On this day in history : 19th July 1941 – Winston Churchill adopts the ‘V for Victory’ hand sign – after referring to the Victory campaign, which had spread through Europe, with approval in a speech….

Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister, giving a V sign in 1943 – British Government, public domain

On January the 14th 1941 Victor de Lavelaye, former Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-language broadcasts on the BBC (1940-44) suggested that Belgians adopt a ‘V’ for ‘Victoire’ – in an attempt to raise morale during World War 2…. In a BBC broadcast de Lavelaye claimed “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, would understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly waiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure”…. Within weeks chalked ‘V’ signs were appearing on walls across Northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands….

The BBC started a ‘V for Victory’ campaign….with assistant news editor Douglas Ritchie taking on the persona of ‘Colonel Britton’…. Ritchie suggested the BBC should use an audio ‘V’ – using the dot-dot-dot-dash Morse Code for the letter ‘V’…. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has the same rhythm – so this was used by the BBC as a call-sign for its foreign language broadcasts to occupied Europe for the rest of the War….

American V for Victory campaign – showing the dot-dot-dot-dash of Morse Code – public domain

Churchill – and other allied leaders too – adopted the ‘V’ sign hand signal…. Sometimes Churchill gestured with a cigar between his fingers…. In the beginning he used the sign with his palm facing towards him – and his Aides had to explain to him what this version meant! So, later he used it with his palm facing out…. However, one can’t help thinking that perhaps it was his misuse that made it so popular….

Churchill, initially unaware of the meaning of this particular gesture! – War Office official photographer, Horton (Capt.) – Public domain

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