Britain marks VE Day 75 years on: Day of lockdown tea parties and flypasts to commemorate end of WWII in Europe that will see Prince Charles lead two-minute silence and Queen address the nation
- Today commemorates the official surrender of Nazi Germany to Allied forces on May 8 1945, following WW2
- Boris Johnson written to veterans to assure them their efforts to defeat ‘ruthless enemy’ will not be forgotten
- Britons are invited to join a singalong of Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime classic, We’ll Meet Again just after 9pm
- Chorus to the poignant song will be led by Dame Vera Lynn herself, 103, from a window in her home in Sussex
- Colonel Tom Moore, who raised more than £30m for the NHS, will share his wartime memories on ITV at 8pm
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
The nation is coming together today to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, and remember those who fought and died in the Second World War, despite restrictions imposed due to coronavirus.
Today commemorates the official surrender of Nazi Germany to the Allied forces on May 8 1945, following the Second World War.
And while large-scale public events are unable to go ahead, members of the royal family and politicians are leading the way in remembering those who laid down their lives for their country.
A wreath-laying service and two-minute silence will be lead by Prince Charles at 11am, before the Queen addresses the country from Windsor Castle at 9pm this evening.
General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the Defence Staff, this morning urged the public to ‘spare a thought’ for those stuck at home at a time of celebration as he said the scaled-down commemorative events necessitated by strict lockdown measures made it ‘tough’ on veterans.
The Prime Minister has also written to veterans, assuring them their efforts will ‘always be remembered’.
In a heartfelt message to the nation this morning, Boris Johnson said ‘our gratitude will be eternal’ to the ‘soldiers, sailors and airmen fought the Nazis with courage, ingenuity and stubborn endurance.’
Appearing on Good Morning Britain today ahead of his documentary airing tonight, Second World War veteran and NHS fundraising champion Colonel Tom Moore recounted his own VE Day memories, adding it was a ‘very, very happy day.’
The residents of Cambrian Road in Chester dress up in 1945 clothing and have a social distancing tea party to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day
Bunting covers the facade of Downing street to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day today
Tea parties are already under way in Chester this morning, as neighbours come together to mark VE Day
A display by the Ministry of Defence and the British Legion on the Lights in Piccadilly Circus in central London to thank Second World War Veterans and to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day today
Piper Louise Marshall plays at dawn along Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach this morning
A guardsman stood beside a memorial to servicemen in London this morning, ahead of VE Day celebrations
The ‘Tommy’ war statue by artist Ray Lonsdale in Seaham, County Durham at sunrise this morning
Piper Louise Marshall plays at dawn along Edinburgh’s Portobello Beach overlooking the Firth of Forth on the 75th anniversary of VE Day
The statue of Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill casts a shadow in Parliament Square in London on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II
May 8, 1945 file photo crowds of civilians, British and Allied troops wave and cheer as Winston Churchill, second balcony from left, and members of the cabinet appear, to celebrate the end of the war in Europe, in Whitehall, London
‘We’ll meet again’: Lyrics to Dame Vera Lynn’s wartime classic so YOU can join the nationwide singalong
We’ll meet again
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet
again some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won’t be long
They’ll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet
again some sunny day
Vera Lynn pictured in 1956 practising in London
Colonel Tom Moore told ITV’s Good Morning Britain today: ‘It’s a very special day that is celebrating the end of a very fearsome war in Europe.
‘But today it really is a very fine day, the sun is shining on us too, so I think we all need to be very happy that the war in Europe did come to an end.’
Captain Tom, who fought in Burma during the war, went on: ‘It was a very important day and everyone concerned was absolutely very pleased that this was the end … the bombing of London, the bombing of other cities … had come to an end.
‘It was a very, very happy day.’
Despite war ending in Europe, fighting continued elsewhere across the world.
Captain Tom added: ‘At the time I was very concerned that all my comrades I had left in Burma were still fighting.
‘My thoughts were with them because although there were great celebrations here all my comrades were still fighting in Burma with the Japanese.’
The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has written to veterans to assure them that despite the ongoing lockdown, they and their efforts to defeat a ‘ruthless enemy’ would not be forgotten.
‘We cannot pay our tribute with the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past; your loved ones may be unable to visit in person,’ he said in the letter.
‘But please allow us, your proud compatriots, to be the first to offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.’
World War Two navy veteran, Ken Benbow, also appeared on the show to commemorate V.E. Day.
Mr Benbow, who went viral for a video which showed his care home carer, Kia Tobin, handed him a cushion with his late wife’s image on it, spoke about how much celebrating V.E. Day means to him.
‘I wasn’t in the UK when V.E Day happened. I happened to be in the Pacific, we were on our way to invade Japan. We were picking up men in the sea that had been shot down and taking them back to their aircraft carriers.
‘We were doing various things, but we heard on the wireless that the war in Europe had ended and Germany had been defeated, which was a wonderful feeling and we all were so very, very pleased. But we couldn’t do much, because as I say, we were in the middle of a battle.’
Talking about wanting to get back to the UK to celebrate with his friends and family, Mr Benbow said: ‘Definitely, that was the most important thing.’
When asked what he will be saying in his speech later today in the care home, Mr Benbow said: ‘I’ll thank the Lord for my life. I’ve had a marvellous life, I had the most wonderful wife in the world. I’ve got the most wonderful carer now, but they’re all angels here, I couldn’t wish to be in a better place.’
On the video of Kia handing him a cushion with his late wife’s image on it going viral, Kia said: ‘It’s been really crazy. I can’t really describe what it’s been like! It’s been lovely to see the support that we’ve been given – and the letters that have been written. I’ve been in tears looking through them.’
Residents of Portsmouth decorate their home in Union Jack bunting and flags (pictured, Katie Warton with her daughter Evie in preparation of VE Day)
The residents of Cambrian Road in Chester are out in force today, marking the 75th anniversary
Chester residents are looking suitably fashionable for the occasion this morning
‘If you had yielded, then Britain and our entire continent would have succumbed to tyranny’: Prime Minister pens heartfelt letter to veterans on VE Day
Boris Johnson (pictured in Westminster Abbey) has thanked veterans whose efforts to defeat a ‘ruthless enemy’ would ‘always be remembered’ on the 75th anniversary of VE Day
In his letter, the Prime Minister wrote: ‘I am delighted to offer my profound thanks for your service in the Second World War.
‘I write with deep humility because the truth is that no other generation of Britons can rival your achievement.
