Is VE Day still relevant?

In remembering and commemorating the end of World War 2 in Europe, some of us may not want to dwell on the sentimental Vera Lynn-type nostalgia. But in May 1945, the UK’s feeling of reprieve and joy, tempered by grief, was profound and almost universal.

And the devastating event itself, the global war, is surely worth a thought and a pause for relief and gratitude for what we have today, by comparison with then.

VE Day newspaper, 8 May 1945, from our family archive

50 million dead

As historians of all shades of opinion have written, it was almost certainly the most catastrophic event in world history. The dead have been estimated at 15 million military personnel, of which up to 2 million were Soviet prisoners of war. An estimated 35 million civilians died, with between 4 and 5 million Jews perishing in concentration camps and an estimated 2 million more in mass murders across Eastern Europe. Afterwards, refugees from the German-occupied territories, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe numbered many millions. Then there’s the Far East …

Target: London

By comparison with Germany and Russia, Britain suffered less material and human damage on the home front.

All the same, many cities were attacked, some severely.

London, as the principal city, was of course the main target for German bombing. At the height of the Blitz, on 10 May 1941, more than 3,000 Londoners died or were seriously injured. During World War II as a whole, 100,000 London homes were destroyed and over one million houses suffered damage. Over 80,000 Londoners were killed or seriously injured. The landscape of the city was changed for ever.

Bomb hit in Balham. (c) IWM

See the collection of other images on the Imperial War Museum’s site.

By the end, Britain itself had accumulated debts of $20 billion. Germany and much else of Western and Central Europe was in ruins, industry wiped out or exhausted. Much of Eastern Europe fell under the cruel dominance of the Soviet Union and its organs of state security. The human, economic and political aftermath extended over decades.

Local bombs

The Bombsight site shows where bombs dropped in and around Fawnbrake Avenue  during the 1940/41 Blitz. Aerial attacks peaked again nearer the end of the war, especially with the deployment of V1 and V2 rockets, which struck several local sites in summer 1944. The Flying Bombs & Rockets website has useful images and details of severe V1 damage in Carver Road, Guernsey Grove, Stradella Road and other streets.

 

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