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This Day in History, 1945: V-E Day

Sixty years ago today...

On this day in 1945, both Great Britain and the United States celebrated Victory in Europe Day. Cities in both nations, as well as formerly occupied cities in Western Europe, put out flags and banners, rejoicing in the defeat of the Nazi war machine. In London crowds massed in particular in Trafalgar Square and up The Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the Palace to cheering crowds. Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Elizabeth II) and her sister, Princess Margaret were allowed to wander anonymously among the crowds and take part in the celebrations in London. In the United States, President Harry Truman, who celebrated his 61st birthday that day, dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, because he had been so committed to ending the war. Roosevelt had died less than a month earlier, on April 12.

The eighth of May spelled the day when German troops throughout Europe finally laid down their arms: In Prague, Germans surrendered to their Soviet antagonists, after the latter had lost more than 8,000 soldiers, and the Germans considerably more; in Copenhagen and Oslo; at Karlshorst, near Berlin; in northern Latvia; on the Channel Island of Sark--the German surrender was realized in a final cease-fire. More surrender documents were signed in Berlin and in eastern Germany.

The main concern of many German soldiers was to elude the grasp of Soviet forces, to keep from being taken prisoner. About 1 million Germans attempted a mass exodus to the West when the fighting in Czechoslovakia ended, but were stopped by the Russians and taken captive. The Russians took approximately 2 million prisoners in the period just before and after the German surrender.

Meanwhile, more than 13,000 British POWs were released and sent back to Great Britain.

Pockets of German-Soviet confrontation would continue into the next day. On May 9, the Soviets would lose 600 more soldiers in Silesia before the Germans finally surrendered. Consequently, V-E Day was not celebrated until the ninth in Moscow, with a radio broadcast salute from Stalin himself: "The age-long struggle of the Slav nations...has ended in victory. Your courage has defeated the Nazis. The war is over."

Cf. http://www.historychannel.com/tdih/tdih.jsp?category=worldwarii&month=10272957&day=10272973 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VE_Day


You may be surprised to learn that V-E day was met in Halifax with riots, as all the strains of a long war were suddenly released.
The population of Halifax nearly doubled during the war as service personnel poured into the port city by the tens of thousands. Many of the military resented the overcrowding and strained facilities, and the way they believed themselves ignored by Halifax's permanent residents. Bad feelings, combined with the poor preparations of military and local authorities for VE Day, turned spontaneous celebrations into a rampage. Liquor stores and restaurants had been closed so that everyone could enjoy the holiday, leading thousands of sailors and soldiers, along with many civilians, to "liberate" liquor and beer on a big scale. This in turn fuelled large-scale vandalism and looting, both in Halifax and next-door Dartmouth. 564 businesses suffered damage and 207 shops were looted. Three rioters died. Some of the rioters received lengthy prison sentences from the local criminal courts, but most sentences were later reduced. A federal inquiry later blamed the navy for poor discipline of its personnel. The navy's top officer on the east coast was fired.

(If logistics wins wars, Halifax was a linchpin of the Allied war effort. Its enormous harbour was the key staging point for Atlantic convoys: ships from all points on the Eastern Seaboard gathered in Bedford Basin to await their naval escorts.)
Wow! I knew nothing of the Halifax riots. Thanks for posting this; it's an amazing piece of history that seems to be neglected for some reason. (I would say that it's because of the usual reasons Americans tend to know close to nothing about Canada, but the sources I consulted made a point of mentioning V-E Day in the context of both British and Russian celebrations.)
Hey, don't get me wrong: in the context of VE Day and the whole World War, the riots in Halifax really are only a footnote. I just mentioned it because you like Canadian trivia, and in Grade 10 I had to write an essay.
It may be a footnote, but honestly, it's an important one.

I'm not surprised you had to write an essay in school, given where you grew up. It's the whole "local history" thing.

December 2016

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