You really couldn’t blame people for wanting to celebrate the end of the war early on the streets of Manchester in May 1945.
News of the Germans’ surrender had reached the UK a day before Winston Churchill was due to make his official announcement.
Rosettes were already hung in shop windows while bunting was strewn around houses and lampposts ready for the official VE Day celebrations on Tuesday May 8th.
But when word filtered through that Germany’s president, Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, had signed the official surrender documents on Monday May 7th, impromptu celebrations broke out that evening across the North West.
People knew the end of the war in Europe was imminent as Hitler had committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin on April 30th and the allies had advanced inexorably on the German capital.
Six long years of suffering had finally ceased – and people took to the streets in the early evening and twilight in sheer relief.
You can see them linking arms and dancing over the cobblestones – adults and children alike – in our joyous image from a terraced street in Manchester.
They were hoisting the flags too over the entrance to the Kemsley House printworks on the corner of Withy Grove and Corporation Street.
By the time the war broke out, the building was the largest newspaper office and printing house in Europe, producing the Manchester Evening Chronicle and Daily Mirror as well as northern editions of the Daily Telegraph.
But Monday’s early celebrations had nothing on VE Day itself. People were partying in Piccadilly, singing in Salford and parading in Platt Fields.
A victory procession, including horse-drawn corporation trams, wound its way from Albert Square to Platt Fields Park in Fallowfield.
Albert Square and Piccadilly were awash with revelers – civilians and servicemen and women alike – raised high in rows to witness the spectacle. A banner proudly declared ‘Manchester salutes the Allies.’
One wonderful image shows a sailor and two soldiers from different nations clinking their pint glasses together in an act of friendship. All three are draped in garlands and bunting, no doubt put there by grateful Manchester folk.
Cups of tea and bottles of lemonade were the order of the day at children’s street parties across Manchester. Our photo shows one in full swing where 50 youngsters sat down to a ration-busting treat.
Tables were spread with biscuits, cakes and sweets while vases were filled with flowers and Union Jack flags.
Women had played a major role in the war effort. They worked tirelessly on the Home Front in industry, agriculture, civil defence and community welfare.
The Auxiliary Territorial Service, better known by its acronym ATS, was formed in September 1938 as the women’s branch of the British Army. It was in operation until February 1949 when it merged with the Women’s Royal Army Corps.
At its height, the ATS numbered more than 190,000. During the retreat from Dunkirk in May 1940, ATS telephonists were among the last British personnel to leave French shores.
In Manchester, women workers were critical to industrial production – but they downed tools in jubilation to wave flags and banners on VE Day.
One of the most evocative images of the day shows factory workers, still in their protective aprons, skipping down the cobblestones carrying a huge garland between them.
VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, was declared a public holiday to mark the allies’ formal acceptance of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. It was officially Tuesday May 8th although Wednesday May 9th was declared a holiday too.
Manchester and the nation came to a standstill at 3.00pm when Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his historic broadcast. He said victory belonged to the great British nation as a whole.
Later, Churchill appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace accompanied by King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.
Churchill told the cheering crowds below: ‘God bless you all. This is your victory. In our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best’.
When Churchill summoned Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin to come forward and share the applause, he refused with the words: ‘No Winston, this is your day.’
Bevin then led the crowds in a spontaneous rendition of ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ in Churchill’s honour.
*Unmissable images of Manchester and the North West feature in Clive Hardy’s latest hardback book, The Home Front – Britain 1939-45, published by iNostalgia Ltd. It’s on sale at £14.99 including UK postage and packing.
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