VE Day 8th May 1945, Relief And Elation Filled The Nation

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The Second World War was a time in recent history that will never be forgotten. Brutal, terrifying years of battles and events that rocked the entire planet and everyone on it.  

The poor soldiers on the ground, in the air and at sea putting their lives on the line to defend their country and loved ones. The horrific atrocities carried out in the concentration camps. The fragmented families at home struggling to cope with fathers and brothers away fighting, children torn away from mothers and sent to live with complete strangers as evacuees. The Blitz, blackouts and rationing, girls having to work in munitions factories and on the land, manor houses turned into hospitals. Daily life during this time was, quite simply, hard.

Yet the people of Great Britain rallied together, supported each other, and did what needed to be done. For six long years, women queued for hours to get their meagre rations, made do and mended, all the while wondering if they would ever see their husbands, brothers, sons and daughters ever again. So imagine the euphoria when Victory in Europe Day was announced over the wireless as the 8th May 1945.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day, so we are taking a look at this historic day – how it came about and how it was celebrated across the country.

On the 30th April 1945, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker following the Allied and Soviet forces advancing in to Germany, all but destroying the German Army. His successor Admiral Karl Doenitz sought to end the war and sent General Alfred Jodl to the Supreme Allied Headquarters in Rheims to seek terms. At 2:41am on Monday 7th May the General formally ended the war in Europe by signing an unconditional surrender document.

Winston Churchill was informed at 7am, yet by the afternoon there had been no official notification to the public. Word had somehow spread as large crowds amassed outside Buckingham Palace shouting for the King. Despite the lack of public announcement, bell ringers across the country had been put on standby for a nationwide victory peal and the Home Office had issued instructions on how the nation were allowed to celebrate! It said “Bonfires will be allowed, but the government trusts that only material with no salvage value will be used.” The Board of Trade also released instructions that stated “Until the end of May you may buy cotton bunting without coupons, as long as it is red, white or blue, and does not cost more than one shilling and three pence a square yard.”

Apparently, the reason for the delay of the official announcement was Joseph Stalin. He was in disagreement with the others as to how the surrender should be announced. Churchill eventually decided that he was not going to allow Stalin to hold things up any longer, particularly when the Germans had already been told by their government that the war was over. The Ministry of Information made a short announcement at 19.40 which said “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”

The announcement was met with jubilation -thousands upon thousands gathered in Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus in London, within minutes. The streets of the capital were filled with people who only ended the celebrations when heavy rain and a thunderstorm arrived around midnight.

On VE Day, May 8th the whole nation celebrated, as did the other Allies. Russia however, celebrated on the 9th May as this had been the original date decided upon. Neighbours pooled their food rations and held street parties with bunting strung across the street and tables running down the middle.

Pianos were dragged into the street and mums, aunts and grandmas embarrassed their children with choruses of ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ revealing long knickers which reached to their knees! A lot of children however, did not know what peace time meant as they didn’t remember it. One child was informed that it meant “having ice cream and oranges, bananas and chocolate bars, lights in the streets and everyone being safe. And best of all, Daddy being home again.”

Meanwhile, in London, three Lancaster bombers flew over the city dropping red and green flares. Churchill enjoyed a celebratory lunch at Buckingham Palace with George VI then addressed the nation from Downing Street at 3pm. He addressed the Commons and led MP’s to a thanksgiving service.

20,000 people gathered in front of Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family came out onto the balcony with Princess Elizabeth wearing her ATS uniform. Churchill joined them and he later spoke to crowds outside the Ministry of Health.

Winston Churchill said that day, “My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. 

We were all alone for a whole year. There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? Were we down-hearted? The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. 

When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered. Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy.

But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed-the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfil our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.”

The official events of VE Day ended with a broadcast by George VI at 9pm. After years of the blackout, two searchlights made a giant ‘V’ over St Paul’s Cathedral, and Buckingham Palace was lit up by floodlights. Witnesses also reported that London had the same red glow as during the Blitz, but this time it was due to bonfires that were raging all over the city in celebration. People were burning Hitler effigies on the bonfires, and fireworks added colour.

This one short day enabled people to briefly let their hair down, but as Churchill had reminded the nation, the war was not completely over, and neither was the rationing – austerity became the norm once more. Also, many families felt unable or unwilling to join in the celebrations. For those who had family still fighting in the east, and those who had lost several loved ones they felt there was little to celebrate – they had simply lost too much.

V-J Day (Victory over Japan Day) finally came on the 15th August 1945 putting an official end to World War II.

The nation is once again marking VE Day this month with celebrations to commemorate the 70th anniversary. Events include silence for remembrance, church bells ringing in unison across the country as well as a chain of 100 beacons being lit in cities all over the UK including here in Leeds. There are street parties taking place and 1940’s themed events. We must never forget the great sacrifices made in this time that enable us to live as we do today.


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