The state-of-the-art fireworks and hubbub contrasted with six years of blackouts and bombs. But Helen eagerly reminisced about years of listening for the peal of church bells-which would have signaled the feared German invasion of England had begun-before she moved to New Jersey as a teen-age war bride half a century ago.
The most powerful link between past and present was the 94-year-old queen mother. Several hundred thousand people crowded around Buckingham Palace to see the queen mum re-create the moment of rejoicing 50 years ago when she appeared on the palace's balcony to celebrate the end of war in Europe. A tiny speck in yellow, she waved to the impeccably behaved mob; when it was clear who it was, everyone frantically waved back.
"We loved the royal family," Helen McCarthy said. "They stayed in London when they could have left. Every day the queen and king would walk through the streets bombed the night before and talk to the people."
Although food abounded in Hyde Park last week compared with the war years, by U.S. standards there were hardly any concessions and merchandise stands. Richard Branson's upstart Virgin cola was the official soft drink within the V-E Day enclosure, but elsewhere in the park only Coca-Cola and Pepsi were to be seen. A few stalls sold scones, hotdogs, doughnuts and the inevitable fish and chips.
Sponsorship was low-key, involving stands and ads in the official program. British Telecom, one of the main sponsors, provided a computer network to help veterans find old comrades.
A deeply moving BT commercial broke on V-E Day featuring ex-hostage Terry Waite narrating an end-of-war street party in 1945. He describes the party as "more a giant sigh of relief," and notes people's sad eyes as the camera cuts to a woman sitting alone on the steps.
"We still behave badly to one another, but there hasn't been a third world war," Mr. Waite says. "And in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Africa, people who were once fighting are now talking. And while there is talk there is hope."
Back at the street party, the sad woman on the steps sees a man turn the corner. He is her husband. The spot, by Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, London, ends with a BT logo.
The keynotes of remembrance and reconciliation were likewise captured in the simultaneous lighting of beacons across Britain and the sing-along in Hyde Park with former forces' sweetheart Dame Vera Lynn. Young people strained to read the unfamiliar words to "We'll Meet Again" from songsheets, a stark contrast to Russia's warlike victory celebration last week. There, fierce parades of modern tanks and legions of young soldiers were hallmarks of the celebration rather than Britain's doves of peace and septuagenarian war veterans.
In London, a single, stationary vintage tank was on display in Hyde Park. Nearby at the Grosvenor House Hotel, the Sicilian maitre d' persuaded the chef to concoct a tank and Spitfire plane-from spun sugar and marzipan.
During the war, the hotel opened a restaurant in its bomb shelter and lent its spacious roof to British soldiers for shooting practice and its ice skating rink to French General Charles de Gaulle.
During a flyover of vintage war planes, 12-year-old Ross Donahoe accurately named each plane, rattling off "Hurricane, P-38 Lightning, Spitfire" as his mother captured them on camcorder.
"I make models of them," said Ross.
In England, remembrance begins early. At 330-year-old Pulfords school in Leighton Buzzard, pupils spent several weeks learning what it was like to be a child growing up in the war.
As the three-day V-E Day commemoration ended, about the only hitch people could point to was the refusal of the white doves of peace to fly right during rehearsals. In the end, trained carrier pigeons of peace were released instead.
Bill Britt and Juliana Koranteng contributed to this story.