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The 65th Anniversary of V-E Day

For years Winston Churchill had warned Britain of the Nazi German menace, and had been ignored:

If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a small chance of survival. There may even be a worse case: you may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

In 1940 Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. A dark tyranny spread across Europe.

Dunkirk

British and French armies retreated to Dunkirk in May, 1940. At first there appeared to be no way to bring 220,000 Tommies and their French comrades to safety. In his history of World War II Churchill writes -

. . . By intense effort Fighter Command maintained successive patrols over the scene, and fought the enemy at long odds. Hour after hour they bit into the German fighter and bomber squadrons, taking a heavy toll, scattering them and driving them away. . .Unhappily, the troops on the beaches saw very little of this epic confrontation in the air, often miles away or above the clouds. . .

Meanwhile,

The French in Lille fought on. . .These Frenchmen, under the gallant leadership of General Molinié, for four critical days contained no less than seven German divisions which otherwise could have joined in the assaults on the Dunkirk perimeter. This was a splendid contribution to the escape of their more fortunate comrades and of the British Expeditionary Force. . .

The 'miracle' of Dunkirk was made possible because an unsung hero and his men and women worked night and day in Dover Castle to organize the rescue and because the British people raced out in their boats to rescue their boys.

"From the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared: trawlers and tugs, scows and fishing sloops, lifeboats and pleasure craft, smacks and coasters; the island ferry Gracie Fields; Tom Sopwith's America Cup challenger Endeavour; even the London fire brigade's fire-float Massey Shaw - all of them manned by civilian volunteers. . .

"They sailed across the Channel to Dunkirk and under the deadly fire of the German Air Force rescued their exhausted, bleeding sons" (William Manchester, Churchill biography).

Battle of Britain

In the summer of 1940, the Battle of Britain raged over the south of England and the Channel. Outnumbered Royal Air Force pilots outflew and outfought the German Luftwaffe to prevent the invasion of Britain. Supported by maintenance crews and newly invented radar, they were "the Few".

'Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few', said Winston Churchill.

Below them in the English Channel, the destroyers and battleships of the Royal Navy formed another line of defence.

On the ground, 1 Canadian Corps and the Home Guard ( Dad’s Army), which was armed with pikes and pitchforks, old shotguns and carving knives, stood between the Nazi German Army and London.

The German Luftwaffe bombed London. London firemen worked tirelessly to control the inferno. Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives, 306-NT-901-19

Leading Britain, Churchill spoke for all when he defiantly said -

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

The German Luftwaffe bombed Manchester, Liverpool, Belfast, Coventry and Glasgow. St. Paul's, London, symbol of British spirit, survived. Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives, 306-NT-3173V

World conflagration

The people of the Dominions came to the help of their brothers and sisters in Britain, and were followed by Americans. Side by side, men and women from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and America fought the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan around the globe.

They fought in the jungles of the Far East, the icy waters of the Arctic and North Atlantic, the deserts of Africa and the waters and islands of the Pacific. As the war went global, the Allies will include Russians, Free French, Poles, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Chinese, and the Nepalese Gurkhas.

In 1943 the Germans destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto as part of their Final Solution to kill every Jewish man, woman, and child. They murdered Christians, ethnic groups, disabled people and gays. Before they were stopped, the Axis Powers killed more than 50 million civilians. Photo credit: Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives, 238-NT-282

World War II was fought with the help of British women who pitched in at farms and factories, and served in the fire brigades, the WACs (Women's Army Corps), WAAFs (Women's Auxiliary Air Force), ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary), ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service - Princess Elizabeth served in the ATS), and the WRENs (Women's Royal Naval Service). No job was too dirty, difficult or dangerous. Photo Credit: National Maritime Museum

The Allies launched D-Day to liberate Europe and end the war. They battled to restore freedom, and to end the murderous horrors of the fascist regimes.

580,406 United Kingdom and Commonwealth forces and 67,073 British civilians died during World War II. Three hundred thousand were wounded. More than 400,000 Americans died in action. There were 40,500 Australians who died in battle along with 45,300 Canadians, 11,900 Kiwis, and 87,000 Indians (Wiki). Many who were not killed or wounded gave five years of their lives to defeating Fascism.

On May 7th 1945 the Germans surrendered. On May 8th, the world celebrated. The war in the Pacific continued.

Canadians. Photo Credit: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

The war in the Pacific ended on August 14th.

Constitutional governments were established in Germany, Japan and Italy. The Allies provided food and supplies to the starving German, Japanese and Italian people and to the millions of refugees their warmongering had created. They helped them to rebuild. The Allies did not take for themselves even a foot of ground, except in those cemeteries where their soldiers lie buried.


A veteran pays tribute to his Captain, who died during the Normandy Invasion.
Photo: J. Plank

The whole story is too great to be told here. Yet we can salute the gallantry and courage of those who brought us V-E Day and decades of peace and freedom.

Comments (1)

Susan Atkinson:

My mother in law was in the WAAFs in Dover England during the war. Her name was Patricia K. Head. She was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, England in 1916. She was a staff car driver in Dover. She married her husband George R Atkinson in 1945, who was stationed in the US Army in Germany. I would like any information on her, what it was like in the WAAFs, during the war. Thank you, Susan Atkinson.

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