For days, people had been anticipating the news of the German surrender – bell ringers were on-hand to ring in victory at St Paul’s Cathedral, while across the country Union Jack flags and bunting were ready for the celebrations that would surely come.
At 2:41pm on 7 May 1945 in a school house in Rheims, unconditional surrender was signed: active operations by the German Forces would cease by 11.01pm the next day.
And so, on 8 May 1945, the news the nation had been waiting for arrived. War in Europe was over!
Six years of bloodshed that had killed approximately 382,700 members of the British Armed Forces and 67,100 civilians had finally come to a close.
Our ‘Everything You Need To Know About VE Day’ video gives a quick overview of the VE Day story.
“This is the Day of Days”
Bells across the country pealed, tugs on the Thames sounded their horns and planes victory-rolled overhead. A sea of red, white and blue erupted – even dogs wore tricolour bows – as men, women and children rejoiced.
London had taken the brunt of the war’s bombing and it was only right that it should be the place to celebrate – anyone who could reach the city did so, and by midnight the police estimated that a crowd of 50,000 was packed into Piccadilly Circus waving flags.
Revellers danced to impromptu street orchestras, singing songs such as ‘Roll Out The Barrel’, and fireworks flashed into the sky.
But the nation wanted to hear just one man: Winston Churchill. At 3.00pm on 8 May, the Prime Minister broadcast from the War Cabinet Office to a nation crowded around wirelesses: the war was over. It was the same room that in 1939 Neville Chamberlain had announced that the country was at war.
Shortly afterwards, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses came out onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace to acknowledge the ecstatic, cheering throng, the first of eight appearances by the King and Queen on VE Day.
When the doors onto the balcony were opened again at 5.30pm, the Royal Family stepped out accompanied by the man of the hour, Churchill.
When the King and Queen reappeared later that evening, amongst the joyful crowd below were their two daughters; Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret had slipped out of the Palace to join in and experience the jubilation.
“… my sister and I realised we couldn’t see what the crowds were enjoying … so we asked my parents if we could go out and see for ourselves … After crossing Green Park we stood outside and shouted, ‘We want the King’, and were successful in seeing my parents on the balcony, having cheated slightly because we sent a message into the house to say we were waiting outside. I think it was one of the most memorable nights of my life.”HM Queen Elizabeth II
It wasn’t all over
With VE Day came the first glimmer of life returning to pre-1939 days. Public buildings in London including Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament were floodlit; the weather forecast, no longer top secret, featured in newspapers and on the BBC Home Service.
But times were still austere and many of the restrictions faced by the nation during the war remained. Rationing in fact became stricter – bread became rationed between 1946 and 1948 and potatoes were rationed in 1947.
It wasn’t until July 1954 that rationing officially ended, with bacon and meat being the last to go.
No celebrations in the Far East
While Britain was awash with VE street parties and bonfires, thousands of miles away, British and Commonwealth Armed Forces were still fighting in Burma, Singapore and Thailand. It was there that they heard the news that the war was over in Europe.
It was the longest campaign of the war, with continuous fighting for three full years, and unlike those fighting in Europe, the British Forces there had no leave during which they could go home. They were there for the duration. Six years of warfare, untold loss and misery to the world finally came to the end with the surrender of Japan.
Celebrating VE Day 70
Thank you to everyone who joined in across the UK to celebrate, share, remember and honour those who lived and fought through the Second World War.
Our highlights video from the Legion’s VE Day Veterans reception and our #KissForVEDay campaign are below.
VE Day 70 – commemorative events
National events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) took place Friday 8 May to Sunday 10 May, as follows:
FRIDAY 8 MAY – A day of Remembrance
- A Service of Remembrance at The Cenotaph, including a national-two minute silence at 3pm marking the moment Winston Churchill broadcast his historic speech formally announcing the end of the war.
- Schools across the country were encouraged to observe the two-minute silence and to celebrate and commemorate in their own way: reading out Churchill’s historic speech; holding special VE Day-themed assemblies; organising tea parties and so on.
- In the evening, a chain of beacons was lit across the UK, the first “at the going down of the sun” in Windsor by HM The Queen, followed by over 120 around the country including Great Yarmouth, Island of Unst, Craig-Y-Dorth, Monmouthshire; Stokesby, Norfolk; and Lowestoft, Suffolk. Locations are included on the Government’s online events map.
- London landmarks were lit to reproduce the 1945 illuminations – Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral – and again on Saturday and Sunday.
SATURDAY 9 MAY – A day of celebration
- At 11am cathedrals and churches across the country from Durham to Canterbury rang their bells in celebration.
- Festivities peaked with a star-studded 1940s themed concert ‘A Party To Remember’ at Horse Guards Parade on Saturday night. Produced by Live Nation and the BBC in partnership with the Legion, it was be hosted by Chris Evans and featured a line-up of international recording artists, stars and celebrities.
Attendees included Adrian Lester, Alexander Armstrong, Alfie Boe, Bernard Cribbins, Blue, Diversity, Elaine Paige, Gregory Porter, Ian Lavender, Jamelia, Jane Horrocks, Katherine Jenkins, Pixie Lott, Rebecca Ferguson, Status Quo, Strictly Come Dancing.
The show was broadcast on BBC One TV and Radio 2 and included this special message from Dame Vera Lynn.
SUNDAY 10 MAY – A day of thanksgiving
- A Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey was attended by HM The Queen, members of the Royal Family, veterans and their families, representatives of allied nations and Commonwealth countries who fought alongside Britain in the conflict, along with other diplomatic representatives and senior members of government and the Armed Forces.
- Following the service, veterans and current service personnel, supported by bands, paraded from the Abbey along Whitehall, past the balcony of HM Treasury where Winston Churchill made his historic appearance before crowds on VE Day and through to Horse Guards Parade where HRH The Prince of Wales took the Royal Salute.
- Two Hurricanes and a Spitfire followed by the Red Arrows created a fitting end to the parade with a flypast.
- Crowds gathered to cheer on the VE Day Veterans who continued to a reception in St James’s Park hosted by The Royal British Legion. This was a chance for them to relax, reminisce, share stories and generally have a fantastic time.
- A display of period vehicles from the 1940s and other exhibits in St James’s Park transported Central London back to the 1940s.