The director of the Belgian French-speaking broadcasts on the BBC, Victor de Laveleye, first suggested that Belgians use a V for victoire (French: “victory”) and vrijheid (Dutch: “freedom”) as a rallying emblem during World War II.
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 awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure.
The sign was taken up by the Belgians and the Dutch, with chalked up V signs appearing everywhere. The BBC then started to promote the sign in other broadcasts to occupied Europe and the use of the morse ‘V’ was used in broadcasts. It soon became recognised across Europe. Victor Klemperer, a professor of linguistics living in Dresden, eastern Germany, noted its use in the former Czechoslovakia in his diary on 21st July 1941. Churchill mentioned it during a broadcast on 19th July.
Vere Hodgson, living in central London, was recording in her diary people’s attitudes to the war generally:
20th JULY 1941
We are all anxiously watching the Russians. They have that mixture of ruthlessness and fatalism which makes them a hard nut to crack.
When I read of the peasants calmly burning their homes and setting off on the tramp, leaving everything behind them as a matter of course, I am astonished. The French would not do it! It takes a high degree of courage and resolution.
We hear of a Town the Germans entered the other day. Regular soldiers had left. The Townsfolk defended themselves for two days. When the Germans entered the place was empty – except for seven men hiding under the bridge. They blew up the German tanks as they passed over – and themselves as well.
Nothing but the V Symbol these days. Where did it originate? With the unfortunate people who cannot say what they think? Or did Colonel Britton give them the idea?
Use of fingers is a good idea – and on the 6 p.m. news they gave us a vivid account of how it is being exploited in thousands of ways . . . Morse code signals can be used on typewriters, trains etc. What an annoyance for the Germans.