Manchester held its breath this week in 1945 – waiting for confirmation that the war in Europe had finally ended
After the darkness and despair of six years of war, Tuesday May 8th 1945 burst like a bolt of light on the streets of Manchester.
Celebrations broke out across the city as rationing and austerity, suffering and loss, were put aside for one momentous day.
They were dancing in Piccadilly, partying in Newton Heath and singing in Salford as the wireless delivered the official announcement the world had been waiting for – Germany had surrendered.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his historic broadcast at 3.00pm. He said victory belonged to the great British nation as a whole.
‘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,’ said Britain’s leader.
He later gave an impromptu speech on the balcony of the Ministry of Health telling the massed crowds: ‘This is your victory!’
The war had taken a horrendous toll. On the home front, more than half a million homes had been destroyed across the UK and thousands of civilians had lost their lives.
Little wonder that many Manchester streets were already decked with bunting ahead of Churchill’s announcement.
Shops had hung rosettes in their windows and flags and streamers were fluttering around houses and lampposts.
For news had spread on Monday May 7th that the surrender had been signed by Grand Admiral Karl Donitz, the new German president.
Hitler had committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin on April 30th and the Russians were advancing inexorably on the German capital.
VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, was the public holiday to mark the allies’ formal acceptance of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender. It was officially May 8th although Wednesday May 9th was a holiday too.
The German forces occupying the Channel Islands did not surrender until May 9th anyway.
But that mattered little to the thousands who poured into Manchester city centre on May 8th. They were swept along by a tide pure joy and relief. Many gave thanks in churches and places of worship.
In London, King George VI and the Queen made eight appearances on the Buckingham Palace balcony accompanied by a uniformed Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.
Later the two princesses mingled incognito with the swirling, jovial crowds.
In Manchester, huge numbers gathered at Piccadilly Gardens and Albert Square. A banner proudly declared ‘Manchester salutes the Allies.’
A less formal, but no less touching placard was unfurled on the rainy pavements of Newton Heath. It showed a soldier and a sailor with a Spitfire in the background and simply said ‘Bless em all.’
The photo summed up the home-spun spirit of the day. Women and children raised their hands aloft to cheer the allies’ victory under home-made flags hung across the street on washing lines.
Celebrations went a step further in Heaton Park where tables were spread with biscuits, cakes and sweets for children to enjoy. Vases were filled with flowers and Union Jacks.
Back in Piccadilly, spontaneous dancing broke out as women rejoiced at the end of the war in Europe. Victory over Japan was not announced until August 1945.
There were fewer men to share in the celebrations as so many were still fighting for their country overseas.
Women had played a major role in the war effort. They cared for their families while their loved ones were away at the same time as working tirelessly in industry, agriculture, civil defence and community welfare.
Many in Manchester left their factories to wave flags and banners on VE Day as our picture shows. There was sheer jubilation on their faces as they danced down the cobblestones.
It was a little more formal for women rehearsing for the national birthday parade of the National Association of Training Corps for Girls.
Manchester members of the Girls Training Corps and Women’s Junior Air Corps had been chosen to form a guard of honour for the occasion – and everything had to be perfect for the senior officers’ inspection.
Finally, the Manchester May Day Parade had special significance in 1945. Our photo shows the magnificent shire horses that won the first three prizes in the Corporation Highways Department procession.
They’re pictured leaving Albert Square after being inspected by the Lord Mayor.
*If you have any memories of VE Day you’d like to share, please contact iNostalgia at inostalgia.co.uk or visit our Facebook pages. We’d love to hear from you.