The Queen’s recollections of her VE Day celebrations as ‘one of the most memorable nights of my life’ have been shared by Buckingham Palace to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.
The monarch recorded an interview for the BBC Radio 4 programme The Way We Were for the 40th anniversary on May 8 1985.
In archive audio which appeared on the royal family’s social media channels, the Queen can be heard recounting how, as a 19-year-old, she joined thousands of other revellers after slipping into the crowds outside Buckingham Palace unnoticed with her 14-year-old sister Princess Margaret.
‘We cheered the king and queen on the balcony and then walked miles through the streets,’ the Queen said, explaining: ‘I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, all of us just swept along on a tide of happiness and relief.’
The Queen, 93, spoke of being swept along on a tide of happiness and relief in an archived interview from 1985 which was released on the Royal Family’s Instagram page today
An 18-year-old Princess Elizabeth had joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) and registered as No. 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor and took a driving and vehicle maintenance course at Aldershot, qualifying as a driver.
And it was an unprecedented and spontaneous breach of royal protocol when the princesses hurried out of the palace after dinner to join the crowds, accompanied by a group of Guards officers, who were friends of the princesses.
Her parents, George VI and Queen Elizabeth, let the girls leave the palace in a group of 16 including the Hon Margaret Rhodes, the Queen’s first cousin, and Jean Woodroffe, her lady-in-waiting.
The group also included Lord Porchester, later to become the Queen’s racing manager, and Peter Townsend, the king’s equerry who caused a national crisis a decade later when, as a divorcé, he won the heart of Princess Margaret.
In the unearthed radio interview, Queen Elizabeth, who worked as a mechanic during the war, recalled being ‘terrified’ that she would be recognised amidst the VE Day crowds
‘My sister and I realised we couldn’t see what the crowds were enjoying. My mother had put her tiara on for the occasion, so we asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves. I remember we were terrified of being recognised,’ the monarch said.
The Queen and the Armed Services
As a young woman, the Queen became the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services as a full-time active member when she became a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1945 (she is pictured doing technical repair work during her WWII military service 1944).
She reached the rank of Junior Commander after completing her course at No. 1 Mechanical Training Centre of the ATS and passed out as a fully qualified driver.
When the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) was founded in 1949 as a successor to the ATS, she became an Honorary Senior Controller and later Honorary Brigadier.
She resigned these appointments on becoming Queen in 1953
She revealed how they ‘cheated’ to make sure their parents appeared on the balcony to their shouts of ‘We want the King.’
‘We were successful in seeing my parents on the balcony, having cheated slightly because we sent a message into the house to say we were waiting outside,’ the Queen said.
‘I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life’.
Under the cover of darkness, the royal teenagers went unrecognised in the throng.
They sang in jubilation, did the hokey cokey and the Lambeth Walk, and also danced the conga through the Ritz hotel in nearby Piccadilly.
She was in uniform on the day and told how she pulled her cap ‘well down over my eyes’ to stop herself being recognised.
But she added she was reprimanded by a fellow officer.
George VI and Queen Elizabeth, let their daughters leave the palace in a group of 16 including the Hon Margaret Rhodes, the Queen’s first cousin, and Jean Woodroffe, her lady-in-waiting. Pictured, Elizabeth (left), the Queen, King George VI and Princess Margaret on VE Day
As a young woman, the Queen became the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services as a full-time active member when she became a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1945 (she is pictured doing technical repair work during her WWII military service 1944). She reached the rank of Junior Commander after completing her course at No. 1 Mechanical Training Centre of the ATS and passed out as a fully qualified driver. When the Women’s Royal Army Corps (WRAC) was founded in 1949 as a successor to the ATS, she became an Honorary Senior Controller and later Honorary Brigadier. She resigned these appointments on becoming Queen in 1953
‘A Grenadier officer amongst our party of about 16 people said he refused to be seen in the company of another officer improperly dressed, so I had to put my cap on normally,’ she said.
The Queen poignantly told how one of her party – a cousin – believed to be John Elphinstone – had just returned from years as a prisoner of war.
‘I remember the amazement of my cousin just back from four-and-a-half years in a prisoner of war camp, walking freely with his family in the friendly throng,’ she said
As part of the official celebrations in 1945, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made eight appearances on the palace balcony in 10 hours – on one occasion accompanied by prime minister Winston Churchill.
The Queen’s relationship with the Armed Forces began when, as Princess Elizabeth, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1945, becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services as a full-time active member (she is pictured next to an Army ambulance during WWII). During her time in the ATS, the Princess learnt to drive and to maintain vehicles. Since then, The Queen has maintained a close relationship with the Armed Forces through regular visits to service establishments and ships. She holds many military appointments and honorary ranks
Elizabeth and Margaret themselves appeared six times with their parents throughout the day and evening.
The Queen said: ‘I remember the thrill and relief after the previous day’s waiting for the prime minister’s announcement of the end of the war in Europe.
‘My parents went out on the balcony in response to the huge crowds outside. I think we went on the balcony nearly every hour, six times.’
Princess Elizabeth’s Royal Night Out
VE Day was the only known occasion when the Queen escaped the royal cocoon and partied among her future subjects. Pictured, the celebrations as imagined in the film A Royal Night Out which depicts Elizabeth (left) and Margaret kicking up their heels on VE Day
By Brian Viner for Weekend Magazine
Unlike Dunkirk and D-Day, VE Day has had little attention from film-makers. But one picture that does make a virtue of the celebrations is 2015’s A Royal Night Out, which tells the beguiling true story of princesses Elizabeth and Margaret mingling with the crowds.
During the war their father King George VI had remarked, ‘Poor darlings, they have never had any fun yet’, but that night they were allowed to go in search of it.
The film, with Sarah Gadon and Bel Powley as Elizabeth and Margaret, and Rupert Everett and Emily Watson as their parents, portrays the queen as firmly against the idea of them joining the throng – ‘Ebsolutely not!’ – and Margaret is distraught.
‘We’ll be walled up in this ghastly mausoleum for the rest of our blooming lives,’ she wails.
Happily the king relents, as long as the girls are assigned chaperones, a hapless pair of Army officers. The wretched duo are shrugged off, whereupon Elizabeth hooks up with an airman played by Jack Reynor, whom she meets on the No 14 bus and who ends up back at the palace with her for breakfast.
In reality, of course, nothing of the sort occurred, but when the film came out it was validation for Ronald Thomas, 85, who had often tried to convince his family that as a callow 15-year-old he had danced with the future Queen in Trafalgar Square that night.
When he asked her if she was the princess she first denied it, then admitted she was, begging Ronald not to tell anyone. For years no one believed him, but when the film came out, everyone did.
Other VE Day films include 1954’s The Last Time I Saw Paris, with Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor at her most radiant and a young Roger Moore, and 1955’s Mister Roberts, with Henry Fonda as a sailor feuding with his captain, played by James Cagney.