Voices of War brings together first-hand, and very different, accounts of VE Day from IWM’s extensive sound archive.
The voices belong to people who had diverse experiences of war and victory - ranging from an army nurse who served in Egypt and a Jamaican aircraftsman who emigrated to the UK aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948, to a Jewish man from Berlin who spent six weeks in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Click on the audio player below to listen to our four minute soundscape and reflect on the experiences of those who witnessed the events of VE Day in 1945.
Take a moment to reflect on what victory in Europe meant for people across the world in 1945
“This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the news. During the first few moments of this bulletin, the war in Europe is coming to its official end.”
“You suddenly thought that everything was going to be beautiful tomorrow. It took an awful long time actually. There was definitely a feeling of lifting, you know. You could start to live again.”
“The German war is therefore at an end.”
“We fished out a Union Jack which we had which survived the bombing. We hung it outside and there were bonfires outside and people dancing in the streets and cheering. The relief was unbelievable, the relief was incredible. To think that we would no longer have any bombing, there would be no more fighting in Europe.”
“I took the bus to Weston-super-Mare, I got off the bus and a woman ran out of a pub and said “Jamaican, come on man, we’ll drink rum.” The war was over. Everybody was happy, jumping about and a small glass of rum and I was glad to be alive. And women were crying, they were going to see their husbands they hadn’t seen for two years. It was jolly, jolly, jolly.”
“And everybody was shouting, “We want Winnie”. It was fantastic. He came out to the balcony, and he was saluted to us with his cigar, and he stopped there and said something, and he went back in, and we still fetched him out. And there we got to Buckingham Palace, and it was, “We want Liz, we want George.” Oh, it was absolutely fantastic. There were people up lamp posts singing “Land of Hope and Glory”, there were yanks there, there were everybody, everybody, it was marvellous.”
“All over the place, it was a wild and hectic day and I think we had something like about two days, two days of it. Crazy people, crazy people. I didn’t sleep at all.”
“A very great crowd has collected already. Thousands upon thousands of people gathered to share this historic day with the King and Queen. The entire space, the whole roadway, the whole pavement, and the whole scene is once dense mass of people. People in the gayest colours, red, white and blue rosettes, red, white and blue hats, streamers, flags.”
“Here they come. First Her Majesty the Queen comes into view, then the King in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet. The two princesses standing on the balcony listen to the crowd.”
“You see everybody was just so overjoyed. It was so sad for those that had just lost, perhaps only the day before, one of their nearest and dearest. That was all so sad, but there was the other side that was so wonderful.”
“It was great that the killing had come to an end in Europe but for me it was really a depressing moment because I suddenly felt all the awful things that have happened to my family and to me, they came very much to the surface.”
“I seemed to be on my own or relatively so listening to the radio and I’d managed to get something of BBC or whatever service there was at the time, and they were sending a programme from Piccadilly or somewhere in the middle of London and the cheering. I felt rather alone and quite emotional, in fact, I know I wept.”
“After all, the end of the war wasn’t really the end of the war until after VJ Day, and then one realised it was over, but VE Day, we still had the feeling that there was Japan going on and it wasn’t quite over for everybody.”
- BBC reporter
- Elizabeth Barbara Hammond
- Winston Churchill
- Lady Frances Isobel Dunnington-Jefferson
- Samuel Beaver King MBE
- Stephen Dale
- Gerald Fraser Collis
- Catherine Lilian Maud Bradley
- Patricia Jean Fitzgerald
- Vera May Grigg
- Winston Seales
Six artists and performers present their responses to VE Day.
A Brief Period of Rejoicing
Charlie Dark: “When the bells ring. Let the trumpets sing. Let the voices ring.”
Charlie Dark: “In the moment of silence between the announcement and the applause. Before the first glass is raised and voices join in chorus, let us take a moment to pause. A moment to stop a moment, to breathe. A moment of silence and a prayer for their deceased. Before the cheers rise and amplify full throats and dancing begins. Before news announcements, newspaper headlines and sighs of relief. Before climbing of lamp posts for vantage points in trees. Before battalions of people gather for as far as the eye can see. Before parties, bunting and the euphoric feeling of release, the celebration of the day that many thought they'd never see. Let us take a moment to breathe.
Because history tells us that the postponement of grief is brief, fleeting and difficult to see. You see, victory requires allies, it cannot be achieved alone. Its impact is unsustainable. It will be rationed once more, that's why heavy are the heads who occupy the thrones because they know how easily euphoria is forgotten once reality resumes and the armies return home. That victory is not in the ending, but in the continuation of peace and the smouldering embers of a ceasefire were only smoulder as long as the size of a man's ego is decreased.
That's why it's not about winning my friends, it's not playground argument. War is not fight. It's about walking away from confrontation and doing what is right and understanding the consequences of action and the real impact of war and meddle in your chest or your people, knowing which one you value more. And when the battle is over, and the last bullet is shot. That you do everything in your power to ensure that at last the war has stopped.”
