The 8th May 1945 was Victory in Europe Day – a public holiday to celebrate the end of the Second World War.  The act of military surrender was authorised by Nazi leader Karl Dönitz, who had become Reichspräsident after Adolf Hitler committed suicide at the end of April.

The German army originally only wished to surrender to the Western Allies, and therefore continue to fight against the Soviets.  American General Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to accept such terms, and insisted on a complete unconditional surrender.  Realising the futility of continuing the war, Dönitz agreed.  However, although the complete unconditional surrender was signed on 7th May in the city of Reims in France, the Soviet Union’s representative in the city did not have the authority to accept it.   Therefore, a second Instrument of Surrender was signed the next day in Berlin by Georgy Zhukov, the Soviet officer who had led the Red Army through Eastern Europe.  As the Berlin surrender was signed after midnight Moscow time, the former Soviet Union marks the 9th May as Victory Day.

VE Day was celebrated with jubilant scenes across the world, much as the end of the First World War had been met with cheers and dancing.  It’s therefore quite ironic that the 8th May also marks the date when Edward George Honey, in a letter to the London Evening Standard in 1919, first suggested that the end of war should be marked by a period of silence rather than celebration, making him the first person to suggest the Remembrance Day silence.

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© Scott Allsop