‘When Hitler conquered almost all of Europe, the survival of our country – and of freedom everywhere – rested in your hands.
‘If you had yielded, then Britain and our entire continent would have succumbed to tyranny. The world today would be unrecognisable and safe only for oppressors.
‘But you did not yield: you persevered through every ordeal and hardship and you prevailed against a ruthless enemy, achieving victory 75 years ago.
‘Those of us born after 1945 are acutely conscious of the debt we owe.
‘Without your trial and sacrifice, many of us would not be here at all; if we were, we would surely not be free.
‘To us, you are quite simply the greatest generation of Britons who ever lived.
‘Our celebration of the anniversary of victory might give the impression that Hitler’s downfall was somehow inevitable. You know better. You will remember moments of crisis, even desperation, as our country endured setback, defeat and grievous loss.
‘What made the difference was your valour, fortitude and quiet yet invincible courage.
‘On the Home Front, women broke the enemy codes, worked the factories, sustained the economy and fired the anti-aircraft guns, even as our cities were bombed night after night.
‘And all the while, on battlefronts across the world, our soldiers, sailors and airmen fought a remorseless enemy.
‘On this anniversary, we are engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus which demands the same spirit of national endeavour that you exemplified 75 years ago.
‘We cannot pay our tribute with the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past; your loved ones may be unable to visit in person.
‘But please allow us, your proud compatriots, to be the first to offer our gratitude, our heartfelt thanks and our solemn pledge: you will always be remembered.’
In a video addressing the nation this morning, the PM said: ‘Seventy five years ago, the people of this country celebrated victory against Hitler’s aggression. In cities scarred by enemy bombing, the crowds gave thanks for a national exertion greater than anything else before or since. What our country and our allies did was to save freedom.
‘Britain and the Commonwealth and Empire were the only nations who fought Hitler from the first day of the Second World War to the last without being defeated and occupied. For a whole year, 1940-41, we stood alone against him, the last barrier to his tyranny. If we’d gone down, then it wasn’t just our country that would have been destroyed, but liberty and democracy everywhere.
‘But we did not fail: thanks to the heroism of countless ordinary people, who may be elderly today, but who once carried the fate of freedom itself on their shoulders. Across the world, our soldiers, sailors and airmen fought the Nazis with courage, ingenuity and stubborn endurance.
‘On the home front, women defended out cities against air raids, worked the factories, ran the hospitals and broke enemy codes. People of every age, race and background came together in one supreme effort, and they paid a grievous price, with over 450,000 British people laying down their lives.
‘And yet they triumphed over every ordeal and hardship and because of their victory, hundreds of millions of people live in peace and freedom today. The countries who we fought are now among our closest friends, and most of Europe has enjoyed 75 years of peace. We are now engaged in a new struggle against the coronavirus, which demands the same spirit of national endeavour.
‘And that means we can’t hold the parades and street celebrations we enjoyed in the past. But all of us, who were born since 1945, are acutely conscious that we owe everything we most value to the generation who won the Second World War. Today we celebrate their achievement, we remember their sacrifice and we take pride in being their compatriots. We are a free people because of everything they did, and our gratitude will be eternal.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer will also release a pre-recorded commemorative message, and tributes will be offered by speakers in both the House of Commons and House of Lords.
A two-minute national silence will be observed at 11am to honour the memories of the British servicemen and women who gave their lives during the conflict.
The silence will be led by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and broadcast from a location in Scotland, where they are self-isolating.
Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby will reflect on the ‘courage and sacrifice’ of the war generation, describing reconciliation and hope as the ‘two great tributes we can pay’.
At 9pm, the Queen will address the nation in a televised message – the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a speech over the radio three-quarters of a century earlier.
The Red Arrows will also fly over London, while RAF Typhoons will appear above Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast as the Air Force pays its respects.
Captain Tom Moore, who raised more than £32 million for the NHS in April, will share his memories of wartime in an ITV documentary called Captain Tom’s War, which airs at 8pm.
In it he recalls having his spirits lifted by Dame Vera Lynn, whose songs include We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs Of Dover.
‘She did a little song for us, so it really boosted the morale of everybody,’ he said. ‘She was great.’
Sir Nick described the centenarian fundraiser as ‘a bit of a legend’, but said fellow veterans deserved to be in people’s thoughts amid the muted celebrations.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘Of course it will be different and I think that’s tough for the veterans and all of those who have lived through the war, because they would like to see a parade and they would like to be involved in that.
‘So I think we should spare a thought for them having to commemorate and celebrate at home.
‘These tremendous people, what they give us is, they give us hope, and I think that word hope is very important at the moment.
‘I do think we should spare a thought for the young – it was tough for them in the 1940s but it will be tough for them going forward, I fear.’
Children sit down to a victory party at a V-shaped table, given by residents at Kentwell Close, Brockley in south London
The US ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, wrote in The Sun that on VE Day ‘we celebrate the heroes and victories of the past, we are also looking forward to the future and laying the groundwork for a new era of success in the special relationship’.
The nation is also invited to come together in a rendition of We’ll Meet Again on BBC One, following the Queen’s address.
Other VE Day celebrations have been put on and adapted so that the public can get involved, while still adhering to social-distancing guidelines.
The Government has created a template pack to enable people to host a 1940s-style afternoon tea from their living rooms or gardens, consisting of VE Day bunting, recipes, and games for children.
The family tree discovery service Ancestry.co.uk will be free throughout the Bank Holiday weekend to give people the opportunity to uncover personal stories of the war, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said
Other broadcast events include a Royal British Legion’s (RBL) VE Day 75 Livestream, which can be accessed at here, featuring a national toast to war veterans at 3pm.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy, the National Army Museum and the Royal Air Force Museum are also joining forces to host a free online festival, bringing to life the stories of those who helped deliver Victory in Europe.
A milkman delivering milk in a street, devastated in a German bombing raid, in the Holborn area of London, 10th September 1940. Firemen are dampening down the ruins behind him
Britain Queues For Food: Rationing and food shortages in London in 1945. Women and children queue past several shops to buy goods from ‘Patsy’ the greengrocer, on a shopping street, in the Capital
VE Day minute-by-minute: How Britons will join together to commemorate the end of the Second World War 75 years ago today
Billboards at Piccadilly Circus, London, will screen VE Day advertisements.
The world-famous Red Arrows will fly over London, while RAF Typhoons will soar over Edinburgh, Cardiff and Bristol in magnificent displays.
