(The people of Great Britain)…”May allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing. Advance Britannia. Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King! ”
70 years ago today Europe was declared a war free zone, it was over (in Europe at least). Although this is the official date, it actually ended on Monday 7th May 1945 at 2.41 am when German General Jodl signed the official surrender document. Winston Churchill was informed at 7am and though he had yet to make a public announcement still crowds began to gather outside the palace demanding “we want the king”. A circular was released stating that the nation could celebrate, though there would be restrictions … “bonfires will be allowed , but the government trusts that only material with no salvage value will be used” and the Board of Trade followed suit with its own stipulations …”Until the end of May you may buy cotton bunting, as long as it is red, white or blue, and does not cost more than one shilling and three pence”…even with these stipulations it must have felt like all their dreams were coming true, not only was war over but they could buy bunting!! By 7.40 pm that night Churchill would hold off no longer and finally declared to the country at large what they already seemed to know …”In accordance with arrangements between three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe day and will be regarded as a holiday”.
So as the clock struck 3pm today, did you down tools, close your eyes, almost hold your breath in reverence …What did you think about? A relative maybe who had participated in the war, either on the front line or back at home? Maybe a grandparent, someone you love and respect, maybe you have had the honour of listening to years of stories about the street parties throughout the country on this day 70 years ago. I was not so lucky, although my granddad was involved in the war by the time I knew him he was an old man, losing some of his faculties and unable to regale me with stories.
So what was I thinking about in those 2 minutes? I was imagining the red, blue and white bunting swaying in the breeze, the whole community coming out with their teapots and mismatched china, children cheering and young ladies kissing all the men in uniforms, the three Lancaster bombers flying over London dropping red and green flares. I was wondering how loud those powerful Merlin engines would have sounded to the cheering crowds below who surely would have taken a minute to look up and view the majesty of such a beautiful sight flying over head. I was thinking about all that we have be thankful for, but also all that we now lack. How exciting it must have felt after years of fear and loss, to be able to exalt, to cheer and have a reason to smile and hug each other . Yes we now have more freedom, women especially, but we also have less community spirit. Can you imagine a street party in this day and age? I wish I could.
(Photograph from the collection of Mrs. Cresswell, © IWM MH-30796.)
Within minutes of Churchill’s reveal their were thousand of people crowding the streets of London ready to celebrate, excited people were everywhere and boats all the along the Thames sounded their horns. Celebrations went on all through the day, not just in London, but all over the world only ending around midnight due to the weather, thunderstorms and torrential rain drenched those still out partying, what better time than this to dance in the rain! Unlike official celebrations there was nothing organised, nothing planned, there were no parades or ceremonies, just an unbridled need to for release, to kick up one’s heels and paint the town red white and blue.
According to journalist Mollie Panter-Downes the atmosphere was like that of a “vast, happy village fete as people wandered about, sat, sang and slept against a summer background of trees, grass, flowers and water”. It was not just the hoi polloi milling around London on that eventful night, even the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were out there dancing, laughing, quaffing champagne at the Ritz and even gambling (mother would have been proud).
Unfortunately with war veterans, the generation of my great grandparents and grandparents approaching either their end or their dotage we will lose all the stories, lose the sensibilities they took for granted. Words like respect, family, community, will they leave our vocabulary altogether? We as a generation must fight to keep them alive, not in the same way they fought to protect our way of life but fight none the less.
So next time you see someone in your community needing assistance, reach out to them don’t just walk on by. We must teach our children to have respect and manners. If we do not hold on to these sensibilities then all the lives lost will have been for nothing. So in respect for the men and women who lost their lives and those who lived through it as best as they could, for all the children who grew up to the sound of bombs, all the mothers who produced meals day in day out on measly rations…I salute you and hope we can learn from your past so that we can improve our future and the future of our children.
“I remember lines of unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, and all of us were swept along by tides of happiness and relief.”
HRH Queen Elizabeth II
Disclaimer: I am aware that technically this post is not nose art related, however the end of the war in Europe and the sight of the celebrations is art enough. I hope you will allow me this slight digression from the usual remit…just this once!