AT 3PM today, May 8th 2020, hundreds of lone pipers across the UK, including one at the top of Ben Nevis, will play a tune specially composed to remember May 8th 1945.

Also at 3pm, thousands of people will stand up and raise a toast: “To those who gave so much, we thank you.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way though.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: VE Day 75.Camley's Cartoon: VE Day 75.

There were supposed to be church services and public parades and street parties. But then lockdown happened and the plans to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day had to be changed. Now, we will remember on our own, or in small groups, or online.

But we will still remember.

There will be mixed emotions, just as there were for those who were actually there. Veterans like Catherine Drummond, a former WAAF from Bridge of Allan, who was a 22-year-old war widow and young mother when VE Day happened.

Now 98, she says she was sad on the day but thankful for all the men and women who were coming home.

Or Frank Coyle, from Govan, who was one of the people who had to keep on fighting after VE Day – the war in Japan didn’t end until August 1945.

Now 93, Mr Coyle found it tough going when he got back home and he struggled to find work, as did many others. Britain was bankrupt and rationing didn’t end until the 1950s.

Or William Paton from Stoneyburn in West Lothian. He kept a diary in which he recorded his experiences of VE Day and the joy he felt. 

“I heard Prime Minister Churchill speaking on the wireless at 3pm,” he wrote.

“He announced the war with Germany was over. It was a day of great rejoicing. In Stoneyburn, bonfires were lit in every street and crowds gathered round them and sang into the wee sma hours.”

There were similar scenes all over Scotland. In Perth, the bells of the churches began to peel immediately after Churchill’s broadcast.

In Falkirk, a pipe band paraded through the town. And in Greenock, there was singing and dancing in the streets. 

But the biggest party was in Glasgow. Crowds flowed in and out of George Square from 9pm until well after midnight. Many danced in front of the City Chambers.

Fireworks were let off. Children and soldiers climbed on the statues. The pubs had to close early because there was no more beer left, but the party went on anyway. 

Reporting on the celebrations, The Glasgow Herald called it a robust and joyful night.

“Noise, the sort of gay, grappling, carefree merry making, the sound of which has not been heard of in Glasgow in the 40s, came back to town,” said the report.

“You could hear it half a mile away. It was solid and heartwarming.

“A party of able seamen took the notion to ride bareback on one of the equestrian statues in George Square. They contented themselves with hanging on to the stirrups when it was pointed out to them that their combined weight might topple horse and rider from the pedestal. Later they achieved their ambition and got astride the bronze horse.”

The Herald also reported how a Dutch sailor climbed on top of the statue that would later become famous as a resting place for traffic cones – the Duke of Wellington statue in Royal Exchange Square – and did an impersonation of Hitler.

“An admiring crowd applauded his buffoonery,” said The Herald.

“It was equally responsive when he made a short speech in broken English and thanked “the Scots for the brave part they had played in the liberation of his country”.

In London, the celebrations were on an even bigger scale. Some 20,000 people gathered at Buckingham Palace to see the first of several balcony appearances by the King and Queen and princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Famously, the princesses later slipped out and mingled anonymously with the people.

At 3pm, pretty much everything stopped for Churchill’s speech to the nation and it was a warning just as much as it was a celebration.

“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing,” he said, “but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad.”

Historian Derek Patrick, who lectures in history at St Andrews University, says it is important to remember Churchill’s words and that in many ways VE Day represented a continuation rather than a change.

“Realistically, there was no sea change – nothing changed overnight,” said Mr Patrick.

“You would start to see POWs returning to the country but it took a long long time to get things back on an even keel and towards normality. 

“There was also a level of hostility and resentment – a feeling that people were promised a land fit for heroes but it was a false dawn. After years of war, there was perhaps a determination to see this project through and you can attribute a lot of the changes we saw after VE Day, like the NHS, to the war. This is a moment to rejoice – Europe has been pulled back from the precipice – but this is only one step on the road to victory.” 

Catherine Drummond certainly remembers how tough it was after VE Day. She was a war widow with an eight-month-old daughter and had to work two jobs, in a shop and waiting tables, to make ends meet. She was also still mourning her husband. 

“It took me a long time to get over it,” she said. “I didn’t really give up hope until the POWs came home. I was hoping, you know.”

Like everyone else, Mrs Drummond is now in lockdown, but Poppy Scotland is encouraging people to mark VE Day at home or use the subject as a resource for home schooling.

You can also download bunting from Poppy Scotland’s website for a Zoom party, or use their recipes to make some of the food, like potato shortbread, that would have been eaten at street parties 75 years ago. 

There are other events today you can take part in even in lockdown. At 11am there will be a two-minute silence, which will be broadcast on the BBC.

At 3pm people will be encouraged to take part in the Nation’s Toast. Then, at 9pm, the Queen, 75 years after making her way incognito through the crowds in London, will address the nation.

Mr Patrick said it was important to mark VE Day in this way, not just through any sense of celebrating the victory – although that is important – but also to remember what the country went through. 

The war had gone on for six years. Scotland had been subjected to 500 German air raids. Homes and families were destroyed. And widows and widowers were made. The country was exhausted and the political, social and economic repercussions would be felt for many years to come.

But perhaps, says Mr Patrick, it is even more important to mark this anniversary than the ones that have gone before – for a simple and poignant reason. “The opportunities to speak to the people who were there,” he says, “are slipping away.”