The authors have compiled a collection of memories and anecdotes from celebrities and members of the public covering their experiences of the Second World War and the day that Victory over the Nazis was declared. We hear from not only those in the Armed Forces but civilians.
The book catches the mood of jubilation and exhilaration yet also the great sadness of the huge waste of human life and resources. Hard times still lay ahead.
A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that the job had been completed at this point. But 9 May held its own collection of promises and its own set of problems. Victory in Europe, even while it was being celebrated, still had a long way to go.
There were still some pockets of fighting in Europe, mainly against the Russians. German troops in Czechoslovakia were fighting and did not cease until 12 May. These violations of the surrender already signed and effective were met with stiff reprisals; any German soldier in these areas, if caught, would have been denied his right to be considered a soldier.
Elsewhere there were more surrenders and other places being liberated on 9 May. The Germans on the Aegean Islands of Milos, Kos, Piskopi, Leros and Simi surrendered, as did those occupying the area surrounding Danzig and on the Baltic island of Bornholm. The Germans at Dunkirk also surrendered. The Commanding Officer, Vice Admiral Friedrich Frisius, reported to the head- quarters of General Liska of the Czech Army. The German was armed with his own surrender document which he had already signed. Britain’s Channel Islands, the only part of British soil to be occupied during the war, were finally liberated.
Celebrations in London and around the country, as around much of the world, continued. Yet, even as these went on, hundreds of former concentration camp inmates were dying. From Bergen Belsen alone 13,000 former inmates died between libera- tion and VE Day. Prisoners of war were being collected in temporary bases to prepare for their return home. Yet, amidst all the triumph of transporting these people home, there were disas- ters. One plane carrying ex-prisoners of war crashed on its way home, killing twenty-five.
Families were still being reunited whilst some people were discovering for the first time that they no longer had any families. The amount of dispossessed people was staggering. The war had created a human catastrophe that was completely unparalleled before or since.
By the time all the concentration camps had been liberated, only 700,000 people had survived. We shall probably never know the exact number who had perished, mainly Jews, Poles and Russians, but we do know that it ran into many millions. From one camp at Jasenovac, out of tens of thousands of inmates, only eighty survived.
East of Pilsen, German troops were still fighting until 11 May, when Soviet troops finally overwhelmed their numbers. In Slovenia, East Prussia and Latvia fighting continued, with several battalions refusing to surrender. Their refusals only lasted as long as their supplies and numbers. Eventually, their enemy overran their positions. On 11 May, the former Commandant of Norway, Josef Terboven, blew himself up. He had joined the long and growing list of German officials opting for suicide rather than face war crimes tribunals.
The troops in East Prussia and Latvia finally surrendered on 14 May, six whole days after their superiors had surrendered all German forces. The last German garrison to surrender laid down its weapons on 15 May. This consisted of 150,000 troops stationed in Yugoslavia. Effectively, this continued fighting delayed the victory celebrations in Yugoslavia until then. They formally surrendered at Slovenski Gradec.
It could be claimed, therefore, that VE Day actually stretched through to 15 May 1945 and that Slovenski Gradec was the most significant surrender, not Reims or Berlin. This becomes an inter- esting concept. When did the war against Germany end? Was it when the High Command accepted total defeat and signed an unconditionla surrender or was it when the last troops ceased fighting?