History

VE Day

08 May 1945

Tuesday 8 May 1945 was Victory in Europe (VE) Day, and it marked the formal conclusion of Hitler's war. With it came the end of six years of misery, suffering, courage and endurance across the world.


Photo: People dance in the streets of London on VE Day, 8 May 1945. (Getty Images)

Introduction

People dance in the streets of London on VE Day, 8 May 1945 VE Day

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More information about: VE Day

The Germans surrender

After the suicide of Hitler on 30 April 1945, it was left to Grand Admiral Donitz, who had been President of the Third Reich for a week, to surrender. Donitz travelled to General Eisenhower's HQ at Reims in France, and, in the presence of senior officers from Britain, America, Russia and France, surrendered unconditionally to the Western and Russian demands on 7 May 1945.

The British rejoice

The war-weary British began to rejoice straight away rather than waiting for the official day of celebration on the 8th. There had been years of austerity and rationing: five inches of water for a bath, few eggs, no bananas and the motto 'make do and mend'. Half a million homes had been destroyed, thousands of civilians had been killed and many millions of lives disrupted. And although the casualty lists from the battlefields were lower than in World War One, they were still terrible.

All across the nation people turned on the wireless to find out more. People were out on the streets, hanging bunting and banners and dancing. The famous World War Two diarist Nella Last recorded the scene in her diary:

'...All the shops had got their rosettes and tri-coloured button-holes in the windows and men putting up lengths of little pennants and flags. Till at three o'clock, the Germans announced it was all over. As if by magic, long ladders appeared, for putting up flags and streamers. A complete stranger to the situation could have felt the tenseness and feeling of expectation. Like myself, Steve [Howson, a wartime friend] has a real fear of Russia. He thinks in, say, 20 years or so, when Nazism has finally gone, Germany and not Russia will be our Allies.'

'This is your victory!'

Huge crowds gathered in London on the following day. At 3pm Churchill made a radio broadcast. In Trafalgar Square, as his voice was relayed over loudspeakers, an eye-witness noted that 'there was an extraordinary hush over the assembled multitude'.

King George VI and the Queen appeared eight times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, while the two Princesses - Margaret and Elizabeth (now Her Majesty the Queen) - mingled with the crowds. Churchill later gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, telling the crowds, 'This is your victory!'

All over the country people held fancy dress parades for children, got drunk, made a din, sang and danced in the streets, and went to church to give thanks to God for victory.

However, for the many people mourning a loved one killed in service or a German air raid, the moment of victory was bittersweet. For others, after the parties were over, there was a sense of anti-climax. Some found that they had lost a sense of purpose in their lives, a feeling exacerbated by the austerity to come. The war had been won, but the peace did not promise to be easy.

The end of an era

If VE Day drew a line under the past, the defeat of Churchill in the July 1945 General Election signalled a new beginning. On 15 August, victory in Japan read the last rites of World War Two. Compared to VE Day, VJ Day was a subdued affair. Britain had already begun to move on.