Written by Charis Gambon
Victory in Europe day, or VE day as it is commonly referred to is celebrated on 8th May and has been every year since 1945.
8th May 1945 was the day that the German army laid down their weapons in Europe and ceased fighting against the allied forces. VE day brought an end to nearly six years of war that had cost the lives of millions across the world, destroyed homes, cities, and brought a phenomenal amount of suffering to whole countries across the world.
Whole communities across Europe came together and celebrated the news that Germany had surrendered and that the war was finally over. People marked the occasion with street parties where there were dancing, singing and everyone wore their best clothes.
VE day was declared as a national holiday in Britain by Churchill. The Ministry of Food stated that London people could buy beer without ration coupons as there were enough bottles to go around. People were also able to purchase red, white, and blue bunting without coupons, due to the fact that the Board of Trade lifted rationing of cloth by a small amount. “Until the end of May you may buy cotton bunting without coupons, as long as it is red, white or blue, and does not cost more than one shilling and three pence a square yard. People could also purchase commemorative items such as VE day mugs.” The Home Office also declared that, “Bonfires will be allowed, but the government trusts that only material with no salvage value will be used.”
Huge crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square up to the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth, and Princess Margaret were joined by Winston Churchill on the balcony of the palace before the crowds. In total the king and queen made eight appearances on their Buckingham palace balcony. The princesses even managed to secretly join the celebrations outside the palace. In reference to joining the celebrations the future Queen stated it as “one of the most memorable nights of my life”.
King George VI, also gave a radio address in addition to appearing on the balcony. In his speech, he praised British people’s endurance and called for peace to last forever. Additionally, he paid tribute to those who could not be present for the celebrations, stating: ‘Let us remember those who will not come back…let us remember the men in all the services, and the women in all the services, who have laid down their lives. We have come to the end of our tribulation and they are not with us at the moment of our rejoicing.’
Events were organised to mark the joyous occasion, including parades, thanksgiving services and street parties. Communities came together to share the moment. London’s St Paul’s Cathedral held ten consecutive services giving thanks for the peace that had been granted, each one attended by an enormous amount of people.
At 3pm on VE Day, Churchill made a national radio broadcast. In his broadcast he announced the joyful news that the war had ended in Europe. He did however include a sadder note as he knew the war was not fully over as Japan still had to be defeated. Stating that “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” Later on, that same day, Churchill appeared on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building in central London and gave an unrehearsed speech. Huge, cheering crowds gathered below and he declared, “This is your victory.” The crowd shouted back, “No – it’s yours!” The people of Britain were very thankful for Churchill and for the victory.
The VE Day celebrations continued into the night. The largest crowds in Britain were in London but people from all around the country took part in the parties, singing and dancing. bonfires and fireworks were also lit to mark the occasion.
Music was provided, and people sang and danced to the music that was being played. Licensing hours were extended so that people could have a drink or two to mark the end of the war, and dance halls stayed open until midnight.
However not everybody celebrated Victory in Europe day. For those who had people they cared about in the war, it was a time to reflect. Surrounded by the street parties and celebrations many people mourned the death of a friend or relative, or worried for those who were still fighting overseas. For many of the widows the war had produced, the significant amount of noise as people celebrated VE Day was too much to cope with and they felt that it was not something they could participate in as a result.
Every year since 8th May 1945 VE day is celebrated all across the world to mark remembrance for the Second World War and to ensure that a war of such huge a scale and cost such a large proportion of lives does not happen again. We celebrate the success of the allied forces by marking the event in a smaller but similar fashion to the 1945 event.
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