On 7 May 1945 Grand Admiral Donitz, who was put in command of the Third Reich following Hitler’s suicide a week earlier, met with senior allied officers, from Britain, America, France and Russia, in Reims, France and offered a full surrender, officially bringing an end to the conflict in Europe.
Not Just an End to Fighting
Victory in Europe day, or VE day as it is more commonly known, was celebrated by the whole of Britain, and the 8 May was declared a public holiday. But as word spread of the events in France people took to the streets in their thousands to rejoice at the end of one of the hardest periods of their country’s history.
The end of the war meant an end to the rationing of food, bath water and clothing; an end to the drone of German bombers and the destruction their payloads caused. It also meant thousands of children, evacuees sent away from their homes for safety, could return home. Soldiers who had been away for years would also be returning to their families, but many more would not.
As word began to spread, the population waited anxiously by the wireless to see if the news was true. As soon as confirmation came through, in the form of a broadcast from Germany, a feeling of tension was released in a wave of joyous celebration. Bunting was hung up on every major street in the land and people danced and sang, welcoming the end of the war and the chance to re-build their lives.
The following day the official celebrations began and London in particular was full of revellers excited to hear from their leaders and to celebrate the rebuilding of Britain. King George VI and the Queen greeted the gathered crowds eight times from the balcony of Buckingham Palace to great cheers. Amongst the people two more royals were enjoying themselves on this important occasion, the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret. They had been permitted, on this singular occasion, to join the party on the streets; they mingled with the crowds and shared in the joy of their people.
A Country’s Pride Personified
At 15.00 on 8 May Winston Churchill addressed the people that congregated in Trafalgar square. An excerpt of his speech shows the kind of proud and triumphant feeling that filled the hearts of the British people that day:
“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? [Crowd shouts “No.”] Were we down-hearted? [“No!”] 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.”
The War Continues in the East
As far as the British government and the armed forces were concerned there was still another war to fight in the Pacific. They had been supported by the Americans in their European struggle and now the British would aid them in turn against Japan. Little did they know that this conflict would be brought to a swift and infamous end less than four months later.