An Iconic Symbol

Winston's Churchill's V for Victory sign is perhaps one the most iconic of the Second World War. Though it started with a simple radio broadcast, the symbol took Europe by storm and became a rallying emblem for those under occupation. 75 years on from VE Day, V stands for far more than Victory, it stands for solidarity, resistance and never giving up. But where does it actually come from?

This is a 'Three Dots and a Dash', a tiki cocktail. It's basically loads of rum, lime and orange juice, and some honey syrup. You top it off with three cherries and a piece of pineapple, three dots and a dash. But this isn't just any delicious cocktail, this cocktail has a history stretching back to the Second World War a symbol of resistance in the darkest days of occupied Europe because three dots and a dash really means V for victory.

Archive clip: "When Churchill announced that the German war was at an end 'London turned out in force to greet Victory Day at Buckingham Palace'."

These images were taken on Victory in Europe day in 1945. People came together across the continent and indeed the world to mark the long-awaited end of hostilities against Germany. You might notice something that all these images have in common; this V. It's in the searchlights, it's painted on walls and it's in people's hands. But they're not swearing at the camera they're celebrating with a V for victory. But where does this symbol actually come from?

What you mean like this? Well it all started with a radio broadcast.

That's Adrian Kerrison one of the curators at Imperial War Museums.

In January 1941 exiled Belgian politician Victor De Lavaleye went on the air for the BBC European Service. He proposed a letter V as a rallying emblem for the Belgian people who were under occupation. So by this time in the war Germany had taken France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg and also had control of many other European states. For him be stood for Victoire in French which means victory but also vrijheid in Flemish which means freedom. He called upon the people of Belgium to chalk up the letter and make V signs wherever and whenever they could.

'The occupier' he said 'by seeing this sign always the same, infinitely repeated, would understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness'.

Well it really worked, suddenly the symbol was pretty much everywhere not just in Belgium, but also in the Netherlands and northern France.

Well the BBC quickly recognized how successful this was so they launched their own campaign called 'V for Victory'. This was sort of the idea of Douglas Ritchie who called himself 'Colonel Britton' for the purposes of the the show. His intention really was to spread it throughout all of Europe and maybe even beyond and he started to call his listeners the V Army.

The symbol spread like wildfire it was on planes, on walls, even in potatoes. In the Channel Islands a stonemason repaved this road as a V right under the noses of the Germans. While at home in Britain V's were emblazoned on badges, stickers, and even cigarettes. Even Churchill took up the symbol himself in July 1941, popularising the two-fingered form.

Everywhere you went you saw V for victory, but the symbol wasn't only visual it also had an audio equivalent.  If you take the Morse code for the letter V you get three dots and a dash.

So those three dots and a dash that sounds a little like the beginning of Beethoven's fifth symphony. So this performance was often incorporated into Colonel Britton's radio broadcasts. This connection was made much more profound by the meaning of the symphony which is fate knocking at the door, so with every broadcast by Colonel Britton they were basically saying 'Germany your fate will come to you and we will be victorious'.

This audio symbol was also encouraged in other contexts for teachers calling on their children, for diners calling on their waiters, and even for church bell ringers. Remember that V shaped potato from earlier? Even that had three dots and a dash to go with it. Everywhere civilians and their German occupiers were confronted with the V for victory in their eyes and their ears it was endless.

So endless in fact that the Germans felt they had to respond. They banned the V sign calling them acts of sabotage and even threatened to fine those responsible. They also tried to appropriate the symbol for themselves, claiming it to stand for Viktoria,  an old German victory cry. But all of this just sent the use of the symbol underground. Some people would break matches into a V and leave them on the road or people might arrange their knives and forks into a V after dining out.

There's even a recorded case of a French hairdresser named Margot who shaved a V into the back of a German soldier's head without him realising. But despite all these German efforts the symbol lived on and remained highly important to the war effort.

Well Colonel Britton's V for victory broadcasts asked Europeans to do little things to disrupt the German occupation. This included maybe taking a little bit longer at work, making long telephone calls, sending lots of letters, just little things that would annoy the Germans. Well this it's not easy to measure how much of an impact this had on the German occupiers, but it definitely set the wheels in motion for more serious acts of resistance later in the war.

The sign had to adjust as the Germans tried to ban it and even appropriated for themselves, but though the form of the symbol changed the meaning never did. In the end V stood for far more than victory. It stood for solidarity, resistance, and never giving up in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

Hey guys! Adrian here, hope you enjoyed the video. Just a reminder to like and subscribe to our Channel, this is actually a new series of episodes and it's gonna be coming out every two weeks so let us know what you'd like us to cover in the comments below. See you next time!

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