Tuesday 8th May 1945. V.E.Day.
The Burton Daily Mail said in its not particularly large Gothic script: ‘GERMAN WAR IS AT AN END’: a sub heading said, ‘Burton receives news calmly.'(1)
Today a Tuesday was V.E. Day. It had been announced at 7.40 pm the previous evening, when the BBC interrupted a piano recital to announce that Tuesday 8th May will be treated as ‘Victory in Europe Day’, and will be regarded as a holiday.
It was left to Stuart Hibberd to give the notice unemotionally and to say that Churchill will speak at 3 pm the next day.
Anecdotal tales tell of a sense of anti-climax, many got ‘tight’, many prayed, cried, and so on. One recorded that she ‘rose placidly and put the kettle on,’ a typically British response!(2)
On the 4th of the month, General Montgomery (‘Monty’), had received the German surrender on Luneburg Heath. After the signings, Eddie Worth the only British photographer in the tent, noticed that it was wrongly dated, pointed it out to Monty who altered and initialled it.
On the 7th of May at at 2.41 am in a school building in Rheims in Northern France, the unconditional surrender of all German land and sea and air forces was signed by General Jodl, delayed so soldiers and refugees could give themselves up to the West, rather than to the Russians. General Bedell Smith signed for the Allied Expeditionary Forces.
Most people expected peace on May 7th and flags were unfurled, but still no official announcement, a member of Mass-Observation noted. Papers had definite news, but still no announcement from Churchill until today the 8th, after he had lunched with the King.
He later visited the Commons where the Secretary of State for War, Sir James Grigg was none committal when asked whether in view of the continuing War against Japan, returning POWs would be liable to be shipped over there.
At 3pm Churchill spoke from Downing Street, a speech which was relayed through loud-speakers in towns and cities throughout the land. He announced that hostilities would officially cease at one minute past midnight and that ‘our dear Channel Islands would be freed today.’
He was to finish with ‘Advance Britannia!, long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!’ Revisiting the Commons he ‘moved’ that the House adjourn to St Margaret’s, Westminster to give thanks and remember the twenty-one MPs who had been killed in the War, along with over 60,000 civilians and a quarter of a million British troops.
Later Churchill finally appeared with members of the Cabinet at 5.40pm on the Ministry of Health balcony, in Homburg hat and siren suit, and conducted the crowd in ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’ Later he appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
VE Day saw fireworks, banned since 1940, and bonfires and street parties were held all over Britain. The Hokey-Cokey dance was popular with all.
The two BBC radio stations Home Service and General Forces had a diet of Joe Loss and Lew Stone, dance bands, a thanksgiving by the Archbishop of Canterbury, songs and music from the Scots Guards, Royal Horse Guard Bands and Forces Favourites. Then came News in Norwegian, not forgetting Chief Inspector French’s cases!
In many cases the War ended more with a whimper than a bang, not surprising for those who had survived, were emotionally and physically drained.
It was a war on which the writer J.B. Priestley later remarked that the British had never been so good before or after wartime. Whilst socialist Michael Foot, said that it was the nearest we have ever been to a true socialist state.
(1) Now Burton Mail, a Staffordshire Evening Paper.
(2) Mass Observation Records.
Ref: Googleimages/britishdemocraticparty.org.Pic.Ref. re Daily Mail.
Ref: Susan L. Carruthers. 2011 re quote re Priestley.
Ref: cato.org/blog. quote re M. Foot.