SEVENTY YEARS AGO TODAY IN EUROPE
BY ALEX KERSHAW
Having accepted the German surrender, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent a message to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington:
THE MISSION OF THIS ALLIED FORCE WAS FULFILLED AT 0241, LOCAL TIME, MAY 7, 1945, EISENHOWER.
THE FOLLOWING DAY, 8 May 1945, the world learned of the German final surrender. There were intense and prolonged celebrations in many capitals to mark the end the most destructive war in human history.
While civilians embraced, kissed total strangers and took to streets around the globe in euphoria, many infantrymen in Europe, brutalized and broken, sat alone with their grief or paced their rest areas in mournful silence. “There is V-E day without but no peace within,” wrote the war’s most decorated US infantrymen, Audie Murphy, of the 3rd Division.
Europe lay in ruins. The human cost of the conflict was beyond comprehension. In one Berlin suburb, women now outnumbered men by over ten to one. Over five million German dead littered the battlefields of a devastated Europe, especially in the East. Ninety percent of all German combat deaths had in fact occurred fighting the Soviets who had suffered an astounding 65 percent of all Allied fatalities.
Barbarism had been defeated. Civilization had been preserved. The men of evil, Winston Churchill told the British nation, “are now prostrate before us.”
Later that afternoon of 8 May, after having lunched with the King at Buckingham Palace, Churchill was driven to Whitehall. When he stepped onto a balcony at the Ministry of Health he could barely hear himself speak, so loud were the cheers of the crowds.
“This is your victory,” he shouted. “It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this.”
Finally, I would like to address the WWII veterans with us here, today, seventy years after the guns fell silent in Europe. I was born in England twenty years after the war ended. I grew up in a united and mostly prosperous Europe – one that you set free.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for allowing mine and other generations to enjoy the longest period of peace in Europe’s history, on a continent scarred since the beginning of time by war.
Now, seventy years later, we can agree with Churchill absolutely. He was right. Indeed, in all our long history, we have never seen a greater day than VE Day – thanks to you. It is still your victory – the greatest the world has ever known.