Sunday, August 16, 2015

V-J Day or VFE Day? August 10 or August 15?

In the previous post, I described how my parents learned about the atomic bomb and victory over Japan.

In the course of writing up that story, I was reminded that the things we take for granted were sometimes more complicated and interesting.

Two examples: I mentioned that my father's diary recorded "VFE celebrations"--that is, victory celebrations--already on August 10, 1945. As noted there, this was the date on which the Japanese government in fact offered to surrender, but it took several more days for the US to decide that acceding to the Japanese request to leave Emperor in place was compatible with the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. The official decision to surrender was not announced until August 14 (15), and the actual surrender ceremony took place only on September 2, aboard the battleship "Missouri" in Tokyo Bay

And VFE? People alive at the time will never forget "V-E" and "V-J" Day: Victory in Europe and Victory Over Japan. These are the terms by which historians, too, know those momentous occasions. In fact, however, the terminology for the latter was not set, at least in the United Kingdom.

An Australian paper that I came across in my research (thanks to "Trove," the outstanding digital newspaper collection of the National Library of Australia), nicely tells the story of both the anticipatory celebration and the name. The Advertiser of Adelaide reported on August 11:


Gaiety in Piccadilly Circus

Australian Associated Press And Our Special Representative 
LONDON, August 10.

Although more cautious Londoners telephoned to newspaper offices asking whether the reported Japanese surrender was correct, the mass of civilians and members of the services, especially Americans, did not wait for confirmation, but began celebrations.

Piccadilly Circus and nearby streets soon became packed with cheering revelers strewing paper and streamers and flying flags. Office windows opened up all over London, and torn-up paper began to flutter down. Many a card index system was torn up and flung out into the streets.

Before long, groups of servicemen and civilians carrying the flags of the United Nations were marching up and down, cheering and singing. The crowd looked at them happily, and cheered, too. Two Chinese officers were picked up and carried shoulder high through Piccadilly. Someone called for three cheers for China, and Piccadilly rang with the applause.

American sailors joined in the celebrations, dancing up and down and shouting, "We're going home! We're going home!" American sailors made "whoopee." They climbed the boardings hiding the site of the statue of Eros and drank bottles of beer in the streets. Traffic was slowed down to a crawl. Oxford street was similarly crowded and strewn with paper almost throughout its length.

Victory sirens and hooters and railway whistles shrieked from the blitzed eastern London dockside. . All the afternoon long flags fluttered to the mastheads and over the roofs of the metropolis, with the Hammer and Sickle renewing its pride of place alongside the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes.

Most workers later quietly went back to their offices. Holiday makers returned to the pubs to discuss atom bombs. Only in Piccadilly Circus and a few centres frequented by US and Australian servicemen did the celebrations continue.

Jubilation was shown by the staff of Australia House, who bestrewed the streets beside their building with papers. One of the officials said:—"Most Australians here are thinking of the 18.000 Australian war prisoners, and of the strain which their country has gone through during the period in which it was directly menaced for the first time in its history."
And as for the name:
Preparations have already been made for celebrating the end of the Pacific War. although it has not yet been decided how the occasion will be designated.
Titles so far suggested are VFE (Victory Far East) Day and VJ (Victory Against Japan) Day. It is expected that official celebrations will include two and possibly three days' public holiday, except for public utilities; broadcasts by His Majesty the King; and Mr. Attlee thanking Britain, the Empire and the United Nations for their efforts; the Queen will broadcast to the women of the world, and Princess Elizabeth will broadcast to the children of the world. There will be a Victory March In London in which troops of the Red Army will possibly take part. Public buildings will be decorated and floodlit and church bells will be rung throughout the country. Parliament's plans will be kept fluid.
August 10 vs. August 15? VFE Day vs. V-J Day? All minor historical points, but points of entry into the past, and among the small instructive pleasures of research.

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