While Brits sang and danced in the street and shouted “Winnie, Winnie” in honour of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill – celebrations for VE Day were going on in other parts of the world.
As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday May 8, we look at how the news of peace was received in other parts of the world.
War in Japan – one of the cruellest episodes of any wartime – still raged and world leaders reminded their citizens victory was not complete – yet.
CanadaA million men and women – a tenth of Canada’s population– served in the military during the war.In Toronto, ticker tape and other paper rained down from the windows of businesses and from some Mosquito medium bombers that circled the tops of buildings.Riots broke out in a few towns. The worse was in the port of Halifax where pubs and liquor stores were ordered to be locked up on VE Day. What began as a break-in to get drinks at a pub turned into looting, damaging over 550 stores and causing $1 million damage.
Australia and New ZealandThe Sydney Morning Herald in Australia greeted V-E Day with the question, “Since when has it been customary to celebrate victory halfway through a contest?”The war with Japan had been the great threat to Australia itself, and the country’s sons were still fighting and dying in that war. Accordingly, the mood was more somber than in Europe.Headlines announced the victory to New Zealanders on the morning of May 8, but Walter Nash, acting prime minister, refused to allow celebrations until Winston Churchill officially announced the peace from London.That didn’t happen until May 9 at one o’clock in the morning, New Zealand time, so for the most part New Zealanders observed VE Day on May 9, although there was some spontaneous dancing in the streets.
South AfricaIn Cape Town the thousands celerbating brought traffic to a near-standstill. The Cape Times of the following day wrote; “The gnawing, ceaseless anxiety in many homes for loved ones in danger has vanished like an evil dream.”South Africa was home to many people of German descent, however, and in 1940 the decision to fight as part of the British force against Germany and Italy was not popular with those who supported Hitler’s policies.On VE Day itself, a group overpowered guards and raided the office of the chief controller in Pretoria.
FranceCharles de Gaulle, who had led the Free French Forces throughout the war, made the official announcement to his people that Germany was defeated and Hitler was dead.Church bells rang out to relay his message. Celebrations continued for two days.Today, VE Day is known as World War Two Victory Day in France.
Low CountriesThe Low Countries — Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg — were the first countries invaded by German forces on the way to attack France in May 1940, and most of the vicious fightingIn Holland V-E Day arrived two days short of the fifth anniversary of the day German troops had invaded the country. Prime Minister William Mackenzie King announced the “victory won at so great a price”.The Dutch swarmed Canadian troop convoys, throwing flowers and sometimes knocking men from their tanks in the enthusiasm to thank them.Dutch flags and orange streamers – for the royal family of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the House of Orange-Nassau – flew from every house.In Belgium, the old buildings of Brussels that had witnessed so much history in a country known as “the crossroads of Europe” were illuminated by fireworks, spotlights and bonfires as thousands thronged the streets after the news was announced on the evening of May 7.The crowds returned the next day, after thanksgiving services in churches. Britain’s Union Jack and America’s Stars and Stripes were carried along with the black, yellow and red tricolor of Belgium.The story was much the same in Luxembourg: delirious over the war’s end, citizens swarmed Americans, giving them flowers and drinks of wine.
United StatesPresident Harry S Truman announced the victory in Europe to the American people and appointed Sunday, May 13 — Mother’s Day, appropriately enough — a day of prayer for thanksgiving.Many communities attempted to subdue celebrations, reminding Americans that, as Truman said, “Our victory is only half over.”Across the country, however, joyous celebrations broke out. Thousands gathered in New York’s Times Square. New Orleans took on the appearance of Mardi Gras, with people dancing in the streets.Church bells rang out across the country.In Cincinnati, in Ohio, most stores would close, but schools, the city’s stock exchange, and banks remained open, streetcars operated normally.The majority of factories would continue to hum, producing war materiel, although a few declared a holiday or planned to close at noon.
Soviet UnionWestern journalists had leaked word of the German capitulation on May 7, inducing Western nations to move up their official announcements.In the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin insisted on maintaining the agreed-upon schedule and make the announcement on May 9.A little after 1am on May 9, however, a radio reporter told those who were awake at that hour in the USSR that Nazi Germany had officially surrendered.As had happened elsewhere, impromptu celebrations broke out. In Red Square people sang, danced and kissed.A crowd gathered outside the US embassy in Moscow, apparently to show gratitude for American Lend-Lease assistance during the war. Fireworks exploded over the Kremlin.Stalin himself seemed less than enthusiastic. His deputy Nikita Khrushchev telephoned to congratulate the Soviet leader on his victory, and Stalin reportedly snapped at him, “Why are you bothering me? I am working.”The USSR’s official victory parade took place in a downpour over a month later, on June 24.“Europe” was not placed after “Victory” for the Soviets’ Victory Day on May 9; it was simply Victory Day, marking the end of what they called the Great Patriotic War in which up to 30 million Soviet citizens had died, two-thirds of them civilians.V-E Day in the front lines of EuropeWhile soldiers, sailors and pilots in London and New York were dancing in the streets and stealing kisses from pretty girls, for the men in the front lines reaction was subdued.First Lieutenant William Lee Preston in the U.S. Third Army’s 65th Infantry Division wrote, “the front line troops didn’t celebrate.“Most of the men merely read the story of victory from the division bulletin sent to the troops, said something like ‘I’m glad,’ and walked away.
Pacific TheatreVictory in Europe was welcome news to Allied troops in the Pacific and the China-Burma-India theatres of war.They greeted it with thanksgiving but there was little celebration.As a London Times special correspondent in Burma wrote, “The war is over. Let us get on with the war.”Now that Europe would no longer be receiving the bulk of troops and materiel, officers and enlisted personnel in the war against Japan hoped they would be given more men and equipment quickly, in order to end their war sooner. Fighting continued in New Guinea, the Philippines, Okinawa, the CBI and elsewhere. Kamikazes still made suicide dives.