End of the War in Europe – ‘VE Day’

Women and children attending a VE-Day street party in front of an air raid shelter in Kilton Street, Battersea, London SW11. Sitting at the piano, wearing the union flag apron, is the organiser, Mrs Maynard: (for identification of other individuals featured, see correspondence).

Women and children attending a VE-Day street party in front of an air raid shelter in Kilton Street, Battersea, London SW11 .

Happy crowds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians in front of the American Red Cross Rainbow Corner after the announcement of the surrender.

Happy crowds of soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians in front of the American Red Cross Rainbow Corner after the announcement of the surrender.

The partying had begun in London and across Britain on the evening of the 7th. More organised celebrations were to follow on the two Public Holidays of the 8th and 9th. Yet there were many families who did not feel like celebrating, Vi Bottomley was a twenty four year old war widow in Liverpool:

When I heard they’d surrendered I just started to cry and I couldn’t stop. I don’t know what was the matter with me. I should have been happy, but I was crying my eyes out. I kept thinking of Jack [her husband]. He was killed on D Day. I never knew quite what happened to him, only that he was dead. And I kept thinking, what a waste, what a waste. He was such a lovely man, always laughing and joking. He worked in the docks and needn’t have gone in the Army at all, but no, he had to go and do his bit. And for what? He’d never even seen the baby, his baby, sleeping upstairs.

This account appear in Barry Turner: Countdown to Victory: The Final European Campaigns of World War II.

The nation united for the two live radio broadcasts of the day, Winston Churchill speaking in the afternoon and the King speaking in the evening. The two men were the focus of attention for the crowds in London throughout the day.

Harold Nicholson, MP, listened to Churchill’s address over loudspeakers outside Parliament:

As Big Ben struck three, there was an extraordinary hush over the assembled multitude, and then came Winston’s voice. He was short and effective, merely announcing that unconditional surrender had been signed, and naming the signatories. (When it came to Jodl, he said “Jodel”) ‘The evil-doers’, he intoned, ‘now lie prostrate before us.’ The crowd gasped at this phrase. ‘Advance Britannia!’ he shouted at the end, and there followed the Last Post and God Save the King which we all sang very loud indeed. And then cheer upon cheer.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a BBC microphone about to broadcast to the nation on the afternoon of VE Day.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a BBC microphone about to broadcast to the nation on the afternoon of VE Day.

Churchill then went to Parliament where after a short address he proposed that:

this House do now attend at the Church of St Margaret’s, Westminster, to give humble and reverend thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination

Harold Nicholson was amongst those who followed him there:

The service itself was very short and simple, and beautifully sung. Then the Chaplain to the Speaker read in a loud voice the names of those who had laid down their lives: ‘Ronald Cartland; Hubert Duggan; Victor Cazalet; John Macnamara; Robert Bernays’ – only the names of my particular friends registered on my consciousness. I was moved. The tears came into my eyes. Furtively I wiped them away. ‘Men are so emotional’, sniffed Nancy Astor, who was sitting next to me. Damn her.

See The Harold Nicolson Diaries 1907-1964.

Molly Panter Downes reported for the New Yorker:

Thousands of King George’s subjects wedged themselves in front of the Palace throughout the day, chanting ceaselessly ‘We want the King’ and cheering themselves hoarse when he and the Queen and their daughters appeared, but when the crowd saw Churchill, there was a deep, full-throated, almost reverent roar. He was at the head of the procession of Members of Parliament, walking back to the House of Commons from the traditional St Margaret’s Thanksgiving Service. Instantly, he was surrounded by people — people running, standing on tiptoe, holding up babies so that they could be told later that they had seen him.

See Molly Panter Downes: London War Notes.

HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.

HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.

Princess Elizabeth and her sister, Princess Margaret, appeared on the balcony during the early appearances of the King, but later decided they wanted to see more:

… my sister and I realised we couldn’t see what the crowds were enjoying… so we asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves… After crossing Green Park we stood outside and shouted, ‘We want the King’, and were successful in seeing my parents on the balcony, having cheated slightly because we sent a message into the house to say we were waiting outside. I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

H.M. Queen Elizabeth speaking in 1985, see Royal British Legion

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day.

