Newspapers called it a momentous day with headlines, “Germany Capitulates!” and “Unconditional surrender.” And, quotes from the King’s speech, “The war is over. After five years and eight months complete and crushing victory has crowned Britain’s unrelenting struggle against Nazi Germany.”
Seventy-five years ago, on 7 May 1945, after almost six years of war that had cost the lives of millions; destroyed families, homes, towns and cities, the war with Nazi Germany came to an end. The Channel Islands were free again and Yugoslav troops liberated Zagreb, which until then was the capital of the Nazi-backed ‘Independent’ state of Croatia. Japan, however, kept the war raging. Not until 14 August was its leaders persuaded to surrender. Even then the Act Of Surrender wasn’t signed until 2 September.
For the first time in nearly six years, there were weather reports in newspapers and on the wireless. St Thomas’s Hospital, which like all other hospitals had worked tirelessly to save the lives of injured servicemen and woman, repeatedly sounded the Morse for Victory and the families of MPs, gathered for the Prime Minister’s address to parliament, waved flags on the terrace overlooking the Thames.
Although some servicemen’s clubs provided tea and sandwiches on the house, by early afternoon restaurants had sold out of food and there were no Allied flags to be had for love or money. Money being the operative word, as enterprising businessmen cashed in. And, as dusk fell, not only were government buildings, town halls and churches across the country floodlit, but lights in houses all over Great Britain were switched on. The blackout ignored; blinds at last redundant.
Churchill gave the order to party!
Millions of people in cities, towns and villages threw street parties. I interviewed a lady who was ten years old when WW2 ended. Pamela told me about the street party where she and her mother lived. “I remember my mum saying there was a very important broadcast by Mr Churchill on the wireless. I had to sit quietly and listen. I can’t remember his exact words, but he said the German war is at an end. I have since learned that the broadcast ended with him saying, “Advance, Britannia.”
Pamela continued, “The next day I looked out of my bedroom window to see all our neighbours in the street. They were bringing out tables and chairs – and two brothers brought out a piano. Everyone put what rations they had on the tables. Some people had sugar, other’s butter, some milk. Mum took chairs for us to sit on and two plates, cups, knives, forks and spoons. I don’t remember her baking that day, but she must have done because she made a sponge cake with jam in it, which with a jelly – we always seemed to have jelly – and a jug of lemonade was our contribution to the party. We were never short of bread. Mum used to put our ration of butter in a bowl, add milk and beat it. That way the butter went further. Everyone grew vegetables and fruit in their gardens and we all kept laying hens. I remember we had egg sandwiches – and fish and meat paste sandwiches. And I remember the man playing the piano and everyone singing Vera Lynne’s wartime songs.”
The streets of London were packed. People sang and danced in Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, down the Strand to Trafalgar Square, down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament and along The Mall to Buckingham Palace. Bands in Whitehall played Land of Hope and Glory and when Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health the Guard’s band played “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” ending with a rousing three cheers. At this, the overjoyed Mr Churchill took off his hat and waved it at the crowd.
The Prime Minister was cheered as he arrived for lunch at Buckingham Palace. Later the crowds outside chanted “We want the King!” who, later, appeared on the balcony with the Queen, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret – and PM Churchill.
Not everyone celebrated VE Day.
For people who had lost loved ones, or their loved ones were still fighting overseas in the Far East and the Pacific – where, in the final months of the war there were heavy casualties – it was a day of mixed emotions. Although they were happy that the war was over, for thousands of widows and mothers who had lost children in the war, celebrating VE Day was a bitter-sweet occasion because their loved ones would not be coming home.
The first services of thanksgiving were in St. Paul’s Cathedral and St Martin’s-in-the- fields. A woman whose husband was killed in Italy two years earlier said, “Today I feel all pent-up. Not exactly bitter but sad to think that my husband won’t be coming back with the others. I’ve got to remake my life and carry on for the sake of my little girl. I feel much better coming and sharing in this thanksgiving service.”
The impact of war, personally and nationally.
The economic cost of the war almost bankrupted Britain, resulting in post-war austerity. Clothes rationing lasted until 1949, food rationing until 1954 – and the far-reaching political effects ranged from the fall of the British Empire to the Cold War.
Sadly, there are still wars and conflicts in many parts of the world, but, although our servicemen and women are still called upon to fight, on the whole, the people of Great Britain are lucky.
VE Day – 75th Anniversary Celebrations
In WW2 there were two Royal Airforce Aerodromes within two miles of my hometown of Lutterworth – RAF Bitteswell and RAF Bruntingthorpe. Bitteswell is now a large industrial park. But Bruntingthorpe, which in the war was a heavy bomber airbase, still operates as an aerodrome. On 8 and 9 May a thousand people had bought tickets to attend a wartime charity dinner-dance held in an aeroplane hangar at Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome. Now, because of Covid-19, it has been cancelled.
However you plan to celebrate the anniversary of VE Day, stay safe.
Article by Madalyn Morgan