Celebrations and Remembrance: the End of the Second World War

Victory in Europe

- VE Day celebrations in the North West. Video courtesy of the North West Film Archive, Manchester Metropolitan University.

VE Day children's party

Celebrations marking the end of the Second World War in Europe were held by both adults and children alike. This photograph depicts a Victory in Europe Day children's party, held on 8 May 1945, at 69 Manley Road, in Sale. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL9110. 

Victory in Europe Day celebrations (1.00 am, 8 May 1945)

1.00 am celebrations on Augustus Street, Old Trafford, May 1945. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL1187.  

Stretford Town Hall, floodlit on VE Day (8 May 1945)

Stretford Town Hall, floodlit on VE Day, 8 May 1945. Stretford commemorated the end of the Second World War in Europe by lighting its Town Hall throughout the night. Trafford Local Studies Collection, cat. ref. TL4770. 

On 8 May 1945, the Allied nations formally accepted Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. This day would now be known as ‘Victory in Europe Day’ (VE Day). Although the war with Japan continued, this was an enormous victory for the Allies. In a radio broadcast from Downing Street, at 3pm on 8 May 1945, Winston Churchill declared ‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead.’

Across the county there were street parties to celebrate. Stretford Corporation met the cost (around £250) of parties for schoolchildren in the borough. Pub licences were extended and local residents celebrated late into the night. In Sale, crowds gathered around the town hall which was floodlit for the occasion. When interviewed by the Altrincham and Sale Guardian, in 1985, former Sale resident Mike Doody recalled that the celebrations in Sale were ‘a tremendous experience’, and the night was one ‘never to be forgotten’.

Violet Lillian Beetham, who celebrated in Stretford, recalled ‘On VE day I was twenty-seven and dancing on the tables in the Gorse Hotel at Stretford — what a night that was!’

For others, however, the celebrations were more sedate:

‘We at last come to VE Day, 8 May 1945. Joyfully we went to morning service at St. Ann’s Church in Manchester and then a cycle ride in the afternoon. So at last for Europe it was over – because the war with Japan didn’t affect our Post.’

-Recollection of D.J. Choularton, who attended Seymour Park School in Old Trafford.

For those who had lost loved ones, or who still had relatives serving in the war, there seemed to be little to celebrate. It was not, after all, the end of the war.

Sale Town Hall on VJ Night (15 August 1945)

Sale Town Hall on VJ Night. Created by the former Mayor of Sale, Arthur William Mawer, this painting's subject was inspired by the joyful public celebrations which marked the official end to the Second World War and Allied victory in Japan. Trafford Local Studies Collection, AHC/640. 

Victory over Japan

‘Victory over Japan’, or ‘VJ Day’, marked the surrender of Imperial Japan in 1945. In the UK, this is recognised as the 15 August, although this varies in other countries depending both on time differences and interpretations of the date of surrender.

The date is significant for it not only marks the end of the war in the Pacific, but  the end of the Second World War itself. For the British public, this marked the end of six long years of struggle, loss, and hardship, and they were keen to celebrate. In recent years, however, the celebration of VJ Day has been somewhat controversial, due to the atomic bombs which preceded Japan’s surrender.     

Hours of drinking and dancing were extended for the two-day celebration, and bunting was sold coupon-free. The Manchester Evening News reported that on 14 August, children were eager to get their hands on fireworks, in anticipation of the announcement. A shop in Urmston was said to be ‘besieged by small boys’.

The Sale Guardian reported on a number of street parties in Sale and Sale Moor, including Dudley Avenue, Leigh Road, Elm Grove, Carlton Road, and Penrith Avenue. Activities included dancing, singing, a ‘talkie movie show’, buffets, fireworks, and even free rides for children in a dairyman’s milk van. The Mayor and Mayoress visited a number of these parties. At one party on Grange Road, the Mayor cut a ‘victory cake’, and was presented with the gift of a packet of cigarettes and a box of matches by a four-year-old boy.

The celebrations evidently made a big impression on the Mayor, Arthur William Mawer, who went on to paint a depiction of Sale Town Hall on VJ Night.

Sources

BBC People’s War website. 'WW2 People's War' is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.

Manchester Evening News, 19 June 1945

Manchester Evening News, 14 August 1945

Manchester Guardian, 2 May 1945

Manchester Guardian, 16 August 1945

 ‘VJ Day Celebrations in Sale, August 1945’, Ashton and Sale History Society Newsletter, No.22 (2005)

Celebrations and Remembrance: the End of the Second World War