Veterans mark VE-Day anniversary

Canadian veterans gathered in Ottawa on a cold, rainy Saturday morning to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.
A single poppy lies atop the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier following a cold and wet VE Day ceremony at the War Memorial in Ottawa on Saturday. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))
Canadian veterans gathered in Ottawa on a cold, rainy Saturday morning to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe.

On May 8, 1945, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared that Nazi Germany had surrendered and that May 8 be known as "Victory in Europe Day," soon shortened to VE-Day.

Jubilant crowds of people took to the streets of downtown Ottawa to party and celebrate, and official celebrations also took place in Toronto, Montreal and other cities across Canada. In Halifax, where thousands of naval personnel were stationed, the revelry got out of hand and riots broke out.

Veteran Acting Maj. Bruce Bullock, 87, who served as a commander of the 1st Division 3rd Artillery in the Second World War in Italy, looks towards the sky as rain and cold weather embraced the VE Day ceremony. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

Bill Wood, who was born and raised in Montreal and served in the war with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada, was on a train from Scotland to London when he heard the news. While Canadians took to the streets across the country, Wood headed for Piccadilly Circus to join in the revelry there.

Sixty-five years later, the mood in Ottawa was more reflective as people gathered to celebrate the men and women who served during the conflict.

More than 1.1 million Canadians and Newfoundlanders — from a population of about 11 million — served in the military during the war.

The toll was immense: about 45,000 Canadian soldiers died and another 54,000 were wounded.

Wood said the loss of the fallen remains with him during celebrations of remembrance.

"It makes one think of your comrades who are not here and what their life might have been like if they could have been here," Wood said.

"Also, you are thankful that you made it, so it's a mixture of sadness and satisfaction," he said.

Veterans huddled under umbrellas and beneath rain ponchos during Saturday's memorial service, as temperatures dropped below 5 C on the rainy, windy day.

Veteran Bill Wood served with the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) during the Second World War. He was on a train from Scotland to London when he learned the war in Europe was over. ((CBC))

One veteran took an optimistic view of the weather.

"It's not snowing," he quipped.

"Not yet," said one of his colleagues.

The parade honouring the veterans began at Elgin and Lisgar streets and headed north on Elgin, with about 100 Canadian Forces members marching alongside veterans riding in vintage vehicles from the 1940s. Two Second World War aircraft were also scheduled to fly overhead during the celebration.

The parade ended at the National War Memorial at Wellington Street, where the federal Department of Veterans Affairs held a memorial service.

"We cherish our veterans for the gift of freedom," Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn told the crowd at the memorial. "We will remember."