“Commemoration and Celebration – memories and legacies of the Second World War” was planned as the inaugural exhibition in the newly renovated Guildford Museum, which was due to open on 4 May following essential works and maintenance.

Due to the restrictions imposed by the outbreak of COVID-19, the Museum, similarly to many of Guildford’s heritage attractions, remains closed for the foreseeable future. To mark the auspicious 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE Day) excerpts from the exhibition have been curated into a stunning on-line display on www.guildford.gov.uk.

Lead Councillor for Environment, Cllr James Steel says:

“We are disappointed not be able to unveil our newly refurbished Museum this week to coincide the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, however the way that the Heritage Team have adapted to be able to mark the day by showcasing some of the collections for our residents to enjoy is admirable. The memorabilia and stories are fascinating and gives a hint of what life was like 75 years ago.

“Whilst we are living through such historic times now, it is vital to remember and reflect on sacrifices that were made for our freedom. I look forward to when this is over, and the Museum can safely re-open. In the meantime thank you for celebrating virtually by staying home in order to stay safe and save lives by protecting the NHS.”

In a related campaign, linked to the ongoing essential work of colleagues at Guildford Borough Council, the Museum team will be highlighting key workers through a series of wonderful images. These images, taken from the museum collection, are of women who took on key worker roles in the First World War.

The first image focuses on nurses. As today, with the creation of ‘Nightingale Hospitals’ in buildings such as conference centres, during the First World War existing buildings were turned into hospitals.  The first striking image shows the newly built Guildford County School for Girls in Farnham Road, which was turned into an annexe of the Royal Surrey County Hospital opposite. This weeklong look at key workers will be compelling.

The Heritage team have also designed a fun family activity to create VE Day bunting to hang in windows as decorations for virtual parties and are encouraging people to get crafty together with an instructional video, also on the website. Guildford Museum have asked residents to donate their bunting to a special display due to be created inside the museum later in the year. People wishing to donate their bunting should email: heritageservices@guildford.gov.uk.

Finally, the team has contributed elements of the Commemoration and Celebration display along with the bunting activity to a paper newsletter produced by the Wellbeing Team. This newsletter goes into the government food parcels that are being sent to people who are shielding and gives them advice as well light relief and pieces of interest.

To mark the occasion, the Union Flag will fly over Guildford Castle, the Guildhall and Council offices at Millmead. The Castle and Guildhall will be lit up in red, white and blue from 8 – 10 May, and the Castle Grounds will display a stunning VE-themed bed of flowers, which will be at its most beautiful around 8 May. The Last Post and Reveille will be played by a lone bugler, to be later posted on Facebook, as part of the nationwide two-minute silence at 11am, and the Mayoral Toast to the Nation will take place at 3pm. Residents are all encouraged to raise a glass with the words “To those who gave so much, we thank you.”

Other events around the borough include a Service of Remembrance from Guildford Cathedral on Sunday 10 May from 9.45-10.30am, which will be broadcast live via the Cathedral’s YouTube channel.

The Cathedral is also one of 19 around the UK participating in The Big Picnic for Hope, at midday on Friday 8 May, which encourages people to recreate 1945’s VE Day street parties in the form of family picnics at home to honour heroes both past and present, including NHS staff, carers and key workers as well as those who did so much to secure Victory in Europe. The event also aims to raise £5000 for the nationwide network of foodbanks managed by The Trussell Trust, supported by the social media hashtag #feed5000.

The Royal British Legion is at the heart of a number of activities throughout the day, starting with the two-minute silence at 11am, an 80-minute live-streamed broadcast featuring special messages and reminiscences from veterans at 11.15am, an evening of memories and music on BBC One at 8pm and a UK-wide singalong of Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again’ at 9pm. Their website also allows people to leave online messages to remember the day and honour those who lost their lives.