For most members of today’s generations, May 8th is an unremarkable day.
But for those who bore witness to the horrors of the Second World War, May 8th holds a special reverence. May 8th is remembered as the day when 6 long years of war came to a close. Years of hardship, loss, suffering, and self-sacrifice were in the past - but they would never be forgotten.
VE Day - VE standing for Victory in Europe - brought joyous celebration to millions of people, worldwide. Late in the evening of May 7th, 1945, the BBC brought word that Germany and her armies had unconditionally surrendered to Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower. Former German Chancellor Adolf Hitler had committed suicide a few weeks prior, leaving a shell of a government in the hands of Admiral Karl Dönitz.
The celebrations were both emotional and raucous. Six years of fear, anxiety, wartime restrictions, and rationing boiled over into unmatched revelry. Parties flowed to the streets, bars, and every public space imaginable as people worldwide drank, danced, and lit bonfires in joyous celebration.
Canadian servicemen in Europe were doused with gifts from the recently liberated citizenry of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Chocolate, cigarettes, and long hidden bottles of fine wine were given freely to those who had endured so much to liberate Europe.
For some, though, the close of hostilities in Europe served as a solemn reminder that their loved ones would truly never come home.
Roughly 44,000 Canadian families lost loved ones during the war in Europe. It was difficult to reconcile the personal loss of fathers, sons, uncles and brothers with the national victory over a brutal enemy. Most allowed themselves a small smile as they thought back on loved ones they would never see again.
VE Day brought hostilities in Europe to a close, but the war against the Japanese Empire raged on in the Pacific.
Photo Credit: Chris Lund / National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada / PA-111593