Today is the anniversary of V.E. Day – Victory in Europe Day. It marks the day during World War II when fighting against Nazi Germany in Europe came to an end. But it didn’t mark the end of the war…
After Adolf Hitler committed suicide on 30th April 1945, his successor, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, negotiated Germany’s surrender to officially bring about an end to the war in Europe. At 3pm on the 8th May 1945, then Prime Minister Winston Churchill made an announcement on the radio that Germany had surrendered and the war in Europe had ended. This didn’t come as a surprise to Britain, as people had anticipated Germany’s surrender for some time but, nevertheless, Churchill’s announcement was met much rejoicing.
The day became a dedicated national holiday and communities up and down the country held street parties to celebrate. Despite wartime rationing, people were allowed to purchase beer and red, white and blue bunting to aid the celebrations, and commemorative V.E. Day mugs, badges and posters were hastily produced. But despite the jubilation, V.E. Day was also marked as a day of sadness as people reflected on the millions of lives that had been lost during the war. And, as Churchill aptly put it in his V.E. Day announcement on the radio, this victory did not mean the total end of the war: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.”
Despite the war having ended in Europe, the Japanese had not surrendered and so even after the 8th May soldiers, sailors and pilots were sent east to continue fighting. The conflict did finally come to an end after two atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the 6th and 9th August respectively. Japan’s leaders surrendered on the 15th August and the day became known as V.J. Day, Victory over Japan Day (or V.P. Day – Victory in the Pacific Day). But whilst the fighting may have ceased, for many ordinary British citizens the impact of the war raged on. The rationing of clothes lasted another 4 years whilst food rationing continued until 1954. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives to the war effort and this, together with the huge financial cost of the war, had a severe impact on the British economy. The Age of Austerity had begun.
Today, V.E. Day is often thought of as a day of great celebration and accomplishment. But it is also important to remember the devastating impact that World War II had, and continues to have, on the lives of millions of people across the globe. For more information about V.E. Day visit What You Need To Know About V.E. Day on the Imperial War Museum’s website.