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In Pictures: Reliving the Jubilant VE Day Street Party Celebrations

On the historic day of May 8, 1945, the war-weary British public received the long-awaited news of victory. The end of World War II was imminent, and jubilant celebrations ensued across the nation. In this...

On the historic day of May 8, 1945, the war-weary British public received the long-awaited news of victory. The end of World War II was imminent, and jubilant celebrations ensued across the nation. In this article, we delve into the spirited festivities that marked VE Day.

A Long-Awaited Announcement

Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, took to the radio on the afternoon of May 8 to make a momentous announcement. He declared that hostilities with Germany would cease, bringing an end to the war in Europe. The news of liberation for "our dear Channel Islands" added to the collective joy that swept the nation.

Time to Party

While the news of victory spread rapidly, there were no official plans in place to celebrate VE Day. The public holiday was announced with such short notice that most people were uncertain about how to commemorate the occasion. As one London window cleaner put it, "the holiday is the main issue… very few have any definite plans, and these almost exclusively consist of getting drunk."

The lack of organized events did not dampen the spirit of the people. Many expected church bells to ring, signaling the end of the war. However, to their surprise, there was no signal. Nevertheless, the weather, which had been forbidden to be published during the war, added an element of novelty to the day. The papers forecasted fair weather, albeit with a possibility of rain later.

Celebrations Unleashed

Despite the absence of formal plans, the celebrations erupted throughout the country. People spontaneously strolled the streets, admiring the array of flags and streamers that adorned their neighborhoods. Children, equipped with cardboard and crayons, dedicated their artistic skills to create Union Jack flags.

While VE Day was primarily a European event, its significance reverberated worldwide. In London, over a million people flooded the streets, and a massive crowd gathered outside Buckingham Palace. From the balcony, Winston Churchill stood alongside King George VI, with Princess Elizabeth (now Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret by their side. Similar scenes unfolded in Paris along the Champs Elysée and in New York's Times Square.

Michael Mason, then only 13 years old, had been evacuated from his home in central London to a village in Hertfordshire in 1939. On VE Day, he made his way back to the capital to spend the day with his parents. The scenes he encountered were nothing short of incredible. The streets were brimming with joyous revelers, caught up in a wave of pent-up emotions.

The festivities continued long into the night. Crowds flocked back to Buckingham Palace, calling for the king and queen once more. Conga dancers weaved through Piccadilly, and revellers even jumped into the fountains at Trafalgar Square. The police exercised tolerance, intervening only when lives were at risk. Remarkably, the night remained relatively trouble-free and devoid of drunken behavior, with most pubs having run dry by eight o'clock.

Memories That Last

For many, especially children like Majorie Cantwell, who was nine years old at the time, VE Day represented the best day of their lives. She recalled the excitement of collecting items for a bonfire, including an old piano infested with woodworm. As darkness fell, the bonfire was lit, and a "Hitler guy" was placed on top. The entire neighborhood danced and celebrated around the bonfire.

As the night progressed, radios were set up in nearby houses, broadcasting BBC dance music into the streets. The grown-ups continued to dance and sing, and Majorie's father entertained everyone with his banjo. The night ended with tired yet contented souls, feeling invincible and shielded from harm.

In the pictures that captured the essence of those joyous celebrations, we relive the spirit of VE Day on May 8, 1945.

Picture: VE Day Street Party

Caption: People celebrating VE Day with a street party. The streets were filled with joyous revelers united in their relief and happiness.

As we commemorate this historic day, let us remember the resilience and spirit of those who endured the hardships of war and celebrated the long-awaited victory. VE Day stands as a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the power of unity.

Emma Mason is the digital editor at HistoryExtra.