On May 7, 1945, German General Alfred Jodl, at the instruction of Doenitz, meets with American General Dwight Eisenhower at Rheims, France and signs an unconditional surrender. Present at the signing was Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, Soviet General Ivan Susloparov and French General Francois Sevez, all signing as witnesses. The war in Europe was officially over.
On this day, May 8, 1945, word spread across Europe and the United States that Germany had formally surrendered and the war was over. German troops in Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Latvia, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Poland and any other country in Europe, laid down their arms. Nearly 1 million German soldiers that had been fighting in Czechoslovakia not only laid down their arms, but tried to flee west back into Germany to avoid being captured by Soviet troops, but the Soviets were prepared and managed to capture nearly all 1 million German soldiers.
In Berlin and East Germany, additional surrender documents were signed by German and Allied officials. Thousands of British and American prisoners of war were released.
The United States and Great Britain declared VE Day (Victory in Europe). In Great Britain, the declaration of VE was more impactful than here in the US. According to a BBC report:
“All across the nation people turned on the wireless to find out more. People were out on the streets, hanging bunting and banners and dancing.”
“Huge crowds gathered in London on the following day. At 3pm Churchill made a radio broadcast. In Trafalgar Square, as his voice was relayed over loudspeakers, an eye-witness noted that ‘there was an extraordinary hush over the assembled multitude’.”
“King George VI and the Queen appeared eight times on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, while the two Princesses – Margaret and Elizabeth (now Her Majesty the Queen) – mingled with the crowds. Churchill later gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, telling the crowds, ‘This is your victory!’”
“All over the country people held fancy dress parades for children, got drunk, made a din, sang and danced in the streets, and went to church to give thanks to God for victory.”
One source reported:
“American sailors and laughing girls formed a conga line down the middle of Piccadilly.”
In Canada, nearly 10% of the nation’s population, men and women, had served in some capacity during World War II. In Toronto, the streets were filled with people celebrating. Ticker tape and other confetti rained down from the taller building. Several medium sized bombers circled the city dropping more paper confetti. Pubs and liquor stores were ordered closed for the VE Day celebrations. This led to riots in some areas, especially in Halifax where riots broke out, breaking windows and looting hundreds of stores, causing $1 million worth of damage.
In Australia, the celebrations were more tempered due to the war with Japan still raging in the Pacific. The Sydney Morning Herald asked:
“Since when has it been customary to celebrate victory halfway through a contest?”
In New Zealand, acting Prime Minister Walter Nash insisted that VE Day wasn’t official until he heard the official announcement from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. That announcement arrived at 1.00pm on May 9 due to the time difference.
In South Africa, traffic was brought to a standstill by the people celebrating in the streets. The Cape Times printed:
“The gnawing, ceaseless anxiety in many homes for loved ones in danger has vanished like an evil dream.”
In France, the people celebrated as General Charles De Gaulle, leader of the Free French Force made the following official announcement:
“The war has been won. This is victory. It is the victory of the United Nations and that of France. The German enemy has surrendered to the Allied Armies in the West and East. The French High Command was present and a party to the act of capitulation … Honor to our nation, which never faltered, even under terrible trials, nor gave in to them. Honor to the United Nations, which mingled their blood, their sorrows and their hopes with ours and who today are triumphant with us.”
In the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin was not nearly as enthusiastic as other leaders were. Their VE Day was celebrated on May 9. When word of the victory leaked out to the people, they filled Red Square, singing and dancing. A crowed also congregated outside of the American Embassy showing their gratitude for the help that the US provided during the war.
In the United States, many also took to the streets in celebration. American flags were everywhere. The streets in New York City were packed more than when the Yankees won a World Series. Men and women were dancing, hugging and kissing in celebration. May 13, 1945 was Mother’s Day and President Harry Truman called for a day of prayer and thanksgiving on that Sunday. He issued the following statement:
“Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band. Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors—neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty … If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is work, work, and more work. We must work to finish the war. Our victory is only half over.”
It seemed that the east coast cities of the US celebrated more than the west coast cities as they were still more heavily involved with the war in the Pacific Japan. Their celebration would come a few months later with VJ Day, Victory over Japan.
Sources for the above includes: Today, May 7, 1945: Germany Unconditionally Surrenders to Allies; Victory in Europe; V-E Day 1945: The Celebration Heard ’round the World; VE Day; VE Day; VE Day; London Celebrates VE Day, 1945; Lectures: V-E Day; Canada and the War: VE Day, 8 May 1945; What You Need To Know About VE Day.