On this day 70 years ago Victory in Europe Day was celebrated, which signified the end of the Second World War in Europe. This day marked the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.
The downfall of Germany was finalised with the suicide of Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, during the Battle of Berlin. The surrender of Germany’s forces was authorised by Hitler’s successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The German Instrument of Surrender, or military submission act, was signed on the 7th May in Reims, France and on the 8th May in Berlin, Germany.
Upon the defeat of Germany and the formal singing of the act of surrender, celebrations occurred throughout the world. In the United Kingdom, more than one million people celebrated in the streets to mark the end of the European part of the war and the return to normal life. In London, crowds gathered at Trafalgar Square and along The Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds.
Churchill gave a poignant celebratory speech, which not only focused on the victory over Germany, but the need to continue to fulfil Britain’s duties by coming to the aid of the United States against the Japanese.
Churchill’s speech to the VE Day Crowds:
“My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.
There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? [The crowd shouted “No.”] Were we down-hearted? [“No!”] The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say “do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.” Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy. But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed-the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfil our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.”
The end of the Second World War:
Despite Victory in Europe being declared in May 1945, the end of the Second World War did not in fact come until the surrender of Japan on the 15th August 1945, which is marked by Victory over Japan Day. Although the victory of the Allies had been declared and the Second World War brought to a close, fighting still continued in some areas of Japan. Many Prisoners of War were not freed at the end of the war and significant numbers of troops were not able to return home until 1946.