75 years ago Victory in Europe was officially declared by Winston Churchill at 3pm on May 8th and Britain threw itself a party.
After nearly six gruelling years of war, it had earned it. The BFI’s latest online archive collection, VE Day, available now for free on BFI Player, brings together some of the rare and precious home movies from this day, capturing the colourful street parties and parades across the length and breadth of the UK that took place in the nation-wide celebrations that followed. As we mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day, this collection is an uplifting reminder of Britain coming together to mark the end of a national crisis.
Much of our film record of the war is official, notably the output of the government’s Crown Film Unit. But for the true spirit of VE Day we should look not to the professionals, but to the amateurs, joyously filming their own families and neighbours, from John W. McHugh, an off-duty policeman, capturing the red white and blue bunting of the jubilant street parties in Gateshead in stunning Kodachrome VE Day May 8th-9th 1945 Thanksgiving Day May 14th 1945 (North East Film Archive) to Swiss-born filmmaker William Baer in Littleover, Derby Baer: VE Day (1945) (Media Archive for Central England, University of Lincoln) filming a fancy dress parade and lively local football match, or the stunning colour of the VE Day Celebrations, Woodford (London’s Screen Archives), the blitz spirit shining through the smiling crowds and plentiful street parties set against the backdrop of bomb-damaged London streets.
Each of these selected films tell both a personal and collective narrative. Bursting with energy, joy and relief, and a sense of immediacy and unbridled emotion, each grinning face standing for countless more. As a nation stood together to remember those that had been lost and give thanks for what had been won in their name.
Home movie cameras were still rare in 1945, but anyone who had one that day would surely have used it. And, wonderfully, many of the moving (in both senses) pictures they took – several, remarkably, in colour – later made it into film archives across the UK, with titles drawn from the BFI National Archive collection and many of our regional and national partners including UEA’s East Anglian Film Archive, London’s Screen Archives, Media Archive for Central England at the University of Lincoln, North East Film Archive, North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University, Screen Archive South East, Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales, Wessex Film and Sound Archive and Yorkshire Film Archive, where they stand among the most prized of all home movies from the last century.
Although these amateur home movies are silent you can almost hear the cheering crowds, the impromptu sing songs, laughter and hoorays. These films are a priceless record of a monumental day for all who were alive to see it,
Collection highlights include:
VE Day May 8th-9th 1945 Thanksgiving Day May 14th 1945 (North East Film Archive)
You can almost hear the cheers in this gorgeous Kodachrome colour silent film of VE day celebrations on the red, white and blue decked streets of Gateshead, with flags and bunting strung between terraces, crowds gathered for street parties, waving teapots.
Hull Victory Celebrations (1945) (Yorkshire Film Archive)
After nearly six years at war the people of Hull show their relief and joy through dancing, children’s parties and other celebrations seen here breaking out all across the city. Hull had endured the worst bombing in Britain outside of London with over 90% of the city suffering from war damage.
Baer: VE Day (1945) (Media Archive for Central England, University of Lincoln)
Swiss born film-maker William Baer captured these scenes at Littleover in Derby on VE Day in 1945. Film was hard to come by and, although not pin sharp, it’s a valuable record of events on that day; The end of war in Europe is marked by Britannia leading a fancy dress parade, plus a lively women’s football match on the playing fields of Littleover County Primary School and a street party tea for local children.
Victory Parade (1946)
Filmed by the Colonial Film Unit, soldiers from the far reaches of the British Empire arrive in London to take part in the official commemoration of the end of war in Europe, a year after V.E Day, on 8th July 1946. Numerous nations parade down the Mall before assembled royalty and politicians, including King George VI, Winston Churchill and a young Queen Elizabeth II.
Swimming Gala, ATC Parade, and VE Day March, Hoylake (1942) (North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University)
Wartime scenes on the Wirral as Hoylake Air Training Corps plays its part, including footage of Hoylake marking VE Day with a victory parade through the town.
Victory Day Scenes (1945) (Screen and Sound Archive, National Library of Wales)
Cardiffians celebrate the end of the war in Europe with tea and cake, sausage rolls, fancy dress and bonfires, as an effigy of Hitler awaits being burned.
VE Day Celebrations, Woodford (1945) (London’s Screen Archives)
Jubilant crowds gather to celebrate VE Day and the end of the war in Europe. Banners are raised above bomb damaged streets and buildings in this stunning colour home movie which ends with a street party with plenty of food for all, whilst women are dancing in costumes from around the world. From the collection of Redbridge Museum, Local Studies and Archives.
VE/VJ Don’t Waste Your Bread (1946)
Victory celebrations give way to postwar austerity as shortages leave countries short of dough in more ways than one in this public information ‘food flash’ filler for cinema screenings. Bread had escaped rationing even during the height of the war, but post-war austerity led to the introduction of rationing for bread on 21 July 1946, eventually lifted in 1948.