Beyond VE Day: The Events of Summer 1945

By midday on Victory in Europe (VE) Day, 8 May, large crowds were gathering in London’s West End to cheer Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Royal Family. Churchill was driven to Buckingham Palace to have lunch with the King and then broadcast his victory speech at 3pm.

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That evening, he appeared on the balcony along with the King and Queen accompanied by Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret. Churchill returned to Whitehall to appear on the balcony of the Ministry of Health. Great crowds followed his travels around London.

Victory In Europe

King George VI addressed the nation at 9pm and  the Royal Family returned to the balcony at Buckingham Palace, having made eight appearances that day.

Parades continued throughout London and across Britain in the days and weeks that followed VE Day, such as the farewell parade held by former Civil Defence workers on 10 June, in Hyde Park, which was addressed by the King.

The Un Charter And Post-war Reconstruction

These aspirations inspired many across the globe, resulting in the establishment of the United Nations in January 1942. Organisations such as the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation (UNRRA) followed, to give humanitarian aid to countries devastated by war.

The conferences at Bretton Woods, Dumbarton Oaks followed by the San Francisco Conference beginning on 27 April 1945 resulted in 50 countries signing the United Nations Charter on 26 June. They pledged to maintain international peace and security with the US, the USSR, Britain, France and China as the big five powers.

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Labour Victory In The 1945 General Election

Pledging to act on the recommendations of the Beveridge Report, Labour gained a clear lead in opinion polls and  won a number of by-elections in the intervening years. The 1945 general election was called on 5 July, the first for nearly ten years. No-one under the age of 31 had voted before in a general election.  Those serving in the Armed Forces were entitled to a postal or proxy vote; less than half cast their votes. However 73% of the electorate did vote on 5 July but the results had to wait for the collection of the service votes from overseas. The Labour Party overwhelmingly won the election on 26 July. Clement Attlee became Prime Minister with a mandate to ‘win the Peace for the People’.

The Potsdam Conference Shapes The Post-war World

The optimistic spirit of Potsdam and the UN Charter led to the creation of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Big Five Powers with the aim to agree the peace treaties to end the Second World War. However the first meeting on 1 September ended in disaster as Bevin and James Byrnes, the US Secretary of State, refused to recognise the Soviet-backed Communist regimes in Romania and Bulgaria.

The Occupation Of Germany

The 21st Army Group was dissolved and became the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) with the 2nd Tactical Air Force becoming the British Air Force of Occupation (BAFO). Two operations were put into practice: Operation Barleycorn involved thousands of former German prisoners of war working on the land to bring in the harvest and Operation Coalscuttle saw a further 30,000 prisoners released to work in the Ruhr coal mines. Both were very necessary to kick start the economy but it remained very hard for the German population – during the summer the maximum ration for an adult was 1550 calories a day which was reduced the following year in the British occupied zone. Otherwise the main mission in the British zone were the 3 D’s – Demilitarisation, Denazification and Democratisation.

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Japanese Surrender

A number of surrender ceremonies took place across South East Asia culminating on 2 September when the formal instrument of surrender was signed by Allied and Japanese representatives on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Prisoners Of War

For many of the former prisoners of the Japanese, the process was made even more difficult by what they had endured during captivity, both in terms of ill-treatment by their guards and as a result of tropical disease. Many died shortly after their return home, or suffered serious ill health for the rest of their lives. Almost 30% of Japan’s Allied POWs had died in captivity, compared to around 4% of those in German camps.

The Cost Of War

In Britain, 264,443 British servicemen and 63,635 civilians had been killed during the war. The transition of those who survived back into peacetime life could be hard with severe shortages of many essential goods and housing. Rationing of bread only began after the war. Many of those returning home were physically and mentally traumatised by their war experiences and sometimes found it difficult to pick up their former lives again.

On 20 August President Truman ended the lend lease programme which had supplied Britain with much needed food, oil and equipment since 1941. By the end of the year the British government had accepted a $3.75 billion loan from the United States repayable at 2% interest over 50 years from 1951 onwards. It was described at the time as ‘an economic Dunkirk’.