I wrote the first draft of this book in 2014 when the 70th anniversary of the end of the war was still distant in my calendar. I am not old enough to have lived through those days of May to August 1945, when the celebrations for VE Day and VJ Day took place. Undoubtedly there must have been mixed feelings – certainly during the VE Day celebrations.
On the one hand, the war in Europe ended in May but there were loved ones in European prisoner of war camps – some of which were known to be ill. Many in the services had been abroad for years, and were still there. The frustration of their continued absence must have been a source of deep pain and concern. On the other hand, in May of 1945 there was no end in sight for those servicemen and women in the Far East. There must have been challenges too fraught to comprehend.
Throughout all of these months were the thoughts of those who lost loved ones in the many theatres of war and, indeed, at home. They would never truly recover from the war.
My reason for starting this book was to find out more about this period in our history. It turns out that there was far more to ending a war than I first thought. My original thought was that the bullets stopped being fired, bombs remained in their aircraft, and everyone just went home. Perhaps that is an oversimplification. However I think you know what I mean. How complicated could it be to administer the end of a war once peace was declared?
As I started to read documents in the National Archives I realised that planning the end of the war started at a similar time as planning for D-Day. My last Second World War book concerned planning for D-Day so I knew some of the issues involved in the Normandy invasion. What I had not appreciated was that there were people in the government, the civil service and the services planning for the end of the war within a few London streets of those who were planning the Normandy invasion. For most planners, it is doubtful that one knew of the other’s existence.
There were many issues needing resolution as 1945 turned into 1946 and beyond. The Welfare State and National Health Service were introduced; rationing continued and in some cases, led to more rationing than during the war. Nationalisation of the railways and utilities took place. Our system of education was overhauled through an Act passed in parliament in 1944. There was demobilisation for some whilst others received their call-up papers.
Throughout all these changes there was unemployment, power cuts, and homelessness to contend with amongst many other challenges. In some cases, the physical rebuilding of our towns and cities happened over many years. Some bombed-out buildings such as Coventry Cathedral (shown in the picture) were not rebuilt but left as a permanent reminder of these dark times. Of course a new cathedral was built adjacent to the shell of the old building which, in itself, is fascinating.
Other buildings were rebuilt as a matter of urgency, particularly homes. If I am ever asked: “When did the war end?” I would have to say: “For some, it never did”. Friends and relatives of those lost or injured never recovered. For many, of course, it would have been 15 August 1945, i.e. VJ Day. With rationing remaining for some commodities into the mid-1950s that might be a time when it ended for some – particularly those with a sweet-tooth. Others were called up until National Service stopped in the early 1960s. Too young to have been called up earlier, perhaps those in uniform in the early 1960s would have felt that time signified the absolute end of the effects of war. Returning to a sense of normality took a long time…
I have had a fascinating time finding out what went on in this period of our history!
Rebuilding Britain, The Aftermath of the Second World War by Dave Rogers is available to pre-order here.