Seventy years ago today, VE Day was celebrated in both Britain and the United States, marking the end of World War II in Europe. I could try to recreate scenes from the day using my own words and imagination, but in this case, I think the words of those who were there are more powerful. Today’s post is a collection of quotes, stories, and remembrances from that day.
In Britain, Winston Churchill announced the end of the war in a radio broadcast:
Even before the announcement had been made, people were pouring into the streets to celebrate, hanging banners and dancing. Joan Styan recorded her memories of the night of May 7 on BBC’s WW2 People’s War, an online archive (bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar):
“VE Day was officially declared on the 8th of May 1945, but the war in Europe was definitely over on that magic night before when London surged into life. My mother said to me: ‘Let’s go to the West End Joan and join in the celebrations.’ So we jumped on a train from our nearby Clapham Junction station to Victoria and were astounded to see such huge, swirling crowds. We tried desperately to make our way to Buckingham Palace and staggered shoulder to shoulder with the crowds. What an incredible sight. A wave of humanity confronted us. Impassioned emotions would never be as high again. London was aflame with human exhilaration. Bonfires blazed continuously over London and the sky was alight with the glow of victory. No more suffering and hardship; peace had finally descended upon us and everybody was at one with each other regardless of race, creed and status. Survival and freedom were all that mattered. We had waited so very long for this and in our wildest dreams had never envisaged a night like this….
“No more suffering; peace at last; survival and freedom were all that mattered. London was submerged in jubilation and screams of relief from humanity. People climbed on anything they could, statues, buildings, cars, and every lamp-post was scaled. Noisy dustbin lids were banged and the hysterical crowds were totally beyond any order. Nothing mattered, only freedom. The ultimate heights of pent up human emotion were as they had never been and will probably never be again. “
On the American side of the war, General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s aides urged him to send a strongly worded declaration of victory back home. But in the end, he said simply and succinctly: “The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”
Not long after that, President Harry Truman announced the end of the war to the American public:
“This is a solemn but glorious hour. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly all over Europe….
“For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity. Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band. Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors–neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.
“We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead, and to our children, only by work, by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us. If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is work, work, and more work. We must work to finish the war. Our victory is only half over.”
CBC News (Canadian Broadcast Network) asked its readers for personal stories and memories from VE Day. The following three stories were among hundreds shared:
- “My father was 14 at the time and was told by his father to ride to the neighbouring farms and tell them the Canadians were coming. While frantically riding his bike to the next farm, shells started dropping close to him, so he hid in a ditch. He then heard a tank approaching and was terrified it was the Germans. The tank stopped and someone tapped him on the shoulder. He looked up and seen a Canadian soldier with a huge handlebar mustache. The soldier offered him some chocolate (which was like gold at the time), and took my father and his bike on the tank to ride in to the next town,” said Sylvia Ann.
- “My uncle George fought in Italy and Holland during WWII. He never talked about the War, he couldn’t. I remember mom telling me that when the family went to the train station to bring him home. He couldn’t kiss anyone because he had trench mouth,” said Brad Walker.
- “My father served. He was found injured in a field in Holland, by a little girl playing with her brother. They called for help, and brought my father to their home to recover, so grateful were they for the Canadians’ help. The little girl grew, and corresponded with my mother for many years. Each spring, for about 20 years, she and her family sent us Dutch tulips for our garden. Eventually, everybody moved and lost touch. But I still remember those tulips and what they meant,” said Lynn Alfino.
Do you or anyone you know have personal memories of VE Day? I’d love to hear them!