- Home Front
- Age 9 to 11 (KS2)
- Age 11 to 14 (KS3)
What does the ‘VE’ in VE Day stand for?
Join IWM expert Vikki as she shares real life stories of celebration and revelry in the wake of the VE Day announcement of 1945. Vikki will be sharing personal stories from those who remember taking to the streets to celebrate the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel to be the first to see more of our Adventures in History films.
VE Day - Parties in the Street
Part of the Adventures in History series created during the UK lockdown in Spring 2020.
[Vikki Hawkins, Expert at IWM] Hi, I'm Vikki. Thank you so much for joining me today. I work at IWM, the Imperial War Museum in London, as a curator. To help you learn more about history from home, IWM has asked me to share some of the incredible stories that we have in our collection.
Now, what I mean by collection is the objects, art film, photographs and documents that we have collected to help us understand more about what it was like for different people to experience war and conflict. Now, usually I would be talking to you from inside the museum but today, as you can see, I'm inside my flat and it's a lot smaller than the museum - there are no aircrafts hanging from the ceiling or tanks hiding behind my bookcase. Nope – pretty sure there's none there. And today I'm not going to talk to you about the war itself but what happened when the Second World War ended. I have lots of stories to tell you about how different people reacted to the news, and I'd like to share them with you.
Now, as I'm making this film it's getting very close to the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War - also known as VE Day. You may have heard people talk about VE Day or you might be lucky enough to have a family member who remembers the end of the Second World War. But what exactly is VE Day? Well, it stands for Victory in Europe day and that's the point when Germany surrendered - that means they could no longer go on fighting - and the war in Europe was over. But actually, there were two ends for the Second World War. That sounds strange right - how can the war end twice? Well, the war was still being fought in Asia and the Pacific against Japan and it would continue for a few months, and we'll talk about that second ending a little bit later on.
But first, let's talk about that first ending which is known as VE Day as we said Victory in Europe day. Now on Monday the 7th of May 1945 a news flash came out on the radio to announce that war was over. The press rushed to get papers printed with information. Nowadays you'd probably hear about exciting news from maybe the internet or the TV but in the 1940s it was all about the radio and the newspapers. Now the radio announcement said that the next day, May 8th, would be known as VE day and it would be a public holiday so nobody would have to go to work and there would be celebrations and parties in the street. After six long years of war, many people couldn't wait to celebrate. People all around the country came into the streets singing and dancing. They brought tables and chairs from their homes into the street to make giant party tables. They built decorations out of bunting and flags so that they could hang them up and make everything bright and colourful. Prime Minister Winston Churchill even made sure that there was enough alcohol in London for everybody to celebrate.
Bonfires could be seen across the whole of London which was really unusual because during the war there had been a nationwide blackout - that means that everyone had to keep their houses dark, and no visible light could be seen so the German aircrafts couldn't locate cities on the ground. But now with the war over bonfires created beautiful light.
Now at IWM, we have a friend called Alan who was a schoolboy during the war, and he remembers these bonfires in London. Alan had a paper round the next day and so he didn't actually celebrate late into the night on VE Day because he wanted to get up early to make sure that everybody got their papers with the news of what was going on. But he does remember in the morning going around kicking the embers of the bonfires to make them keep burning as much as possible. Nowadays, it would be quite dangerous to have lots of bonfires in the street that's for sure.
Now, some of the biggest street parties happened in London and I want to tell you about how two best friends, Cynthia and Joyce, celebrated VE Day by jumping in the fountains at Trafalgar Square. Now, do you know where Trafalgar Square is? It's in the centre of London and it's by the Houses of Parliament. There's a very tall statue of the naval hero Admiral Nelson and there are fountains with big lion statues there as well.
So, Joyce was 18 at the end of the war and Cynthia was 20. The Imperial War Museum staff were able to speak to Joyce a few years ago and she told us about the story of how her and Cynthia celebrated VE Day. They met in 1944 when they had joined the Women's Land Army in Surrey. Their job was to work in the countryside keeping the farms running and getting food for the people of Britain while the men were away fighting at war. Cynthia and Joyce would have learned lots of new skills - maybe learning to drive a tractor, or rat-catching, or milking a cow. They would have worked long and hard hours, but they wouldn't have got paid as much as men. Now, Cynthia and Joyce had heard about the amazing street parties that had happened at the end of the First World War and had made a vow to each other that if they were to survive this war, they would travel to London together to celebrate.
So, on VE Day, bank holiday on the 8th of May 1945, the two girls took an early train to London. Their first stop was St Paul's Cathedral, where they went to say prayers for the family members that they had lost. They eventually reached Trafalgar Square in the centre of London where celebrations were in full swing. The roads were closed to traffic and there were policemen, but they looked the other way as people climbed on Nelson's statues. Now, Joyce remembers that there were thousands of people and a dancing conga line that started snaking its way around the statues in the fountains. It was a warm day on VE Day in 1945 so Joyce and Cynthia took off their shoes, they rolled up their trousers and they stepped into the fountains and the water. Now two sailors saw Joyce and Cynthia having fun and decided to join them. One other sailor climbed on to the fountains and he dived into the water causing a huge splash and got Joyce soaking wet, but she got her own back because she splashed him back as well. There were lots of journalists and reporters in Trafalgar Square on VE Day and many of them actually captured Joyce and Cynthia dancing in the fountains. This famous photograph shows the joy and the excitement of the celebrations in London in 1945.
So, have a think about your local area. Is there a town or a village where everyone would go to celebrates a big event? Do you have a town square maybe or a big statue? Maybe it's a park or a big open space. But we should also remember that at the end of the Second World War not everybody felt like celebrating. Many people had lost their homes, their friends, and in some cases their family.
