Today, in one of the Facebook groups I belong to that discusses the 1940s, people were asking what others were doing to show appreciation for VE Day.
May 8, 1945 — The date when the war in Europe was officially over with the German surrender. After six long years of turmoil with thousands of bombs resulting in even more deaths, the people of England were thrilled to be done with destruction, fear and fighting.
The replies to the Facebook inquiry were great: Put up bunting. Bake cakes. Dance in the streets. Dress up. Get together with friends and neighbors to honor what this day still means to so many.
Let me remind those of us who are not so good at math (I had to pull out the calculator on my phone) — this event occurred 76 years ago! And people are still showing their thanks for what others did for them!
It all intrigued me enough to put together this post with an excerpt from a story I wrote about a woman who grew up in Liverpool, England at the time. Her full story is in my book, It Was Our War Too: Youth in the Shadows of World War II:
Liverpool, a city known for its port and manufacturing, was bombed repeatedly by the Germans during the war. It became so hazardous to live there that Eileen McShane Garey and her mother left the city to stay with strangers in Wales a couple of times. But each time, they were lonely and returned home, willing to take their chances of survival.
Eileen’s brother, William, was born before her father joined the Navy. Her mother ran their meat shop during his absence while other female family members babysat.
Challenges for the McShane family increased in spring 1945 when a dysentery epidemic ran rampant throughout England’s cities. The country’s undernourished children were especially susceptible. Eileen and three-year-old William became ill enough to be admitted to the hospital.
As William’s condition worsened, his doctor petitioned the Royal Navy to grant his father compassionate leave. “The doctor feared my brother would die,” said Eileen.
One bright spot occurred on May 8, 1945, when nine-year-old Eileen and other children in the hospital were led to the auditorium. “The doctors and nurses were laughing and the place was covered with Union Jack buntings,” she said. “I wondered what was going on.”
The hospital staff had big news: the war was over. On that date, which became known as VE Day (“Victory in Europe”), Germany signed its surrender to the Allies.
A feeling of great relief and excitement filled the hall. “I knew Dad would come home soon,” said Eileen. Shortly after VE day, Eileen and her brother were discharged.
Though weak from their illness, the McShane children’s spirits lifted with their father’s return. William McShane resumed his work in the family’s butcher shop, which remained open for many years.
In 1956, Eileen McShane married an American soldier and moved to the United States. Today, she lives near New Orleans where she volunteers at the National World War II Museum. Each year she gives talks to schoolchildren about her role in Operation Pied Piper.
“I tell them that I know if the Americans had not come into the war, England could not have held up,” she said. “I volunteer at the museum because I recognize and honor the bravery of all of the people who served in my native country and in the United States in the war. If not for them, we would not be here today.”
I’ve been to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans twice and add it as a ‘must-do’ to most of my talks to libraries, civic groups. It is a fabulous place and I encourage everyone to visit.
How do you plan to celebrate VE Day? Leave a comment below.
Thanks to our vets who are reading this! We appreciate your service!