tented village covering 40 acres near Speaker's Corner with a giant floral globe of the world in the centre, over the Bank Holiday weekend. A Hurricane and a Spitfire stand by the main stage and several large white doves - symbols of the United Nations - are suspended high above.

The Prime Minister, who spoke of the "quiet bravery and decency of those men and women who defeated a tyranny beyond imagination", stressed that the events were not an exercise in simple nostalgia.

"It is an affirmation of the links that bind us together as a nation, across the generations, from those who lived through the war, to the children of today who will write the next chapter in our history. All are represented here," Mr Major said.

The Royal British Legion has organised more than 1,200 street parties, and hundreds of other private events are taking place around the country this weekend. Along the coast a chain of 1,050 beacons are beaming their lights in a symbol of the struggle that ended 50 years ago.

Last night in London's Guildhall, the Queen remembered wartime suffering, but also spoke of peacetime reconciliation in her message to a huge gathering of world leaders, who included the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. Mr Kohl provoked protests at the weekend by equating the wartime suffering of the German people with that of Jews in death camps and Allied soldiers.

The Queen spoke of a "deep and permanent" reconciliation between Britain and Germany, and said that with the passing of the Cold War "a new and hopeful era" had begun.

"Today we are re-establishing a European family of nations. It must have one purpose above all others - true and lasting peace in Europe," she said.

n Jewish groups and MPs are furious at a government publication for schools which says that one of the Allies' war aims was to end Nazi persecution of the Jews, writes Marie Woolf.

The booklet, sent to all primary schools, belittles the suffering of the Jews, they say . They also say that it is inaccurate and they plan to protest to the Secretary of State for Education. Special reports, pages 24, 25