Back in those days, of 1940s, with limited fixed line phones and no television, world news was brought to Kiwi families via the heavy, clunky radio. We listened eagerly to news reports and children’s story hour. Mother planned her chores to be in the vicinity of the radio to listen to the 15 minute serial for housewives, her only ‘escape’ from her heavy workload and demanding family.
I remember on some cold nights my father shaking us awake, and insisting we come down to listen to the wireless. Bundled into our dressing gowns and slippers we would plod sleepily downstairs and sit cross-legged around the wireless, listening for Big Ben’s solemn chimes and the distant, clipped received pronunciation of the BBC World Service news reader. This was how we reluctantly listened to the funeral of King George 6th, our own Edmond Hilary conquering Everest, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth and other major events. I used to wonder why those people in Britain did all the exciting things in the middle of the night!
This was the way New Zealand heard the good news when Victory of Europe (VE) was confirmed. As New Zealanders concentrated on the thready crackling sound from their radios, the theme tune of Lili Bolero played while listeners fine-tuned their frequency. It was May9, 1945, at 1am in New Zealand. Our Government announced the good news the following day, which is when we still acknowledge VE Day. It was the relief and cause of great celebrations across Europe, Israel, America. It was the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War 11 of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces. Adolf Hitler the Nazi leader had committed suicide a week earlier, during the battle of Berlin, and Germany’s surrender was authorized by his successor Karl Donitz.
Upon the defeat of Germany, the western world erupted in relief. In UK, more than a million people celebrated in the streets throughout the UK to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace. There, King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace waving to the cheering crowds. ( Our current Queen, and her sister Margaret were given a rare time of freedom to wander incognito among the crowd and take part in the street parties and celebrations).
Winston Churchill was also chanted by crowds until he appeared on the Whitehall Ministry of Health balcony wearing his crowd-pleasing boiler suit – plus his signature black top hat! Crowds began singing and a military band then accompanied a hearty singing of Land of Hope and Glory which Winston joined in.
VE day in the united states coincided with President Harry Truman’s 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor Franklin D. Roosvelt, who had died less than a month earlier. Flags remained at half staff for the remainder of the 30 day mourning period. This was strange custom of national grief during a time of national celebration and relief at War’s end.
In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and New Zealand considered the job was only half done. While we celebrated to see Britain’s safety, our people were still fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. Both Churchill and Truman acknowledged this. In his radio broadcast on May 8, 1945, Churchill told the world “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued.” In America, Truman said VE was “a victory only half won”
In Christchurch the local commercial radio station 3ZB had a great newscaster Jack Maybrey. His reportage on VE celebrations described high-spirited, war- weary Cantabrians who swarmed to Cathedral Square to release their pent-up anxieties and find comfort in their relief at the’ beginning of the end’ of World War Tragedies. He described the trouble police were having with crowd control as Cantabrians surged together, drinking and dancing. Airforce lads (including my father) had decorated their pushbikes with bunting and they were weaving through the crowds, Some even had red, white and blue bunting ‘skirts’ wrapped over their uniforms! There were lots of pet dogs, bunting and flags. After this one night of letting off steam, order resumed and the ‘mopping up of the Pacific and South East Asia became top of the agenda. It provided a new spirit of hope to motivate the final ‘push’ to end our Pacific war too.
It was another 3 months before VJ Day marked the Japanese Surrender in Singapore. Every family in New Zealand was affected by grievous losses from this War; rationing and restrictions continued for years. We who are old enough to remember the fear and horror pray that our world will learn to live at peace. Many people have “REST IN PEACE carved on their gravestones. Why can’t we carve on our hearts LIVE IN PEACE?
“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
“The Lord will give strength to his people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” (Psalm 29 v 11)
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts….and be you thankful” ( Colossians 3 v 15)
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. Not as the world gives …
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” ( John 14 v 27.)
Let’s be peacemakers this day.