VE Day remembered: victory for the Allies

Britain VE Day. Credit: PA Pics
Britain VE Day. Credit: PA Pics

On 8 May 1945, Britain received the news it had been waiting years to hear – the war in Europe was over and the Allies were victorious.

Britain VE Day
© PA Images

On 30 April 1945, as Allied forces closed in around the German capital, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker in Berlin. After six years of war and an estimated 60 million fatalities, it was therefore up to Hitler’s successor, Karl Dönitz, to sign the act of military surrender. Travelling down to General Eisenhower’s HQ in Reims, France, Dönitz, in the presence of senior officers from Britain, America, Russia and France, surrendered unconditionally to the Western and Russian demands on 7 May 1945.

The following day was declared Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, while across the nation, Britons had already begun to celebrate after so many years of austerity and rationing. Families gathered around wireless radio sets while in London crowds waited by speakers in Trafalgar Square with bated breath, determined to catch Winston Churchill’s now famous speech, which arrived at 3pm, announcing the surrender of the German forces.

Shops sold rosettes and tri-coloured button-holes, while lengths of bunting and flags soon dominated house fronts as the country descended into celebratory mood. King George VI and the Queen appeared eight times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace while outside its gates, huge crowds gathered in a carnival atmosphere with public displays of affection and plenty of drinking and merriment. Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret mingled with the crowds, while later on, Churchill appeared before giving an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, telling the crowds, “This is your victory!”

By the time Japan surrendered the following August, Britain had already started to return to normality. Historians point to a post-VE Day hangover, for which the only cure was to move on and rebuild. The war was over and with it, the sense of purpose of a whole generation. For Britons in 1945, including those who had lost loved ones in combat, the long process of recovery had only just begun.

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