VE Day 1945: How Scarborough revellers celebrated

VE Day celebrations in Union Street, Scarborough
VE Day celebrations in Union Street, Scarborough

by Jeannie Swales

Seventy years ago today, parties like this one were being held across Britain.

It’s estimated that on May 8, 1945, at least one million people attended street parties to celebrate VE, or Victory in Europe, Day marking the formal end of World War II.

That’s a sizeable chunk of the British population, which at that time numbered just over 49 million. Our pictured revellers are in Union Street, just off Aberdeen Walk. Note how nearly all of the party-goers are women and children – just two middle-aged-to-elderly men in the centre of the picture. Most of the younger men would still be away at the war.

Hitler had committed suicide on April 30, and his successor as president, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, formally surrendered on behalf of Germany.

He travelled to General Eisenhower’s HQ at Reims in France, and, in the presence of senior officers from Britain, America, Russia and France, surrendered unconditionally to the Western and Russian 
demands on May 7, 1945.

The official day of celebration was pegged for the following day, but after years of austerity, the Brits were ready for a party, and many of them started to celebrate a day early.

Little wonder: a global war that had lasted six years and one day had seen half a million homes destroyed, thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, and many lives and families torn apart.

The famous World War Two diarist Nella Last recorded the scene on May 8, when, at 3pm, Prime Minster Winston Churchill made a formal announcement on the radio: “All the shops had got their rosettes and tri-coloured button-holes in the windows and men putting up lengths of little pennants and flags. Till at three o’clock, the Germans announced it was all over. As if by magic, long ladders appeared, for putting up flags and streamers. A complete stranger to the situation could have felt the tenseness and feeling of expectation.”

This photograph is part of the Scarborough Collections, in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.dunne@smtrust.uk.com or (01723) 384510.