VE Day: Our deliverance from liberty’s darkest hour

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This is an edited version of the VE Day editorial that The Yorkshire Post published on May 8, 1945.

GERMANY has surrendered unconditionally to the United Nations. Today Mr Churchill will announce the joyous news of Victory in Europe over the radio at 3pm and tonight at nine the King will address his people. We may be sure that His Majesty will speak not only to us but for us, expressing the gratitude which the nation feels to its leaders and its fighting men for all that they have dared and achieved to preserve freedom.

The extent of the Allied victory is made clear by General Jodl’s acknowledgement of Germany’s utter overthrow after signing the instrument of surrender. This time there can be no legend that the German Army remained undefeated and was stabbed in the back by traitors and civilian weaklings; it has been outfought and shattered on the soil of the Reich.

In this country, the announcement of peace in Europe will be received with a feeling not so much of jubilation as of deep thanksgiving to God for a great deliverance. It is only now, when the danger is past and we can walk abroad with the knowledge that our freedom is secure, that we begin to appreciate fully the darkness of the shadow that has been over us; the extreme deadliness of the peril from which we and our children have escaped. Never in the whole of her long history, as a great nation has Britain been so near defeat as she was in the anxious days of 1940; never has the cause of liberty in this world been at so low an ebb as it was at that time.

The terrors of the enemy air bombardment of our cities throughout the months that followed were a searching ordeal, stoutly borne by our population, but they were trifling compared with the fate which would have befallen all the best and most virile elements in our nation if the Nazis had reached this island and had succeeded in establishing in the gracious countryside of Britain replicas 
of their hideous Buchenwalds and Dachaus.

From that we were saved by Mr Churchill’s indomitable leadership; by the gallantry of a handful of fighter pilots; the faithful vigilance of the Royal Navy; and the dauntless spirit of our whole people. Should it not also be acknowledged that some of those most intimately concerned in that historic deliverance felt, as our fathers had felt in the days of Trafalgar, that a Power beyond this world had intervened on our behalf? That feeling, shared by many, will give a spirit of reverence and self-dedication to the celebration of this glad day of victory.

The great news will be greeted with relief, but with a sober realisation that heavy tasks lie ahead. Not only have the Japanese still to be defeated, but many thousands of men will be required for the vital duty of garrisoning Germany, and giant enemies have yet to be fought In war-torn Europe: such enemies as starvation, epidemics, the desperate, homeless condition of vast numbers of men, women and children, the ruin of great cities and the breakdown of all normal services.

The time of dreadful bloodshed in Europe is past, and with it, we hope, have gone for ever those appalling cruelties with which the Nazis besmirched the name of mankind; but this is still a time of grave danger for millions, and of searching challenge to those who by good fortune are separated from the chaos and distress of the Continent.

At the end of the last war a mood of weariness fell upon the peoples of Europe. There was a natural yearning to forget all the grievous losses and grinding endurances of the war years and to enjoy a period of ease and pleasure after the long strain. That mood must be shunned at present; for, if the fighting is over in the West, the structure of peace has still to be built.

It is right that we should think first, even In this time of rejoicing, of the sacred responsibilities which the United Nations must shoulder if they are to be worthy of the courage and devoted sacrifice of those millions of men and women who have made victory possible. But it is right also that we should look back with gratitude along the steep and perilous road we have travelled and think today of the magnitude of our deliverance.

As we do so, we shall all feel intense pride as well as thanksgiving as we recall what the men and women of our own generation in this small island have dared and accomplished in this greatest war of all time. The deeds that have brought us to final triumph have been done not merely by men in the Fighting Services, but also by young women straight out of school, by messenger boys and elderly civilians on air raid duty.

Almost the entire population, with the exception of those in remote country places who have made their own loyal contribution to the general effort, have been in danger from enemy action at one time or another.

This war has forged comradeships that will not easily be forgotten; it has left ineffaceable memories of devotion and daring; it has brought great nations together also in a community of suffering which should help to create a common resolve to do everything possible to safeguard humanity against a renewal of such terrors in future. If this war, which was everybody’s war, has left difficult problems, it should have left us also the experience and the will to solve them.