VE Day flag

Victory in Europe (VE) Day

VE Day

VE Day flag
Canadian soldiers celebrate VE day at Piccadilly Circus in London, England, on May 8, 1945.

Today, May 8th, is the 79th anniversary of VE Day, which meant an end to nearly six years of war that had cost the lives of millions, and brought suffering to populations of entire countries. This is the first of three posts covering this significant historical period.

Millions of people rejoiced in the news that Hitler had surrendered, but this was not the end of the conflict. The war against Japan did not end until August 1945, and the repercussions of the Second World War, economic, social and political, were felt long after Japan and Germany surrendered.

Canada’s greatest challenge was the economy, and how to move from one geared for war to one that could provide the goods for peace. Unlike most of Europe, we did not have to rebuild bombed cities and deal with the legacy of an invading army passing through the country and destroying everything in its path.

VE Day surrender
Generaloberst Alfred Jodl (1890 - 1946): Jodl signs the instrument of surrender at Rheims.
© IWM (EA 65715)

Germany Signed an Unconditional Surrender

Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30th 1945, his successor was Grand Admiral Karl Döniz, who, as Germanys President, negotiated an end to the war with the Allies, at the same time trying to save as many Germans as possible from falling into Soviet hands. On May 4th the surrender of the German forces in the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark was accepted by the British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. On May 7th, Supreme Allied Commander General Eisenhower accepted the surrender of all German Forces signed by General Alfred Jodl.

The Soviet leader Josef Stalin wanted his own ceremony, and in Berlin on May 8th a further document was signed. Döniz plan was partially successful as millions of German soldiers surrendered to Allied forces and escaped Soviet capture.

VE Day Celebration
A truck of revellers passing through the Strand, London, 8 May 1945.
© IWM (HU 41808)

VE Day Announced

The announcement that the war had ended was made late in the day on May 7th. The BBC in Britain interrupted its scheduled programming to announce that Victory in Europe Day would be a National holiday, but lots of people began celebrating early. News of VE Day soon spread to the rest of the world.

In the next sectionwe cover how VE Day was marked in Britain and across the World.

VE Day King & Queen
HM King George VI and Queen Elizabeth with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret joined by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London on VE Day.
WM (MH 21835)

VE Day was a National Holiday in Britain

A National Holiday was announced after Churchill gained assurances from the Ministry of Food that there were enough beer supplies in the capitol, and the Board of Trade announced that people could buy red white and blue bunting without using ration coupons. There we even special ‘victory’ menus in some restaurants and commemorative items quickly produced in time for the celebrations.

There were parades, thanksgiving services and street parties, and dancing in the street. In New Zealand VE Day was officially on May 9th due to the time difference.

Britains Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the man of the hour on VE Day. He made a radio broadcast and gave a speech in London. For him, nothing would match his time as a wartime Prime Minister, he wrote later that everything afterwards was ‘all anti-climax’.

The British Royal Family also took part in the celebrations, with eight appearances on the balcony at Buckingham Palace. The family had remained in London despite the palace and buildings surrounding them being bombed, as they wanted to portray to the British people their support and resolve not to give in to the Germans.

While the King and Queen were waving to the crowds for the last time, the future Monarch, Princess Elizabeth, and her sister Princess Margaret were allowed to leave the palace and join the people on the street- anonymously- and take part in the party atmosphere. Afterwards Princess Elizabeth said ‘I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life

VE Day dancing
British girls, of the Picture Division of the London Office of War Information dance in the street with American soldiers during the "VE Day" celebration in London May 8, 1945. This scene took place outside the building of the U.S. Army Pictorial Division has its offices.
© IWM (EA 65796)

Victory in Europe was marked around the world

The news that the war was over in Europe spread quickly, people in Allied countries and the British Empire wanted to celebrate the defeat of Nazi Germany.

There were scenes of rejoicing in the US, in New York 15,000 police were mobilized to control the crowds in Times Square. Due to the recent death of President Roosevelt, who had led his country through the war, the flags were kept at half-mast.

In Australia the mood was somewhat sombre due to the war in the Far East and the Pacific still being fought, with many Australians still serving there, but there were services in churches to give thanks, and many cities did rejoice.

In Paris, France, huge numbers of people partied on the Champs Élysées, in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe singing ‘Its a long way to Tipperary’.

However, in Halifax, Canada, there were riots among the large concentration of military personnel stationed there. Thousands of soldiers, sailers and civilians looted the liquor stores - which had been closed for the VE Day holiday - and the resulting riots and vandalism resulted in several deaths.

It was a day of mixed emotions for those who had lost loved ones. Amongst the street parties and rejoicing there were many people who had lost a friend or relative and who were mourning those deaths. People were also weary with air raids, wartime life and rationing, and were aware that there were more difficulties to endure.

In the final part of this review of VE Day, we explore the legacy of the necessary war on Canada.

VE Day Civvy St
Demobilized Canadian veterans await interviews with rehabilitation counsellors in Toronto, date unknown. Left to right are Privates E. Robinson and D. Owens, Trooper J.A. Lenartowicz, and Sergeant E.J. O’Keefe.

It was not the end of the war

In May 1945 thousands of Allied serviceman were still fighting in the Far East and thousand were held as prisoners of war in terrible conditions. The battle conditions had been some of the toughest of the war. This finally ended in victory for the Allies, but not after continuing heavy casualties on both sides. Japan surrendered on August 14th, and the act of surrender signed on September 2nd.

The Legacy of the Necessary War in Canada

After the war, there was widespread unemployment in Canada, this brought discontent and unrest, which led to the creation of programs for the one million returning veterans. There was also a want to ease the transition back to civilian life, and reward those who had served in the war.

Prime Minister King, who had lost his beloved nephew in the Battle of the Atlantic promised support ‘the man who was offering his life voluntarily for the service of his country’. There were cash payments issued for length of time in uniform, along with loans for purchasing farms, starting businesses, and buying homes, and also retraining programs. This included the fifty thousand women who served in the Armed Forces.

VE Day injured
Canadian soldier Aubrey McLean uses crutches at a hospital in England in June 1945, two months after losing his lower right leg to a mine while fighting in the Netherlands. In later years, McLean served in leadership roles with the War Amputations of Canada organization in Nova Scotia.

University access was granted to veterans when before only the people who could afford education gained entry, apart from a few scholarship winners. Universities had to expand to meet the needs of fifty four thousand veterans turned students. This State support became the Veterans Charter, with its grants, programs and educational opportunities.

The State also cared for the around fifty five thousand wounded veterans providing health care similar to the programs offered after the First World War, despite there being no Universal Health Care yet in Canada.

VE Day War brides
War brides and their children line the railing of a ship bound from England to Canada in 1944.

There were also the nearly fifty thousand ‘War Brides’ who had married Canadian soldier stationed overseas who arrived in Canada between 1945 and 1946. They and their children faced challenges adjusting to post war life in an unfamiliar country, but became part of the legacy of the war. They also were part of the first wave of the baby boom - more than a million births between 1945 and 1950.

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