BBC1 will air The Nation Remembers. Prince Charles will lead a two-minute silence to mark the anniversary and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. There will be small commemorations in Parliament, with Speakers of both the Commons and the Lords expected to offer tributes.
They will be followed by a wreath laying service in Westminster Hall, led by the Speaker’s Chaplain to coincide with the two minutes’ silence.
Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will read extracts from a speech given by Winston Churchill in the Commons on May 8, 1945, in which he announced the surrender of Germany, bringing the Second World War to an end in Europe.
BBC1 will air The Announcement Of Victory. Alongside a pre-recorded film, the broadcaster will beam Churchill’s historic victory speech.
Members of the Air Training Corps, Army Cadets, Sea Cadets and the Combined Cadet Force will play the Last Post at the top of the four highest peaks in the UK – Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Mount Snowdon and Slieve Donard.
To mark the moment that Churchill announced that the war with Germany was over, thousands of bagpipers from the UK and Denmark to South Africa and the US will play Battle’s O’er, a traditional melody performed at the end of a battle.
At the same time, Dame Joan Collins will lead the nation’s toast from the balcony of her London home. She will say: ‘To those who gave so much, we thank you.’
The British public are expected to post pictures of their street parties across the UK to the hashtag #StayAtHomeParty in keeping with lockdown rules.
Katherine Jenkins will perform for 30 minutes to an empty Royal Albert Hall for the first time in the venue’s history. She will sing wartime songs by Dame Vera Lynn including We’ll Meet Again and The White Cliffs of Dover.
Town criers will undertake a special international Cry For Peace Around The World.
Church bells are expected to ring across the country in a rally for peace.
BBC1 will air a special episode of The One Show hosted by Alex Jones, which pays special tribute to Britain’s Second World War heroes.
Channel 5 will broadcast The Lost Films, a collection of rarely seen clips from amateur filmmakers capturing the mood in Britain on May 8, 1945.
ITV will air Captain Tom’s War, during which the beloved 100-year-old NHS fundraiser will share his memories of serving in the Burma campaign. During the programme, he talks of the brutal fighting.
BBC1 will broadcast The People’s Celebration. Presented by Sophie Raworth, the Royal British Legion, and performers including Katherine Jenkins, Adrian Lester and Anton Du Beke will show thanks to Britain’s veterans.
The Queen will address the nation from Windsor Castle at the same time her father George VI gave a radio address in 1945 to mark the cessation of hostilities in Europe.
Her Majesty’s address will be followed by a rendition of We’ll Meet Again.
Sing along with Vera Lynn: Celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day with this definitive TV guide… plus how to make bunting and Winston Churchill’s Swiss Roll
A definitive guide to how you can enjoy the celebrations on TV today
FRIDAY, MAY 8
The Nation Remembers
Nationwide two-minute silence to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, paying tribute to heroes past and present.
The Announcement Of Victory
Tribute to the war generation including Churchill’s radio address from Downing Street at 3pm on May 8, 1945, announcing the end of hostilities. Celebrities will read personal testimonies from the day’s celebrations, there’ll be music by military bands, and Prince Charles will read an extract from his grandfather George VI’s diary for May 8.
The One Show
A definitive guide to how you can enjoy the celebrations on TV on Friday including an address from the Queen
The People’s Celebration
Hosted by Sophie Raworth, an evening’s entertainment with some of Britain’s top musical talent performing songs from the 1930s and 1940s, such as Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover and When The Lights Go On Again. Artists include Katherine Jenkins, Adrian Lester, Anton Du Beke, Shane Richie and Helen George. Interviews with those who remember the day.
Churchill’s Swiss Roll
After giving a VE Day speech, Churchill told his chef Georgina Landemare he could not have got through the war without her. Now try one of the favourite recipes she cooked for him:
- 130g caster sugar plus extra
- 3 eggs
- 85g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- Strawberry or raspberry jam
Beat the eggs and sugar together for five minutes. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Grease and line an oblong baking sheet and spread over the mixture. Bake at 180C for eight minutes. Turn immediately on to sugared paper, trim edges. Spread with hot jam and roll up.
At the exact time of day that her father, George VI, spoke to the nation in 1945, Her Majesty makes her own address. Followed by the whole country joining a singalong of We’ll Meet Again, led by Dame Vera Lynn, 103, from a window at her home in Sussex.
Sir David Attenborough, Patrick Stewart and June Whitfield, among others, share memories of the end of the conflict.
CAPTAIN TOM’S WAR
ITV, 8pm, ITV
Documentary about former Army officer Captain Tom Moore, 100, just made an honorary colonel after raising more than £32 million for the NHS by doing laps of his garden. Features Tom’s time serving in India and Burma.
Film remake from 2016 of the classic series, starring Toby Jones, Bill Nighy and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
OTHER TV CHANNELS
VE DAY: THE LOST FILMS
Eyewitness accounts and cine films of everyday life – some in colour.
TONY ROBINSON’S VE DAY
The Discovery Channel, 9pm
Presented by Tony Robinson. The day retold minute by minute, from soldiers’ first tentative steps out of PoW camps to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret slipping out of Buckingham Palace to mingle unrecognised with the public.
VE DAY IN COLOUR
Together TV, 9.30pm
Memories of the day from servicemen such as the PoWs who yearned for their first hot bath for years.
RACE TO VICTORY
History UK, 9pm
Analysis of the uneasy alliance formed by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin against Hitler.
Jeremy Vine show special
Radio 2, 12pm
FULL WORKS CONCERT
Classic FM, 8pm
Concert of music and words presented by Sir Nicholas Soames, who will recite famous quotes and speeches of his grandfather, Winston Churchill.
SPITFIRE: THE PEOPLE’s PLANE
BBC Sounds podcast available from May 8
Ten-part series presented by actress Tuppence Middleton about the fighter – which played an iconic role in the Battle of Britain – and its pilots.
VE DAY IN COLOUR
Today, C4, 8pm
Documentary about the experiences of everyday folk.
OUR FINEST HOURS
Tomorrow to Friday, BBC1 11.45am (different in Wales)
Sophie Raworth narrates a series comparing the Blitz spirit to how we’re now facing Covid-19.
BRITAIN’S GREATEST GENERATION
Tomorrow to Thursday, BBC2, 7pm (6.30pm Thursday)
Four-part series on the inspirational stories of men and women who fought in or lived through the Second World War.
