Victory in Europe Day 8 May
Victory in Europe (VE) Day marks Germany's surrender in World War II after almost 6 years of conflict. It's a significant date for us to remember and reflect on the important role of many Australians across the European theatre of war.
Significance of the date
Victory in Europe Day - or 'VE Day' - signalled the end of almost 6 years of terrible fighting between the Allies and Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945.
The signing of an unconditional surrender by the German High Command took place on 7 May 1945. The surrender took effect from midnight on 8 to 9 May . The Allies proclaimed 8 May as Victory in Europe Day. It brought an end to the war against Germany and its European allies.
Most Australians read the news in their local newspapers, such as Germany Capitulates: Unconditional surrender.
Australians serving overseas celebrated the victory, as did their loved ones back home. However, the celebrations as a whole were dampened by the knowledge that the war in the Pacific was still to be won.
In Australia, churches held thanksgiving services. On 9 May in Melbourne, 100,000 people attended the service at the Shrine of Remembrance. In Canberra that same day, the editorial writer of The Canberra Times wrote that the floodlights over the Australian War Memorial stood:
in bright relief against the darkness which is now passing from Europe, and soon from the entire world
1945 'Light in Our Darkness', The Canberra Times, 9 May, p4. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2626721
The war in the Pacific continued until the Japanese surrendered in August of 1945.
Australia at war
Prime Minister Robert Menzies declared Australia at war on 3 September 1939. Nearly 1 million Australians served in the armed forces during the war.
Many service personnel died in and around Europe, on the seas, on land and in the skies. Some 10,000 Australians lost their lives, at least another 10,000 were wounded and a further 8000 became prisoners of war.
The end of the war in Europe brought about liberation for Australians and other allied service men who were held as prisoners of war in German-occupied countries.
It also meant freedom for the hundreds of thousands of men and women held in internee, forced labour and concentration camps across Europe.
On VE Day, we remember Australia's war efforts across the European theatre of war.
Death of an Australian on VE Day
Private Lawrence Saywell of Double Bay, New South Wales, is believed to be the last Australian killed in the war in Europe. He enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in November 1939, aged 20. He served with the 17th Brigade Company, Australian Army Service Corps.
Lawrence had been captured by the Germans during the evacuation of Crete in 1941. He escaped from a prisoner of war camp in Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic) in January 1945. After joining a Czech resistance group, he fought with the partisans against the Germans for 4 months.
Sadly, on the day the war ended in Europe, Lawrence was shot and badly wounded by a retreating German soldier near the village of Miretin. He died of his wounds on 8 May 1945 and is buried in the Prague War Cemetery.
Saywell was posthumously awarded the Czech Meritorious Cross. His medal is held in the Australian War Memorial collection.