We are all familiar with photos depicting jubilant crowds of people celebrating the end of the Second World War. They are shown racing through the streets of Piccadilly or crammed together outside the balcony at Whitehall as Churchill waves, exultant relief on their faces, bottles and flags in their hands.
Victory in Europe (VE) Day marked the official conclusion of the six-year world war against Hitler and his allies. Civilians and soldiers around the world had endured loss, pain, and suffering which, with Churchill’s famous announcement, was finally at an end.
At 3pm in Trafalgar Square, the day after his official declaration of victory, Churchill’s voice was broadcast to the crowds of thousands. He later gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health, in which he told the crowds, ‘This is your victory!’
While these scenes of public celebration were plastered on front pages throughout Europe, what was not depicted so widely were the moments of personal celebration and individual reflection on 8 May 1945.
In this image we see the ground crew on an RAF Bomber Command station in Britain returning the V-sign to a neighbouring searchlight crew. Silhouetted is the nose of a Lancaster. It is a touching, quiet, yet striking photograph, which contrasts drastically with the frantic VE Day images we are accustomed to seeing.
For those who had lost friends and loved ones in the war, the VE Day parties were double-edged. The war was over, but the physical and mental wounds it inflicted would take longer to heal.
Once the streets were cleared of the celebrating crowds, the country faced a challenging period of peace. Half a million homes had been destroyed, thousands of civilians had been killed. VE Day signified the end of that time of suffering, and Churchill’s defeat at the general election only two months later heralded the dawn of a new era.
This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.