Tomorrow to Thursday, BBC2, various times
Series profiling the man who symbolised Britain’s war effort.
COUNTDOWN TO PEACE
Wednesday, Yesterday channel, 8pm
Colour film footage from the streets of London, Paris and New York, as well as in villages, on VE Day.
DAME VERA LYNN: WE’LL MEET AGAIN
Thursday, BBC1, 7.30pm
After the wartime singer’s recent We’ll Meet Again duet with Katherine Jenkins to raise money for the NHS went to No 1 in the iTunes chart, this film tells her remarkable life story with help from her daughter, Virginia.
Tomorrow to Friday, BBC World Service, 8.50am and 12.50am
Series including first-hand archive accounts of Hitler’s death, the Soviet occupation of Berlin and how Germany has since commemorated VE Day.
ACROSS THE COUNTRY
Despite the cancellation of most public events, veterans and others are holding their own celebrations.
Anyone wanting to mark the anniversary is invited to have a tea party in their home and to make a toast at 3pm on Friday: ‘To those who gave so much, we thank you.’ This will be preceded by buglers across Britain playing The Last Post and Reveille at 2.55pm.
There’s an official website – at ve-vjday75.gov.uk – offering a ‘toolkit’ of bunting templates, colouring posters, a party playlist and menu suggestions.
The English Heritage website also offers a playlist and tips to dance in Lindy Hop style.
On Friday, members of the Royal Family and Government Ministers will take part in video calls with veterans, before the Queen addresses to the nation at 9pm, followed by the We’ll Meet Again singalong.
The website ancestry.co.uk is making all historical records free for the public from tomorrow until Sunday, giving people the opportunity to find out what their ancestors did in the war.
Families are invited to share their war stories on social media with the hashtag #VEDay75.
God bless you all. This is your victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this.
Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the unbending resolve of the British nation.
My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.
Did anyone want to give in? Were we down-hearted? The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle.
So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say, ‘do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straight forward and die if need be − unconquered’. Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle – a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy. But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed – the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow.
Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfil our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan.
We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives his trademark victory sign from the balcony of the Ministry of Health on May 8, 1945
Captain Tom’s ‘forgotten war’: £32m NHS fundraising hero who fought on the front lines in Burma in WWII says conscription did him ‘no harm’ and shares bittersweet VE Day memories
By Jack Wright for MailOnline
Captain Tom Moore has told of fighting in the ‘forgotten’ Allied campaign in Burma during the Second World War and his bittersweet memories of VE Day.
The former British Army Officer, who raised over £32million for the NHS during the pandemic, survived dengue fever, the Japanese and giant spiders in Asia.
In the ITV programme Captain Tom’s War, which is being aired tonight to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the beloved 100-year-old has revealed that he was enthusiastic about being conscripted and enjoyed being in the Army.
While serving in the brutal Burma campaign, known as the ‘Forgotten War’, Captain Tom’s role was to fight on the frontline while riding a motorbike.
Captain Tom’s involvement in the world war began in 1940, when the then 20-year-old Yorkshireman was conscripted into the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment
Captain Tom (pictured front centre, sitting on a tank), has also shared memories of watching Vera Lynn perform for the troops, and his bittersweet recollections of VE Day
He has also shared memories of watching Vera Lynn perform for the troops, and his bittersweet recollections of VE Day which took place after he got home.
Captain Tom’s involvement in the world war began in 1940, when the then 20-year-old Yorkshireman was conscripted into the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.
He was posted to India, then under British control, the following year.
‘Being conscripted didn’t do me any harm at all,’ he says.
‘The reason for conscription was that the country had got desperately short of soldiers. I didn’t mind at all. I mean at 20 you don’t think too hard about it.
‘I thought, ‘Oh great, it’s going to be great’.’
He describes India as ‘an entirely different world to anything I’ve ever been in before’, and says the air conditioning they had was ‘quite necessary’.
Captain Tom’s role was to ride to the frontline on a motorbike because he was an expert motorcyclist, having bought his first vehicle aged 12 (pictured, sitting with trophies)
‘It did get a bit hot,’ Captain Tom chuckles.
Captain Tom is hoping to draw attention to the Burma campaign, which was part of the South-East Asian theatre of the Second World War.
One million Allied troops from 40 countries attempted to repel Imperial Japan from the then British colony over almost three years, between 1942 and 1945.
Speaking of the Japanese fighters, he recalls: ‘They were quite a formidable force because there were people who didn’t mind if they died’.
He continues: ‘They were awful, they were what we say, were completely without morals. They starved people to death and didn’t care. That was bad.’
‘I was only 21 or 22,’ he admits. ‘You don’t get very frightened at 22’.
Captain Tom’s role was to ride to the frontline on a motorbike because he was an expert motorcyclist, having bought his first vehicle aged 12.
‘During the night, I was at the forefront with the Indian Army, fighting the night Japanese. And then, in the morning, when we thought the Japanese had gone home, my motorcycle came back into the picture,’ he explains.
Captain Tom walks behind an NHS hero sign just a week after his 100th birthday celebrations
The ‘Forgotten War’: Burma’s involvement in the Second World War
The Burma campaign was a series of battles fought in the then British colony of Burma, now Mynamar.
It was part of the South-East Asian theatre of the world war, and primarily involved the Allied powers: the British Empire, the US, and China.
They faced Imperial Japan, supported by the Thai Phayap Army and two collaborationist independent movements and armies, the first being the Burma Independence Army.
Puppet states were established in the conquered areas and territories were annexed, while the Allied forces in British India launched several failed offensives before August 1945.
There were four phases: the Japanese conquest of Burma in 1942; failed attempts by the Allies to mount offensives into Burma from 1942 to early 1944; the 1944 Japanese invasion of India, which ultimately failed following the Battles of Imphal and Kohima; and the successful Allied re-occupation of Burma by mid-1945.
The Burma campaign was the only land campaign by the Western Allies in the Pacific Theatre. It was prolonged by seasonal monsoon rains, which allowed effective campaigning for only just half of each year; by famine and disorder in British India; and by the priority given to defeating Germany.
‘The only way of getting to the front from the tanks was on a motorcycle through several miles of jungle, which fell to me again. I went back to the Regiment and that was a signal that the roads were clear and people came out again.’
Alongside Japanese soldiers, he says he had to battle fever and spiders ‘the palm of your hand’, adding: ‘That takes a little bit of getting used to’.
Captain Tom says his commanders kept up troop morale with live music.