Two British sailors and their girlfriends wading in the fountains in Trafalgar Square on VE Day.

Women and children at a VE-Day street party in Stanhope Street, London NW1.

Women and children at a VE-Day street party in Stanhope Street, London NW1.

In the suburbs outside London Walter Musto had raised the Union Jack outside his house at 7am and put out bunting, although his family’s celebrations were relatively modest :

I look around my little house standing in its pleasant garden and in a mood of chastened contemplation regard the much that has been spared to me through the war years. In a surge of gratitude for this great dawning of peace over the earth I offer my thanks to God.

For this is VE Day announcing as complete the formal surrender of the enemy on all European fronts. The day for which so many like my splendid nephew Clifford and many more died, and without whom London itself might have joined Carthage.

It is a miraculous culmination to D Day for the success of which we then put our trust in Providence and the valiant efforts of our crusading legions.

I have the impression from a newsreel picture that our Prime Minister looks very tired. It is no small wonder. At 70 years of age to be still carrying with vigour the masterly direction of the Nation’s affairs in the greatest and most terrific events of its long history is nothing short of superhuman. As the managing director of the biggest firm in the world his services are beyond price. God bless and preserve him for a few quiet years of repose when at last his task is done. In the annals of the human race, no man so richly deserved immortality.

It is late evening. The King has spoken and, after a last stand to in reverent toast of my neighbour guests, I sit quietly to reflect on the day’s happenings. And so we slip with the ease of well conditioned gearing into normal running and the daily routines, secure from enemy disturbance and at night safe in our beds. Our private lives are once more our own. Yes, tomorrow I shall be glad to get back to the chores.

See The War and Uncle Walter.

For the modern German perspective on the end of the war Spiegel Online has a comprehensive media story, with much graphic footage.

Big Ben floodlit on VE Day.

Big Ben floodlit on VE Day.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Chuck May 13, 2015 at 12:04 am

I have been following this every day since 1940. I was thinking of August 2011 (August 1941) when my girlfriend and I got our first apartment (flat) together and the Battle of Stalingrad was still a month away. Now we are in our second apartment and August 2011 seems a bit long ago…. Thanks so so much.

Chuck Halverson
Minneapolis, MN

Doug May 9, 2015 at 7:51 pm

It would be interesting to see some information about the post war attacks involving the Germans who refused to surrender. Not much of that has ever been reported.

This has been an excellent series. I really appreciate the hard work that you have put into it. Thank you.

Doug May 9, 2015 at 7:47 pm

It would be very interesting to see some of the post war actions that took place with the groups of German resistance fighters who refused to surrender. There is not much information out about that.

This has been an excellent series. I appreciate all of the work that you have done.

John Martin Bradley May 9, 2015 at 2:43 am

I echo Stephan’s words and also say thank you very much.

Of course you could always start again from September 1, 1939. In fact I encourage you to do so.

Stephan May 8, 2015 at 7:36 pm

Hi Thom
Yes, of course you are right. It’s very Eurocentric of me but I guess I have a closer interest in the European conflict because my father fought there from Normandy through Holland and into Germany. He’s still alive (92). I agree with you that the Far East campaigns have never really had the attention that the west has.

Michael Foley May 8, 2015 at 7:04 pm

Like others have said, this site has given me a daily fix of fascinating accounts from WW2, usually from primary sources like action reports or diaries. I imagine it will continue through to V-J day, right?

Thom May 8, 2015 at 5:00 pm

I’m afraid, Stephan, that this was not the end of the war. My grandfather was still marooned in the Jungle fighting the Japanese. Just imagine how insanely jealous they must have felt hearing the news of euphoria back home whilst they were fighting a war that everyone in the UK had forgotten about.

I hope this isn’t the end, and that the website carries on detailing the remainder of world war two. But if it is, then it truly has been a remarkable effort by the editors.

Stephan May 8, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Well, an excellent end to a remarkable time and a remarkable website. It has been the first thing I have turned to every morning for the past 6 years and it has brought home to someone like me, born in the 1960s, how immense the war was. I can only congratulate you on this fantastic resource.

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