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History behind ‘V for Victory’ symbol

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Have you ever wondered how and when did people start using the V for Victory symbol? Well, the answer to it lies in today’s date in the year of 1941.

It all began after midnight on July 18, 1941, when a radio host, Col. V. Britton broadcasted a special message on behalf of Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the occupied countries of Europe. The message that was read out was: “The V sign is the symbol of the unconquerable will of the occupied territories and a portent of the fate awaiting Nazi tyranny. So long as the peoples continue to refuse all collaboration with the invader, it is sure that his cause will perish and that Europe will be liberated.”

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This began the most successful propaganda campaign in world history with the launch of the ‘V for Victory’ campaign. It was during Great Britain’s darkest days when Britain was sidelined against the growing power of the Reich, which had already overpowered the rest of the Europe, that Winston Churchill motivated and guided his countrymen. This symbol was very significant throughout the war period. Though it was Churchill who popularised this gesture, there were many before him to use it.

In January 1941, it was first used by a Belgian politician, Victor de Laveleye, who encouraged using it as a symbol for victory as V stands for both ‘victoire’ in French meaning victory and ‘vrijheid’ meaning freedom in Dutch. In his radio broadcast message to the Low Countries, he urged them to use this symbol in every form and everywhere so that the person oppressing them should see it and feel he is surrounded by people awaiting his downfall. He wanted this sign to become a multinational symbol of solidarity. It spread throughout Belgium and spread to the Netherlands and France. From here it reached England and was used by Churchill making it the most popular gesture in history.

After the July speech, it was observed that the Morse telegraphic code for the letter V was three dots and a dash, which also happened to be the beat of the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Immediately this passage was picked up and included in a lot of propaganda programmes. It was also included in Britton’s theme song. Churchill started using this symbol so often that soon it became his signature style.

Furious at the success of the V symbol, Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels claimed it was a German symbol as V also stood for ‘Viktoria’ which meant victory in German and the notes of the symphony was written by a German composer.

In the US, envelopes had the V symbol printed in Morse code, and when America joined the war, the American government officially adopted the campaign.

The campaign even caught on with a new form of correspondence called the V-mail or the ‘V. . . – Mail’. It was printed on stationery and was even adapted by Eastman Kodak’s library microfilm system used in the military. By April 1944, sixty-three V-mail letters were being shipped to military people all over the world every month.


Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala

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