‘This charming young lady appeared. It turned out to be Vera Lynn. And to a lot of men who hadn’t seen girls for a long time, it was quite something,’ he reveals. ‘She did a little song for us, so it really boosted the moral of everybody.
‘All I know is she appeared amongst us with Lord Mountbatten. I thought at the time, these top people get the best jobs!’
Dame Vera told the programme: ‘Burma was a special time for me and one that I will never forget. I was well protected by all the boys and never felt frightened. It was so good to help them feel that they were not so far away from home.’
Captain Tom also shares his memories of VE Day, which happened after he returned to the UK and became a tank instructor. They bring back some bittersweet memories, he says.
‘We stopped instructing for the day and there were certain activities in the bars. A lot of girls and a lot of boys and put those together and you get a good time.
‘I wasn’t all that happy because all my friends were still out in the Far East, still fighting. They didn’t have a day off for VE Day, they were still fighting. I was a little bit unhappy about that bit.’
It would be three more months before the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, and the world war against the Axis powers was finally over. A cold war between the USSR – one of the Big Three – and the US and its allies would come to divide the world and dominate the rest of the 20th century.
Reflecting on his experiences, Captain Tom says: ‘I can’t say I didn’t enjoy myself because I did… being in the Army, I really enjoyed being in the Army’.
The programme is narrated by actor Sir Kenneth Branagh and features contributions from the 100-year-old’s daughters, Lucy Teixeira (left) and Hannah Ingram (right)
Captain Tom was awarded a Colonel’s rank by the Queen after fundraising for the NHS this year. He is offering words of comfort for Britons stuck at home.
The secret to persevering through a tough challenge is simply, he explains: ‘You start off with the first one, it’s a bit hard. Then you do another one, and another and think, well I can do another one, and that’s how you have to keep going.
‘The Yorkshireman, his word is his bond. I said I’ll do it and I’ll do it.’
The programme is narrated by actor Sir Kenneth Branagh and features contributions from the 100-year-old’s daughters, Lucy and Hannah.
Captain Tom’s War is on ITV tonight at 8pm.
Some high-profile successes from GCHQ’s archives
German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann, pictured, proposed an alliance with Mexico if the United States joined the war on the side of the allies. Mexico was told they would receive Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in the event of an allied defeat. Experts in Room 40 of the Admiralty intercepted the telegram and it was later leaked to US newspapers
Tony Comer – who has worked for GCHQ for 36 years and has spent the last 10 as its historian – picks high-profile moments from its history.
The Zimmermann telegram:
In January 1917, GCHQ’s predecessors in Room 40 of the Admiralty produced an intelligence report that contributed to the United States, which was still neutral at that point, entering the First World War on the Allied side.
The German Foreign Minister, Arthur Zimmermann, proposed an alliance with Mexico: if the US joined the Allied side in the war and Mexico would ally itself with Germany, it would receive Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as prizes after the defeat of the Allies.
The message was intercepted by the UK and read on January 17, with its importance quickly realised.
A copy of the message between the German Embassies in Washington and Mexico City was shown to the US Embassy in London.
It was leaked to the US press and was front page in most US newspapers on March 1 1917.
Zimmermann publicly announced that the telegram was authentic, and in April the United States declared war on Germany.
Breaking the Enigma code:
The Enigma machine was invented by a German engineer Arthur Scherbius shortly after the First World War.
Dilly Knox, one of the former British First World War codebreakers, was convinced he could break the military version of the system and set up an Enigma Research Section, comprising himself and Tony Kendrick, later joined by Peter Twinn, Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman: their success was built on a foundation of the success of Polish cryptanalysts before them.
They worked in the stable yard at Bletchley Park and that is where the first wartime Enigma messages were broken by the UK in January 1940 during the Second World War.
Details of those who worked at Bletchley Park have been preserved and used as an exhibit in GCHQ’s head quarters
Code breakers at Bletchley Park used Enigma machines to crack German naval signals during the Second World War. This Enigman machine is located in GCHQ’s headquarters building in Cheltenham
The forerunner for GCHQ sought volunteers during 1938 who could be recruited at the outbreak for war. They wanted people who were promising mathematicians and linguists – as well as those with code breaking experience from the First World War
Cuban Missile Crisis:
The Admiralty built a wireless telegraphy station at Scarborough in 1912.
From 1914 onwards it had responsibilities for Sigint, intelligence gathering by interception of signals, as well as its ordinary communications mission.
In 1962 the US learned that the Soviet Union was secretly shipping nuclear missiles on to the island of Cuba, just 90 miles from America.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, GCHQ was intercepting position reports from Russian ships such as the Kasimov, pictured, to determine whether the Soviets were planning to run the US blockade imposed by President John F Kennedy
The Soviet freighter Anosov, rear, being escorted by the USS Barry and a US Navy plane was one of the vessels seeking to run the blockade. GCHQ’s station in Scarborough compiled position reports from Soviet vessels heading to Cuba. These reports showed the moment when the Russian ships turned around
The world was facing nuclear conflict after a Soviet missile base was spotted in Cuba by US Air Force intelligence flights
President John F Kennedy’s advisers pushed for an immediate invasion of the island but Kennedy opted instead for a naval blockade on further shipping arriving.
Some Soviet ships were already on their way to the island.
The question was whether they would break through the blockade. If they did, the risk was a conflict which could escalate into nuclear war.
One of the missions of the Scarborough station was to intercept position reports of Soviet merchant shipping.
This meant that it could say exactly where these vessels were, when they stopped sailing towards Cuba and when they turned around and headed back to the Soviet Union.
Reports gradually showed more ships originally bound for Cuba alter their course to return to Soviet ports.
A key report from this series – which shows the first report of a ship changing course- has just been declassified.
A minute-by-minute account of VE Day… 75 years on: Brought gloriously to life here, it was the moment Britain exploded in joy, relief and national celebration after six long years in the shadow of war
By Jonathan Mayo for the Daily Mail
After Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, German forces surrendered region by region. On May 4, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery took the unconditional surrender of the German troops on the western front, greeting their commanders with a terse: ‘Who are you? I’ve never heard of you. What do you want?’ The full German surrender was signed in French city Reims on May 7 — 335 days after D-Day. News of the surrender spread around Britain during the afternoon and immediately bunting and flags appeared in the streets. At 7.40pm, the BBC announced that May 8 would be a VE Day holiday…
Midnight, May 8, 1945
In No 10 Downing Street, Winston Churchill is working late dictating to his secretary, Elizabeth Layton. Suddenly a huge storm breaks over London, with thunderclaps sounding like bombs. Churchill teases her and says with a smile: ‘What was that? Oh, thunder. Might as well have another war.’ A special ‘Victory’ edition of the Daily Mail is running off the presses, declaring on its front page: ‘VE DAY — IT’S ALL OVER.’