Created by Charlie Dark | Commissioned by Imperial War Museums
DJ, poet and writer and founder of Run Dem Crew
The poem borrows its title from Winston Churchill’s VE Day speech.
“The line ‘A brief period of rejoicing’ really caught my ear and totally changed my thought process on the piece I wanted to make. Originally I’d wanted to write something on the theme of celebration but the line inspired thoughts of contemplation and caution and although I’d almost finished the original version I scrapped that idea and went in a new direction.” Charlie Dark
Victory is far from ours
Amina Atiq: “Awakened by the morning noise. In big crowds and waving flags. The Long war is over. The Long war is over, and the celebration is owed to our survivors, we yet to know. Of the longing hearts of the people of the past. In the promise of Viva Viva la Freedom is the voice of victory that does not belong to me. I married the world to understand it. But the earth is too dry, perished in complete darkness. To paint blue skies and when was the last time I looked up. Awaiting storm.
To wash away the streets of wasted blood in the rain, we keep on dancing. We keep on dancing to find that victory is far, is far from ours. I hid, under classroom desks meddling my fingers in someone else's story, guarded by warlocks to blindly see what was beneath paper made of ashes and the terror that lives in our children, because between the bullet and the trigger is always God's given right to live.
I hid under classroom desks learning of the great wars in my own ink of my forefathers were yet to name, bleeding to death inside of me, and the gravestone found in heaven. Yesterday's history is a calamity in a world of 1000 mothers and an orphan child lost on the streets searching for its rightful home. Our secret between borders because between the oppressor and the man-made missiles is God's given right to live.
I hid under classroom desks, skipping pages as my eyes grew confused of black and white and moving pictures. We part ways. We waved farewells. And our greetings is another suicide in our trenches is a child cradling war in its first steps in the rubbles of destruction, and when death is part of their national anthem, then what is victory? Then what is victory?
Drowning an army coach standing in line bigger than their feet, swinging AK-47s around their necks. Digging holes in their back gardens with their names engraved in headstones. What is victory? Because between the missile and the target is always God's given right to live, and between the bullet and the trigger is God’s given right to live and between the oppressor and the man-made missiles is always God's given right to live. We mourn dressed in black, scatter our flowers and fill our fields in colours. Stand in stillness. While those who plant bombs in people's homes for the fuse to light up. Cradling war in our arms is not our victory. Waiting for the victors to write history is not our victory. This is not our victory guarded by the oppressed is not our victory. Victory is far from ours. And it does not belong to me.”
Created by Amina Atiq | Commissioned by Imperial War Museums
Yemeni- Scouse writer, performance artist, facilitator and activist
“In a world of adversity, war and oppression, Victory is far from ours questions what does victory mean today, who does it belong to and is it not our right to live?” Amina Atiq
Victory is Yours
Chanje Kunda: “VE Day 75 years ago. Amongst bombed out buildings. Two small girls waving their flags in the rubble of Battersea. Women making peace signs with their fingers, bunting and screamers. Jubilant long live the cause of freedom. Non-stop 2-day celebrations. People went crazy whistling and partying in the streets like Carnival full to bursting with revellers whooping and joyful.
Also tinged with thoughts of those who lay down their lives. For this moment to dance. Play music for them. Victory. Stunning success, conclusive triumph over fascism, over oppression, over domination, ultimate triumph over the struggle. VE Day was about victory hard won. With faith, perseverance and courage. Victory is like champagne bubbling over into your soul. Victory runs through all our veins. Victory is our past. Victory is our future. Victory is who we are. Those of you from the Commonwealth who fought with allies, who came on the Windrush to rebuild the nation afterwards? For all the white working-class soldiers who died in battle or who were injured or maimed. And the widows and the fatherless. This victory is for you.
You are all a victory. Victory for surviving war. Victory for dying for the cause of freedom. Victory for having ever blessed this earth. Victory in your own conception. Victory in your own birth. Victory ran through every second your heartbeat. Victory is yours. Freedom is a spectrum. Freedom is a prism. Freedom is not just white. Freedom bursts into all colours. If millions died, then billions of tears were shed. A whole galaxy of tears. With a black hole at its centre left by those who passed the event horizon. Gone forever. The swirling discs of screams surround it. Eternity exists in the blink of a crying eye. And when the war ended, tears of joy and tears of loss mixed together and fell on the ground we stood. Like nebulas, where young stars are born and flourish, baby booming, love making celebrations. Freedom from fascism. Freedom is united nations. Freedom is self-determination. Freedom is endless possibilities. The window to end all violence is now. In celebration of VE Day, let's never again fight each other. But instead fight disease, fight poverty, fight greed, fight climate change. Build love. Build each other up. Build ourselves up. Work together as people, as nations, as continents. As part of this world, this galaxy, this universe. As part of infinity, part of eternity. Part of this miracle that we call life.”
