75th Anniversary of VE Day and Birth of the United Nations

·11 min read

Seventy-five years. Three quarters of a century of passed since the ending of the second ‘war to end all wars’. Each year the number of veterans grows smaller but their contribution to the life we have today does not diminish, nor does it make Remembrance Day any less important. While Remembrance Day is a time to pause and reflect on the sacrifices and contributions of all veterans of all wars and all peacetime involvements, this being the 75th anniversary of the end of hostilities of the last “great war” deserves a refocus on the events of 75 years ago. Without intending to do any disservice to any campaign fought, there were in essence two arms of the war. The first arm was the War in Europe against the Axis powers of Germany and Italy, while the second arm was the War of the Pacific waged against the third part of the Axis Tripartite power, Japan. The Tripartite Pact of 1940 integrated the military ambitions of the three countries and included provisions for mutual assistance in the event of attack. Other allies and client states of the ‘big three’, such as Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Slovakia, later joined the alliance.

It was early in 1945, that the tide began to turn against the Axis forces in Europe. With the Soviet Army pushing back the eastern front and wresting control of Poland from the Germans after nearly six years of occupation, Hitler pulled back and tried to regroup giving his generals authority to do whatever they needed to stop the advance of the Allies. From the first time since the beginning of the war the eastern and western fronts were close enough for air reinforcements to benefit both. The Italian Campaign had already been won by the Allied Forces and Hitler’s military were stretched thin trying to defend both fronts. Prisoners of War were moved to other POW camps deeper in the heart of Germany and the horrible purge of the Concentration Camps had begun. Hitler made one final push to take back territory lost to the Soviet Army, but after a few days of initial victories, the weather changed and the German army was mired in the mud of early spring. The Soviets came back with overwhelming force and pushed the Germans back to their original positions. On April 16, 1945 the Allied forces of the Soviet Union began the move to take Berlin. By April 23, the Soviets had reached Berlin and began the assault on the city. The next day the city was encircled. The Gestapo headquarters fell to the Soviets on April 29 and by the end of the day on April 30th, Hitler, who did not want to leave the city, would be dead by suicide. The following days would see a complete military defeat of the German army followed by an unconditional surrender on May 7th, 1945.

Victory in Europe was celebrated as VE Day and celebrations in Wakaw spanned two days May 7 & 8, 1945. Citizens of Wakaw gathered at the Town Hall for a program arranged by the Saskatchewan Department of Education that was to be used in all schools. From the May 10, 1945 edition of the Wakaw Recorder:

The theme of the program was developed by a narrator, Bryce Stout. Peggy Paul, Olga Ferniuk and Benita Bilorosek acted as the voices of Canada. The local cadet corps were present. Miss More was accompanist.

The Program follows

O Canada, Maple Leaf Forever sung by grades 1 to 4

Immortality, read by Anne Nykyforuk

Recessional was sung by the audience

Prayer Dr. Scott

Reading of the Honor Roll A Courchene followed by two minutes silence

Land of Hope and Glory sung by High School Girls

A pageant was performed with the following characters:

Churchill – Wm Halbert

The late President Roosevelt – Bob Halbert

Marshal Stalin – Jerry Uhryn

Chiang Kai Shek – Alex Hrycynn

De Gaulle – John Schmidt

Sailor - Wm Ferniuk

Soldier – Harry Niedzielski

Airman – Bernard McDougall

Pupil – Clara Berzowsky

King George VI – Hilliard Riechinsky

Soviet Anthem recited by Olla Bilokury, Chinese Anthem by Donald Redl,and Le Marsaillaise by Irene Hegedus. During the pageant, the audience sang God Bless America and There’ll Always Be an England.

On May 8th following the official announcement of Victory in Europe, Wakaw held a parade that was led by the local detachment of the RCMP. Next came three Miss Canada’s carrying the Union Jack, followed by the local PAV’s, a number of returned men already discharged or home on leave, the Cadet Corp and a “convoy of tooting cars and decorated bicycles.

After the parade a short service was held in the hall with R.M. Paul acting as chairman. With him on the platform was Overseer J.A. Courchene who offered a welcome to the returned men, Dr. R.G. Scott who said a few words of thanksgiving and gave a prayer, Flying Officer C M.K. Morrison RCAF who urged a speedy victory over Japan, T.H. Bergerman leader of the Cadets, and returned men W.G. Kindrachuk, Edward Ferneisz, and Michael Moniuk. The program included a solo by Miss Elaine Moker, a chorus by the High School Girls accompanied by Miss Mary More, a demonstration of rifle drill by the Cadets with First Officer Morrison taking the salute followed by a two minute silence. A vote of thanks was given to the Soldier’s Welfare Club. In the evening there was a dance in the Town Hall.