Since April 1, American troops have been slowly fighting their way across the Japanese-held Pacific island of Okinawa. Suddenly the U.S. forces on land and at sea cease fire, and for a moment there is silence. Then they simultaneously launch a single massive salvo at the Japanese. The U.S. army radio operators tune into every Japanese frequency and defiantly announce that the volley is in celebration of Victory in Europe.
VE Day celebrations in the fountain of Trafalgar Square 1945
In the past few months in Britain the most draconian wartime measures have been relaxed. It’s now possible to buy a large map, to have a radio in your car and to release a racing pigeon without notifying the police. The Board of Trade announced yesterday that until the end of May ‘you may buy cotton bunting without coupons, as long as it is red, white or blue’. Worthing housewife Joan Strange is waking up to the sound of her mother wrestling with the family’s moth-eaten flags that last came out for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. They are both disappointed to see that they aren’t the first in their street to hang flags out — neighbours have got there first. Across the country many people are getting ready for work, not realising that most shops and factories are closed today. The people of the Channel Islands have been living under Nazi rule since June 1940. News of the surrender was greeted yesterday with relief by the islanders and even by some of the German occupying forces eager to go home. Food has become so scarce the troops have resorted to shooting seagulls and stealing cabbage stalks from fields. In a last attempt to assert their authority the Germans have banned the display of Union flags until the war is officially finished at one minute past midnight tonight, but the flags are already everywhere. A pair of Royal Navy destroyers are en route from Plymouth to accept the German surrender at 2pm this afternoon.
Who was Alan Turing and why was he so vital for the war effort that he has been named as the face of the Bank of England’s new £50 note
Alan Turing, pictured, was born on June 23, 1912 and studied maths at King’s College, Cambridge. He is considered the father of modern computing and was a vital part of the Bletchley Park code breakers
Alan Turing was a wartime hero whose later life was overshadowed by a conviction for homosexual activity, which was later considered unjust and discriminatory.
Often considered to be the father of computer science, Turing played a pivotal role in breaking the Enigma code and his legacy has a lasting impact on the way we live today.
Born on June 23 1912, Turing studied mathematics at King’s College, University of Cambridge, gaining a first-class honours degree in 1934. He was later elected a Fellow of the College.
In 1936 his work on Computable Numbers is seen as giving birth to the idea of how computers could operate.
His ‘Turing test’ also examined the behaviour necessary for a machine to be considered intelligent – the foundation for artificial intelligence.
Perhaps Turing’s best-known achievement was his role in cracking the Enigma code.
It has been said this helped to shorten the length of the Second World War by at least two years – saving millions of lives.
The Enigma enciphering machine, adopted by the German armed forces to send messages securely, was believed to be unbreakable as the cipher changed continuously.
Turing was part of an Enigma research section, which worked in the stable yard at Bletchley Park.
The first wartime Enigma messages were broken in January 1940 and Enigma traffic continued to be broken routinely at Bletchley Park for the remainder of the war.
Turing was later convicted of gross indecency for his relationship with a man.
His conviction led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) where he had continued to work following service at Bletchley Park during the war.
He was chemically castrated following his conviction in 1952 and he died aged 41 in 1954.
Turing died of cyanide poisoning and an inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained his death was accidental.
He was later given a posthumous royal pardon, following a request from the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
In September 2009, then-prime minister Gordon Brown issued the apology to Turing for the prosecution following a petition calling for such a move.
A petition, Grant a pardon to Alan Turing, previously received more than 37,000 signatures.
In July, the Governor of the Bank of England announced that Alan Turing would appear on the new £50 note in honour of his wartime exploits. His work is believed to have saved the lives of millions of people
Alan Turing’s work on cracking the Enigma code machine is believed to have shorted the Second World War by two years
In his London home, Lionel Logue, King George VI’s speech therapist for the past 19 years, receives a message from Buckingham Palace that says: ‘The King would like to see you at dinner tonight, and bring Mrs Logue. Tell her to wear something bright.’ Lionel is helping the King prepare for one of the most important moments of his reign when, at 9pm, he broadcasts a VE Day message to Britain and the Empire.
In the prisoner of war camps in Thailand, news of the German surrender is picked up on numerous clandestine radios. Peter Fane, a PoW in Chungkai camp, remembered: ‘It was absolutely wonderful. But we were terrified that the Japs would know from us what had happened if we went about being cheerful or singing.’ Prisoners could be beaten to death if a radio was discovered. Across most of Britain it is a perfect spring day and many churches are already ringing their bells in celebration. A grey-haired old lady is walking slowly up towards Biggin Hill aerodrome on the outskirts of London. Betty Wood, 74, has come to pay tribute to the pilots who died in the Battle of Britain.
In her hand is a posy of flowers and in her pocket she has photos of her grandsons Cecil, John and James who are serving with the Army overseas. Betty makes her way through the gates and towards the small RAF chapel where she puts the flowers carefully on the blue and gold altar. She notices that the birds are singing and remembers that she never heard them when the Battle of Britain was raging. 9am Hermann Goering, Hitler’s former commander of the Luftwaffe, is being interrogated by U.S. Brigadier General Robert Stack. Goering has made a special effort to be at the HQ of the U.S. 36th Infantry Division in Kitzbuhel, Austria, at 9am — he usually sleeps in until 11am. He surrendered two days ago and has with him a selfimportant letter for General Eisenhower, the Allied Supreme Commander, offering to help in the reconstruction of Germany. Stack recalled: ‘He seemed to have no idea that he might be regarded as a war criminal.’ The Soviet Red Army has seized the ruined German city of Dresden.
The rising sun reveals soldiers looting houses and shooting shopkeepers who try to protect their property. Women are being dragged into the streets along with their mattresses and raped. The Hoch family, who own a large house, are hiding as many local girls as they can and have shoved furniture in front of their door to keep the soldiers out. Their teenage son Karl-Ludwig writes bitterly in his diary: ‘The rule of the Bolsheviks is beginning.’ 10am At Buckingham Palace the royal duties continue: King George VI is handing out medals to servicemen and women. Waiting in line is Royal Navy Wren Edith Pargeter, later known as thriller writer Ellis Peters. Yesterday, when Edith heard the news of the German surrender, she feared the ceremony would be called off.
