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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : VE Day

8 May 1945

Outcome: Victory in Europe celebrated by Britain and the western Allies. The USSR celebrated on 9 May.

Victory celebrations in 1945
Victory celebrations in 1945©
Allied bombing raids had devastated many German cities, paving the way for invasion. The Western Allies raced the Russians to Berlin but the Russians made it first, entering the German capital on 21 April 1945. Russian troops formed a ring around the inner city and held it under siege.

By 27 April, the area still held by the Germans amounted to a strip measuring only 16km by 5km (ten by three miles). Hitler killed himself in the Führer's Bunker on 30 April, two days after Mussolini had been captured and hanged by Italian partisans. Two days, also, since he had married his mistress Eva Braun, whom he poisoned before his suicide.

It was left to Grand Admiral Dönitz, President of the Third Reich for a week, to travel to Eisenhower's HQ at Reims and - in the presence of senior officers from Britain, America, Russia and France - to surrender unconditionally to the Western and Russian demands on 7 May. The following day, the Allies celebrated victory - and 8 May 1945 is known officially as VE Day.

In Britain, Churchill announced the victory from the balcony of the Ministry of Health in Whitehall, making two brief speeches to a vast crowd. After the words 'This is your victory!' the crowd roared back, 'No. It's yours!' Churchill continued:

'God bless you all. This is your victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all.'

For many the great excitement came on 7 May, rather than on the official day of victory the next day. All across the nation the people tuned in to the wireless to find out more. They were told that Allied victory in Europe was to be celebrated officially the following day, but many people had already begun their celebrations. 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.'

So although war was won and the threat of Nazism removed, there was still some uneasiness. The war in the Pacific was unresolved, and millions of people in Europe and Russia had to rebuild their lives.

Nella Last goes on to note that the decision to celebrate victory the following day led to a feeling of anti-climax, and when VE Day arrived she felt 'curious, flat'. She spent the time quietly at home.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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