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.
In life success largely depends on ‘LADY LUCK’ and the ability to take advantage of HER. At times a swaggering and conceited personality helps, none more so than with the later Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.
On 13th August 1942 ‘Monty’ had taken command of the 8th Army, after the death of General ‘Strafer’ Gott, in a transport aircraft crash, whilst ‘hitching’ a lift from Libya to Cairo. He was en-route to take command of the 8th Army, but fate decided otherwise as his plane was attacked on take-off.(1)
See Addendum for what lies behind this terse account-this foot-note of warfare.
Churchill was in Cairo on 4th August 1942, in the last days of his visit to units to appraise ‘morale and vigour’ of the Generals and by the evening of the 7th he decided to replace Ritchie by Gott to take charge of the 8th Army also. He replaced Commander-in-Chief, Auchinleck with Alexander, who had been poached from Eisenhower’s Torch team. At the time however we were winning the First Battle of Alamein under Auchinleck, which history tends to ignore; halos were reserved for Montgomery’s later victory.
Montgomery was lucky to have Enigma Intelligence as to the enemy’s movements; to have the brilliant camouflage expertise of Geoffrey Barkas, and the brains of Edgar Trevor Williams, whose death Today in 1995 reminds us of one of the unsung heroes of El Alamein, for it was Edgar ‘Bill’ Trevor Williams who masterminded Montgomery’s Intelligence system in the 21 Army Group.
Monty later recalled :’I discovered there a major in the Intelligence Brigade in the King’s Dragoon Guards by name Williams, an Oxford Don with a brilliant brain which after a conversation gave me an idea which played a large part in winning the Battle of El Alamein’.
Williams had noted that Rommel deployed his infantry and paratroops between and sometimes behind the Italians, tactics known as ‘corseting’. Williams’ idea was to separate the two as we could smash the Italian front without difficulty-a strategy known as ‘crumbling’, thus luring the Germans out of their original positions.
Churchill was a great arm-chair strategist, much to the annoyance of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Alanbrooke, and despite saying he left commanders a free reign, dispatched a note to The ‘Auk’, that he would withdraw 15 Air Squadrons to help the Russians, unless he went on the offensive, which in the event was left to Monty and victory at Alamein.
The brilliance of film-maker, Geoffrey Barkas as Camouflage Director, of British Middle-East Command, was notable in Operation Bertram which contributed to ultimate success in the desert. Churchill described the contribution of camouflage in Bertram: ‘I must say a word…surprise and strategy by a marvellous system of camouflage… was achieved in the desert’.(2)
(1) Lt-General William Henry Ewart Gott 13.8.1897-7.8.1942.
(2) Report 11.11.1942.
Gott died after the plane had been shot down whilst taking off for Cairo and the remarkable bravery of the Sgt. Pilot ‘Hugh ‘Jimmy’ James, the sole survivor, whose valiant attempt to save the plane whilst seriously injured himself lies in the ‘Annals of the Brave’ for all time. James was 19 years old; REPEAT 19 YEARS OF AGE. We live in an age when Sainsburys have a notice requiring proof of age to buy alcohol: are you 25? It’s what we fought for!!
Ref: Barkas and his wife wrote Camouflage Story (From Aintree to Alamein).
Pic: wikipedia of Monty.
Ref: David Fraser: Alanbrooke, Bloomsbury Pub. 2011 e-book.
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