The King shakes Edith’s hand and gives her a British Empire Medal for her war work. Since the start of the conflict, he has personally decorated 32,000 men and women. On the other side of the Channel, the French port of Dunkirk has been under siege since September 1944. The German forces there know surrender is imminent and subject the Czech forces surrounding them to a devastating barrage until they are out of ammunition. A group of German soldiers start to walk towards the Czech lines shouting ‘Kamerad! Kamerad!’ The Czechs offer them their rations and show them pictures of the recently liberated concentration camp of Belsen but the Germans dismiss the photos as mere propaganda. The war has not ended in the Czech soldiers’ homeland. In the centre of Prague a unit of German soldiers accompanied by tanks and artillery is fighting Czech resistance forces. The town hall is soon ablaze and the SS start to round up and shoot civilians; women and children are being forced to march in front of armoured vehicles as human shields. The fighting in Prague won’t end until May 11.
Churchill has been in bed for most of the morning working on the text of his VE Day radio address. A telegram arrives from his wife Clementine, who is in Moscow on a mission for the Red Cross. ‘All my thoughts are with you on this supreme day, my darling,’ it says. ‘It could not have happened without you.’ He gets out of bed to deliver gifts of champagne and a large Gruyere cheese to his staff in the Downing Street Map Room. Midday The temperature in London is in the 70s. People are on the streets wearing paper hats in the shape of police helmets and crowns. Someone has chalked ‘Hitler Missed This Bus’ on one on Whitehall. In a Lyons Corner House just off Piccadilly Circus, two 18-yearold officer cadets, John Lowry and Geoffrey Howe, the future Chancellor, are enjoying a free lunch because they are in uniform. This morning they caught the 1.20am train from Exeter to Paddington and have been exploring the capital since. Howe remembered feeling ‘an extraordinary sense of bewildered exhilaration’.
Churchill is having lunch with the King at Buckingham Palace and they toast the end of the European War. The monarch wrote later that night: ‘The day we have been longing for has arrived at last and we can look back with thankfulness to God that our tribulation is over.’ In Courland in Latvia, the German 563rd Grenadier Division is holding out against overwhelming Russian forces. A Soviet officer shouts to the Germans that they should lay down their weapons as peace is imminent. The Grenadier Division clamber out of their trenches, shake hands with the Russians and swap cigarettes. It is a surreal scene; German Corporal Friedrich Kaufmann said: ‘Around this impromptu gathering lay the dead from the last Soviet attack, but this did not seem to dampen the bonhomie.’ A Russian officer asks Kaufmann how many troops he has, and when he replies little over a hundred the officer exclaims: ‘How could you hold the line with so few people?’
Off the coast of Guernsey two Royal Navy destroyers, HMS Beagle and HMS Bulldog, have arrived to accept the German unconditional surrender. A German minesweeper pulls alongside and young naval officer, Lieutenant-Commander Arnim Zimmerman, climbs aboard the Bulldog and shouts ‘Heil Hitler!’ to the astonished crew. Zimmerman declares that he has come to discuss armistice terms, not unconditional surrender. When the British officer in charge, Brigadier A.E. Snow, tells him bluntly that this is out of the question, Zimmerman replies that the destroyers must retreat to a safe distance or they will be fired upon by German coastal batteries.
Snow tells him that if they open fire he will ensure that Zimmerman is hanged the following day. But once Zimmerman has sailed back to Guernsey, Snow decides it would be wise to withdraw. Many of the Allied troops in Europe are in a reflective mood. A ceremony for Canadian forces is taking place at a small rural church near the German town of Marx. One gunner there, James Brady, wrote: ‘There is no feeling of exaltation, nothing but a quiet satisfaction that the job has been done and we can see home again.’ Commanding officer Colonel Gagnon starts to read the list of the 36 men they have lost, with tears in his eyes. Unable to go on, he hands the list to an adjutant who puts it in his pocket, saying quietly: ‘It’s not necessary. They were comrades. We remember.’
Outside the Cabinet Room in Downing Street, where in September 1939 Neville Chamberlain had announced the declaration of war with Germany, a large number of typists and private secretaries are eavesdropping on Churchill’s rehearsal for his radio broadcast. ‘What are you doing?’ they hear the Prime Minister bark at an aide. ‘They are just fixing the microphone, Sir.’ ‘What are you doing with that? No, leave it there.’ Churchill then blows his nose loudly and says: ‘Pull those blinds down. Can’t see what I’m doing!’ In Birmingham, large crowds have gathered in front of the Council House hoping to hear the PM’s radio address relayed by loudspeakers, but there are none. The embarrassed Mayor does his best and opens up the window of his parlour and puts his own wireless on the window ledge but the crowd is too far away and the set is too small to be heard.
In the White House in Washington the Press are being shown into the Oval Office, where President Truman is waiting for them, together with his wife Bess and daughter Margaret. Truman took over the presidency only a few weeks ago following the death of President Roosevelt and last night was the family’s first in the White House; later today Margaret’s piano is being delivered through a window by a crane. The new President tells the Press he will read them a statement that he’ll broadcast to the American public in a short while. He reassures them that it’s short and they will have time to file their story. Truman then tells them that today is a double celebration as it’s his 61st birthday. ‘Happy birthday, Mr President!’ everyone in the Oval Office choruses. Then Truman reads: ‘Today is a solemn but glorious hour. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly all over Europe.’ He concludes by saying Japan now faces the full might of the American military machine. ‘I want that emphasised time after time,’ he tells the Press, ‘that we are only half through.’
Children wave British flags from their bombed homes on the news of VE Day
In the Cabinet Room, Churchill begins his broadcast to the nation. He announces that hostilities will officially finish at one minute past midnight tonight and says: ‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toil and effort that lie ahead…’ In Paddington Green Hospital in London, a children’s ward is listening silently to Churchill’s speech. A little girl grasps the hand of nurse Jane Gordon and asks: ‘What does it mean?’ Jane explains that the war has ended. ‘What does that mean?’ the girl replies. The nurse thinks for a moment and says: ‘Well, it means you will see lights at night in the streets and windows lit up. It means you will never hear a siren again.’ ‘Never hear a siren again? Never again?’ the girl repeats. Jane can see by the look in her eyes that she doesn’t believe it could be true.
