About this blog

As the author of this blog, Karen L Garner Martin Messick, I am the daughter of an American soldier, Wilbur (Bill) C. Garner, Sr. and Women's Royal English Navy service woman (British Wren) Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins, who met and married during World War II. They lived and loved for over 50 years before Mother passed in 2000. When she did I helped Dad with every day chores when I could. One day I was helping him clear things out and I lifted a plastic bag out of the seat of Mom's piano stool, asking Dad, "Whats in this bag?" to which he replied, "Just some of Mary's old letters." Mary, his older sister, was still alive at the time, residing in an assisted living facility, suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I put the letters back in the piano seat thinking he did not want me to open the letters.
When Dad passed two years later, I inherited Mary's letters.
When I began to read them, I found they were mostly letters from Dad to Mary while he was in World War II ("The War"). I could not put them down. I wished I had opened them the day I first saw them so that Dad and I could have had conversations about them, but that was not to be...so as I read through these "Letters to Mary" I began to get a glimpse into Dad's young years when he met Mom and his time as a soldier. I have researched events during World War II to enhance my understanding of what was happening in the war as each letter came to broaden my understanding of what he might have been experiencing. I knew he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France D-Day plus 1 as he recounted his memory of that day to me when he was dying from Leukemia. It was horrifying. There were also letters from a companion Mary had met while in Minneapolis, he had been deployed overseas. I have entwined them chronologically with Dad's letters as it gives a greater dimension to the war itself. I intend to editorialize as necessary to explain personal relationships and situations as the story unfolds through the "Letters to Mary." I welcome any questions, comments and feedback. As the "Greatest Generation" fades away, I felt compelled to share these letters and story in hopes of continuing the legacy they left for the world. Let us never forget the untold years and lives that were sacrificed for freedom!
If you have stumbled upon this blog I have added a blog archive at the bottom of the blog page. Continue to scroll down to access the Blog Archive. The posts are chronologically listed and to follow the story it is best to start with the first post in December 2013.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

VE Day 8 May 1945 England

Gwendoline Rosa Wilkins Garner (right), Man (unknown), Joan Moore (left)

Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) was on May 8th 1945. VE Day officially announced the end of World War Two in Europe. On Monday May 7th at 02.41. German General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document that formally ended war in Europe. Winston Churchill was informed of this event at 07.00. While no public announcements had been made, large crowds gathered outside of Buckingham Palace and shouted: “We want the King”. The Home Office issued a circular (before any official announcement) instructing the nation on how they could celebrate:

“Bonfires will be allowed, but the government trusts that only material with no salvage value will be used.”

The Board of Trade did the same:

“Until the end of May you may buy cotton bunting without coupons, as long as it is red, white or blue, and does not cost more than one shilling and three pence a square yard.”

However, even by the afternoon there was no official notification even though bell ringers had been put on standby for a nationwide victory peal. Ironically the Germans had been told by their government that the war was officially over. Joseph Stalin, who had differing views on how the surrender should be announced, caused the delay. By early evening, Churchill announced that he was not going to give Stalin the satisfaction of holding up what everybody knew. At 19.40 the Ministry of Information made a short announcement:

“In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”

Within minutes of this announcement, tens of thousands of people gathered on the streets of Central London to celebrate. People gathered in Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus and boats along the Thames sounded their horns in celebration.

The celebrations only ended when a thunderstorm and heavy rain drenched those still celebrating – just before midnight.

May 8th, Victory in Europe Day, saw the celebrations continue. Street parties were organized across the land; neighbors pooled food, some of which was still rationed. 

At 13.00, Churchill went to Buckingham Palace to have a celebratory lunch with George VI.

At 15.00, Churchill spoke to the nation from the Cabinet Room in 10, Downing Street. He reminded the nation that Japan had still to be defeated but that the people of Great Britain:

“May allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing. Advance Britannia. Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King! ”

Three Lancaster bombers flew over London and dropped red and green flares. 50,000 people gathered between Trafalgar Square and Big Ben.

After addressing the nation, Churchill went to Parliament to address the Commons. After this he led some MP’s to a thanksgiving service.

In the late afternoon, the Royal Family came out onto a balcony at Buckingham Palace. In front of them were 20,000 people. George VI wore his Royal Navy uniform while Princess Elizabeth wore her ATS uniform. They were joined by Churchill. He later spoke to those gathered outside the Ministry of Health. At the end of the speech, the crowd sang ‘For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow’.

The last official event of VE Day was a broadcast to the nation by George VI at 21.00. Buckingham Palace was lit up by floodlights for the first time since 1939 and two searchlights made a giant ‘V’ above St. Paul’s Cathedral. 
It was a highly symbolic gesture for a city that had spent years in blackout. People built street fires out of whatever flammable materials they could find. Witnesses reported that London had the same red glow to it as during the Blitz – but this time it was in celebration. Some fires got out of hand and the London Fire Brigade had to be called to put out the blaze – something they were very experienced in doing. People got hold of fireworks – prohibited during the war – to give the celebrations more color.

The police reported that there was barely any criminal activity throughout the day despite the boisterous behavior of tens of thousands. In the early hours of May 9th, the celebratory illuminations in London were turned off. The war in Japan was still being fought and austerity became the norm for very many people. But for one short day people could afford to let their hair down.

No comments:

Post a Comment