Early May sees the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe – or VE – Day. After the suicide of Adolf Hitler on 30th April, the Germans surrendered on 7th May 1945, bringing an end to the Second World War in Europe. The following day was designated Victory in Europe Day – a day of celebration and relief but tinged with great sadness. Gatherings and parades were held by victorious, but exhausted, nations around the world. Due to the time difference VE Day was held on 9th May in New Zealand.
Victory celebration stirs Christchurch crowds. Christchurch turned out yesterday en masse to attend the second day of Victory Celebrations. A section of the crowd in the Square. 10 May 1945. The Press, 11 May 1945, p.8
The war against Japan in the Pacific was still raging, with New Zealand, British and American forces, amongst others, still fighting. Victory in the Pacific was still a few months away.
The closeness of this anniversary to the 100th anniversary of the start of the Gallipoli Campaign reminds us that there was only thirty years between the landings towards the beginning of the First World War and the end of the Second World War. In turn, the end of the Second World War led to the dismantling of the British Empire, independence for many colonised nations around the world and the Cold War.
Celebrating victory in Europe (VE Day, 9 May 1945), Normans Road, Bryndwr
[9 May 1945] CCL Photo Collection 22, Img02308_01
While 2015 is going to be dominated by the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, there are a number of major non-First World War military-related anniversaries coming up this year. (This is not an exhaustive list)
Although the campaign was a failure, the evacuation of the allies from the Gallipoli Peninsula was remarkably successful, as was the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force and much of the French Army from Dunkirk in northern France 25 years later. In late spring 1940 Hitler‘s forces seemed unstoppable and withdrawal from continental Europe left Britain and her empire isolated and facing invasion. In order to invade the Nazis first needed air superiority, but during the tense weeks of the Battle of Britain that summer the RAF defeated the Luftwaffe and the invasion was called off.
A number of New Zealanders served with the RAF during the Battle of Britain, most notably Keith Park, from Thames, who commanded No. 11 Group defending London and the South-East of England.
This year will also see the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, both in Europe where VE (Victory in Europe) Day was held on 8 May (9 May in New Zealand) and VJ (Victory over Japan) Day on 15th August – although the official Japanese surrender wasn’t signed until 2nd September. As the Allies liberated Nazi-held territory in Europe the painful truth about their treatment of Jews was revealed. It was on 27th January that Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated.
The Battle of Waterloo was a major event in European history and took place in Belgium on 18th June 1815. The battle saw a coalition of British, Dutch, German and Belgian armies, led by the Duke of Wellington defeat the French and finally end Napoleon’s imperial aspirations in Europe. The Napoleonic Wars and the French Revolutionary Wars which had begun in 1792. If Napoleon had won, what would Wellington (and Picton) have been called?
The Hundred Years War lasted longer than 100 years, but one of the most significant battles of the war was fought 600 years ago this year. The Battle of Agincourt, which took place in northern France on 25th October, was a major victory for the English, immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
There certainly is much to think about and remember this year.