In the Channel Islands radios have been illegal for five years but now they have been proudly placed in open windows with the volume turned up full. Churchill is saying: ‘Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, but in the interests of saving lives, the ceasefire began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.’ Crowds in St Helier and St Peter Port listening in town squares on loudspeakers roar their approval. They start to sing God Save The King, which has also been illegal. Some islanders are unimpressed by the Prime Minister’s speech. Sisters Gwen and Pearl Smith are listening to their crystal set in their bedroom in Guernsey. Pearl says angrily: ‘Our dear Channel Islands? What a nerve! He couldn’t have cared less if we’d all been shot!’
In Paris, General De Gaulle is addressing a large crowd outside the Hotel l’Opera. ‘Friends, Hitler is dead! The war in Europe is won! France is free again!’ Rolf Weinberg, 26, a German Jew who fled to join the Free French Forces, is so overcome with emotion that he faints. When he comes around in his hotel room he finds a young nurse holding his hand. She says kindly: ‘You should be enjoying yourself with the others; let’s have some champagne!’ Rolf replies: ‘For me this isn’t a time for a fiesta because I’m thinking of all my comrades and all those killed by this damn Nazi regime. I’m so glad that I had the chance to wipe the regime out.’
In the British Embassy in Moscow, Churchill’s wife Clementine has arranged for a party to coincide with her husband’s historic speech. Now the speech is over, Clementine grabs a glass of champagne and climbs onto a chair shouting: ‘We will drink to victory!’ But the celebrations are tinged with sadness. A couple of days ago, Clementine was shown secret cables about Russian atrocities in Eastern Europe and Germany. Churchill wrote to his wife: ‘I scarcely need to tell you that beneath these triumphs lie poisonous politics and deadly international rivalries.’
The Prime Minister believes that the Nazi menace has been replaced by a Soviet one and in four days he will write to President Truman that ‘an iron curtain’ has been drawn down on the Russian front. Churchill’s speech has been relayed to all the ships in the British Pacific Fleet at action stations 600 miles south of Japan. Officers on board the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable are celebrating VE Day by splicing the mainbrace and, in the words of a journalist watching, ‘rejoicing at the thought of the bells ringing and the lights blazing out again over England’. But for the sailors, the end of the war seems a long way off. The captain speaks over the Tannoy, telling the 2,000-strong crew: ‘Thousands of British and American troops will now be coming to join us. We are the vanguard!’
Churchill is being driven in an open car the short distance from Downing Street to the House of Commons, where he will read the statement he’s just made on the radio. The crowds are so large and enthusiastic that mounted police are having to clear the way. The PM is standing on the front seat of the car next to his detective Walter Thompson and shaking hands with the crowd as the car inches forward. The engine isn’t running — it’s being pushed by the people surrounding the vehicle. The car passes through the gates of the Houses of Parliament just feet away from the young officer cadets Lowry and Howe, much to their delight. Years later, Howe will take that route into Parliament many times as an MP and Cabinet Minister.
Goering’s interrogation by Brigadier General Robert Stack is almost over. The German is about to be put on a plane to the HQ of the U.S. Seventh Army and taken into custody. Goering remains arrogant in defeat and says to the interpreter: ‘Ask General Stack whether I should wear a pistol or my ceremonial dagger when I appear before General Eisenhower.’ Stack hasn’t let on that he speaks fluent German but, unable to contain himself, snaps back: ‘Das ist mir ganz Wurst!’ (‘I don’t give a damn!’) Goering is stunned at the reply. In many British towns and villages, effigies of Goering and Hitler, complete with uniforms and medals, are being made to be placed on bonfires for VE Day celebrations this evening.
Jonathan Mayo and Emma Craigie’s Hitler’s Last Day: Minute By Minute is published by Short Books at £8.99.
The final push to defeat Adolf Hitler: How D-Day began the chain of events that led to the end of WWII
Waged across every inhabited continent, the Second World War was the most costly conflict in history, claiming the lives of around 57 million people.
By 1944, the tide was turning against the Nazis, particularly after the successful D-Day landings of June that year.
Following Germany’s defeat during the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945, the surviving troops limped back to the Rhine to defend the frontier. They were eventually dislodged by a major Allied attack involving a million men.
This is a timetable of the main events:
January 22: British and American troops land at Anzio.
June 4: Rome falls to the Allies.
June 6: D-Day invasion begins on the beaches of Normandy in the famous Operation Overlord.
June 13: First V-1 bombs land on London.
July 20: Bomb plot against Hitler narrowly fails.
August 15: Allies invade the South of France.
August 20: Battle of Normandy ends with the closing of the Falaise Pocket. Advance to the River Seine begins.
August 25: Paris is liberated.
September 3: Brussels is liberated.
September 17-26: Operation Market Garden, the “Bridge Too Far” airborne mission to cross the Rhine at Arnhem, fails with the loss of around 18,000 Allies.
October 5: British forces land in Greece.
December 16: German offensive in the Ardennes region launches Battle of the Bulge.
January 17: Russian forces capture Warsaw.
January 27: Auschwitz concentration camp is liberated by Russian troops and the full horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust slowly emerge.
January 28: The final shots are fired in the Battle of the Bulge, giving victory to the Allies, but at a heavy cost in men and equipment.
February 13: RAF launches carpet bombing raid on Dresden, followed by three further raids by US Air Force.
March 23 to 24: A million Allied troops cross the Rhine during Operation Plunder.
April 12: US President Franklin Roosevelt dies.
April 30: With Soviet troops marching on the Reich Chancellory in the heart of Berlin, Hitler commits suicide in his Berlin Fuhrerbunker – shooting himself in the head as he bites on a cyanide pill.
May 1: Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and his wife kill themselves.
May 2: German forces in Italy surrender.
May 4: Montgomery receives surrender of German forces in Holland, north-west Germany and Denmark on the Luneberg Heath.
May 8: Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) as Admiral Karl Donitz, appointed President by Hitler before his death, unconditionally surrenders.
May 9: Nazi Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signs unconditional surrender to Red Army in Berlin.
August 6: “Little Boy” atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima by US B-29 bomber Enola Gay.
August 9: “Fat Man” atomic bomb is dropped on Nagasaki.
August 14: Emperor Hirohito announces unconditional surrender of Japan and papers are signed on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
August 15: Victory over Japan Day (VJ Day), or VP Day (Victory in the Pacific) is celebrated.
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