Created by Chanje Kunda | Commissioned by Imperial War Museums
Poet, playwright and performance artist
“The idea or notion of victory is what has drawn me to this project. Victory is a loaded phrase that encompasses an exuberant joy. I am sure it is one of the sweetest feelings one can have. To be able to explore this is fascinating. Also, I am interested in the concept of achieving freedom. I hope that this 75 year anniversary of VE Day can inspire all nations of the world to end all wars, and instead use their efforts to be united.” Chanje Kunda
Weather Forecast, March-May 2020
Rachel Long: “As a tailpiece to washing the same cup, eating the same apple. Between your 5PM breakfast and a 10 o’clock dinner. Doing yoga on the landing strip between your bedroom door and the wardrobe, minding the mirror.
What you wouldn't give to be back in a busy legginged class. We give you tonight's weather forecast. Tomorrow will be bright and warm over the whole country. Stay in bed. Blackouts down till midday. You don't appreciate being mocked. When you do get up, slip the battery out the clock. Set it back on the dresser. It will continue like this. Staring out of the kitchen window. You will smirk at things said at parties once, the joke about allergies told on a Californian balcony. The sky was a red hill. You were so bloated. The bright, warm day will move into a long lilac evening.
The bush directly opposite the kitchen window is a burst. Lilac also. Even the bluebells aren't telling the truth. There will be sporadic showers. You were just sitting on your bed reading a poem, and now your face and hands are soaked. A fog will descend right through the early hours where you toss and toss. You are wrapped in tarpaulin, floating just off the coast. Outlook for tomorrow, get up before midday. Please take a bike ride. The park is still open. Right?
Return home, soak some pulses for dinner. Can each of the things you manage as local victories. There will be no ceremony. This is a sort of death, isn't it? A biblical one. The waiting. As if for a letter you can't open. There's news today of an announcement, which will follow...”
Created by Rachel Long | Commissioned by Imperial War Museums
Leader of Octavia, a poetry collective for women of colour
The poem is inspired by the BBC’s VE Day weather report by Stuart Hibberd, the first since war broke out, and a poem in itself.
“Inspired by the Hibberd audio, I wanted to record my voice only, as a wireless-style mirroring of VE day weather report.” Rachel Long
Coming to terms with Victory
Daljit Nagra: “Is victory after war the right word? Victory in Europe. Should wars end wear such a Garland? How does the victor, the one who has been stoked in blood-fire, feel victorious? Victory, with its first letter, the banner of a ‘V’ to remind us of its claims to the crown of history.
Attrition years earn their ‘V’ of a sporting sound bite, as though such a term could mask the victor’s grief. My Punjabi ancestors fought in our world wars. I wonder if they went for victory with the perplexing wisdom of Krishna, God of creation, who persuaded Arjuna that war is as natural as breath, that while on the field of imminent apocalypse, each warrior should embrace the fight like a lover. That to fight, to kill is the highest ideal. Because you cannot know your heart till it's gripped by the knuckles of time.
The merciless warrior is plinth’d in eternal peace. The terms of the Mahabharata are hard to savour. Suppose we are a connected people both in ourselves with spirit and deed, and with every germ and seed. Must we return to the conquered? Back to the rubble, to help rebuild, inshallah, and better ourselves again? True victory, then, would be for the first time, to build a Blakean Jerusalem. If that were the case at war's end, why not upscale victory with the daring term peace? If peace is to sum a white flag, let's call it ceasefire. Though when has a global ceasefire, peace everywhere prevailed in recorded time. His poem is heading towards cynicism, yet I believe there will come a time when universal ceasefire will stagger us. An arms dealer will tell a dictator, it's unconscionable, old chum, for me to sell you these 500lb Paveway bombs. Profit-mongery's old hat. I'm for the grapes of peace. Michael Longley, in his ceasefire poem, composed during the Troubles imagines the scene from the Iliad. Priam going down to his knees before the killer of his son. A mighty king on his knees before Achilles, to retrieve the corpse of his son. Is there a victor here? Longley describes how ‘sadness filled the building.’ How these two old war dogs, Priam and Achilles, victor and vanquished, are embraced immemorial.”
Created by Daljit Nagra | Commissioned by Imperial War Museums
Inaugural Poet-in-Residence for Radio 4 & 4 Extra
“I was inspired to think about the very language of conflict and how win versus defeat can often be more complicated than implied by this binary.” Daljit Nagra
Created by Cristina Daura | Commissioned by Imperial War Museums
"Victory is both a strong and a fragile concept. The illustration depicts victory achieved at the end of conflict as if it were a seed that must be nurtured in order to thrive. Like a flower, victory must be taken care of in order to be re-gifted to future generations.
“I thought I didn’t have a very close personal connection with VE Day but I guess it’s silly to say that I don’t. Everyone does. What we are living now is the result, in part, of that day. The Europe that we know, the way we live.” Cristina Daura