Our next story is about a girl called Kitty who as a child had been evacuated out of London to Blackpool away from the bombing raids. You might have heard my friend Ngaire talk about Kitty who comes into the museum often. Well for Kitty, VE Day was a painful reminder of the things that happened during the war. When she had been sent away, Kitty had been separated from her family who she missed very much and just before the end of the Second World War and the VE Day celebrations were announced, Kitty's father sadly was killed when he was fighting as a soldier in Italy. So, on VE Day, as she looked out of the window at the street parties below, Kitty's mum said, "don't think you're going down there; we have nothing to celebrate". Her father's suit was still hanging in the bedroom and Kitty remembers thinking about how her dad would never be able to come back and wear it. Kitty's story shows us that wars do not end on one day but there are lasting consequences.
Another person whose war didn't end suddenly on VE Day was Gerald, a British pilot who'd been taken as a prisoner of war when his plane had been shot down and he was captured by German troops. Gerald was very ill in the camps and had an operation on his tummy. Prisoners had very little food to eat so they became creative with food rations sent to them in Red Cross parcels. Gerald remembers a Polish prisoner trying to make wine from sugar and raisins, which probably tasted yuck! And men also played cricket in the camps to keep themselves fit. Although the Germans had left the camp a few weeks before VE Day, Gerald was still there waiting for transport to bring him home. On VE Day he remembers sitting in one of the prison block buildings listening to the VE celebrations on the radio and he remembers crying - worried about his journey home and how long it would take and waiting to see his family again. He was also excited for the chance to eat some of his favourite food she hadn't had in a while he was in the camps like oranges and apples and white bread.
Now Gladys, a young girl who had been evacuated to a few places around the country – Kent, Wales and Yorkshire - had returned to London by 1945. Gladys remembers her sister telling her excitedly that the war is over, but she actually accused her sister of lying because Gladys realised that the war was still carrying on against the Japanese in Asia and the Pacific and Gladys felt sad for the men who had to keep fighting and wouldn't be celebrating VE Day or going home to their families. But Gladys does remember another celebration a few months later in August when she got to eat fish paste sandwiches.
Do you remember that we said that there was a second ending to the war? Well, the celebration that Gladys is thinking about was on the 15th of August 1945 and we call this celebration VJ Day. Now, this one means Victory in Japan Day when Japan surrendered and stopped fighting. Now once again people began to celebrate that the war was over across the whole world.
When Australian soldier Alan Potter came home to Perth on VJ Day, his father was so pleased that the family were all back together again and he decided to call it Victory Potter Day instead. Now, Alan's family met him at the train station, but Alan actually didn't recognise a lot of his family because he hadn't seen his younger brothers in five years, and they had all grown up and when he was taken back home Alan remembers kissing the ground at the entrance to his house to celebrate being back there again.
For everyone who survived, their lives have been changed forever. VE Day and VJ Day marked the end of the war, and that soldiers, sailors and airmen would soon be returning home. But just because the fighting was over didn't mean that everything had been fixed. Patricia, a British school child and evacuee from Kent, remembers thinking that as soon as the war was over, she would be able to have all the bananas and ice cream that she wanted. But she did have to wait a while. She thought she'd be able to go to the shops and buy new clothes and eat sweets straight away because she couldn't do this during the war, but rationing, which is a restriction on the amount of foods that you could buy, continued until 1954.
It has now been 75 years since VE Day so here is my challenge to you, why not plan your very own VE Day celebration street party but in your own home! First you to think about where your party is going to be - is it going to be your kitchen, maybe your lounge, or your balcony or garden if you have one? And what food are you going to have? Maybe some fish paste sandwiches like Gladys? I don't think that's what will be on my menu. But did you know that fish and chips were never rationed during the war because it was so popular - now that would make a yummy feast. You could also create a playlist of your favourite songs. My favourite wartime song is “Please Leave My Butter Alone.” And you can find some examples of wartime songs on IWM's website. And how about the games and activities - what are you going to play? Maybe it'll be a musical chairs or musical statues. Do you know how to play those ones?
And finally, how are you going to decorate your party? Well, you could create some bunting or some paper chains out of newspaper or magazines. Kitty, who we spoke about earlier, once made paper chains at Christmastime during the war by cutting newspapers into strips that could then be made into interlocking loops as a paper chain. But her mum reminded her not to use too much newspaper because they needed to use some as toilet paper because during the war there was a paper shortage. Now, I've got some bunting behind me here which you can see but luckily mine isn't made out of toilet paper.
Okay everyone, that's me done for now. Thank you so much for listening to my stories about Cynthia and Joyce, Kitty, Gladys, Alan and Gerald and the end of the Second World War. If you have any questions at all, post them on Facebook or Twitter and I'll do my very best to answer them for you. And finally, next week you'll meet my friends Rebecca and Paris and they'll be talking to you about the theme of art. So, definitely make sure you tune in then.
Okay, have a great week. Thanks so much - goodbye!
Curriculum Links and Learning Objectives
KS3/4 - Challenges for Britain, Europe and the wider world 1901 to the present day.
GCSE - Warfare and British society, c1250-Present and London and the Second World War, 1939–45.
To learn about the experience of the end of the Second World War by people on the Home Front.
VE DAY HOUSE PARTY
Now that you've learned about VE Day, why not swing by a VE Day House Party like it's 1945!
CBBC Presenter Ben Shires is setting your mission with the help of Jitterbug Jive.
WHAT WAS VE DAY?
Have a look at this short film which explains what VE and VJ day were: Can you spot the future Queen Elizabeth II on the balcony at Buckingham Palace?
Video hosted on the BBC Teach website.