The victory in Europe still left the war in the Pacific. While the Allied forces had been advancing toward Berlin, the US Navy had been making their way across the Pacific from island to island as they advanced towards their target, the Japanese homeland. By the end of February 1945, US Marines took the island of Iwo Jima and in a bitter battle that raged from April 1st to July 12th, American troops took the last island stronghold of the Japanese army, the island of Okinawa. The Japanese navy and air force were destroyed and the Allies effectively blockaded Japan, crippling its economy. The next step would have been an invasion of the main Japanese home islands, but before that operation could get underway the secret successful detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb by the United States presented another option. On July 26, 1945 “the Allies issued the Potsdam Declaration, demanding the ‘unconditional surrender of all the Japanese armed forces.’ Failure to comply would mean ‘the inevitable and complete destruction of the Japanese armed forces and just as inevitable the utter devastation of the Japanese homeland.’” (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/japan-surrenders) Japanese Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki told the press on July 28ththat his government was “paying no attention” to the ultimatum. August 6th, 1945 the flight crew in the bomber the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. The majority of Japan’s supreme war council still resisted the idea of unconditional surrender, but on August 9ththe day after the USSR declared war on Japan, the Soviet army attacked Manchuria and the second atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on the coastal city of Nagasaki. At noon August 15th, Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender over national radio.

The formal signing of the surrender was held aboard the United States battleship the USS Missouri on Sunday September 2 with more than 250 Allied warships at anchor in Tokyo Bay. Just after 9 a.m. Tokyo time, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signed for the Japanese government and General Umezu next signed on behalf of the Japanese armed forces. Supreme Commander MacArthur next put his signature on the document declaring, “it is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past.” Ten more signatures followed by the United States, China, Britain, the USSR, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, and thus the Second World War came to an end.

Out of that “blood and carnage” arose a greater desire to find diplomatic ways to deal with conflict. On October 24, 1945 the United Nations was born. From their Charter one can find that the main objective of the UN is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,…to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” Although its predecessor, the League of Nations, was unable to successfully arbitrate conflict and maintain an enduring international peace, the major allied powers still believed in the feasibility of such an organization.

Talks between the major Allies began well before the end of WWII. As early as 1941, the United States and Great Britain agreed upon a vision for the ‘postwar’ world even though the USA had not yet entered the war. The Atlantic Charter, a result of the private meetings of the two leaders, stated that they “deemed it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for ta better future for the world.” (https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/atlantic-charter) It included eight common principles: an agreement no to seek territorial gains from the war, opposition to any territorial changes made against the wishes of the people concerned, support for the restoration of self-government to those nations who had lost it during the war, agreement that people should have the right to choose their own form of government, that all nations should have access to the raw materials needed for economic prosperity and that trade restrictions should be eased. The Charter also called for “international cooperation to secure improved living and working conditions for all, freedom of the seas, and for al countries to abandon the use of force.” On January1, 1942, at a meeting in representatives of 26 governments: the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxemburg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, South Africa, and Yugoslavia, signed a Declaration by United Nations in which they pledged their support for the principles laid out in the Atlantic Charter.

The next stage in the formation of the UN as we know it, occurred at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference held from August 21 to October 2, 1944 when representatives of the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China met to further advance the formation of an international organization to succeed the League of Nations. The basic principles which had been proposed at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference were reaffirmed at the Yalta Conference in early 1945, then later in April 1945, a convention of delegates from 50 Allied nations convened in San Francisco. In what became known as the San Francisco Conference, the agreements reached at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference were reviewed and rewritten and the charter of a new international organization was hammered out. On June 26, 1945 the last day of the conference the United Nations Charter was ready to be signed. China was the first country to sign the Charter as it had been the first victim of an Axis power. Finally, on October 24th, 1945 after the Charter had been ratified by the governments of China, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, the United States, and a majority of the other signatory countries, the United Nations was born.

The closing words of US President Harry S. Truman, are as true today 75 years later as they were at the time and bear repeating:

“The Charter of the United Nations which you have just signed is a solid structure upon which we can build a better world….With this Charter the world can begin to look forward to the time when all worthy human beings may be permitted to live decently as free people.” He went on to say, “If we fail to use it, we shall betray all those who have died so that we might meet here in freedom and safety to create it. If we seek to use it selfishly – for the advantage of any one nation or any small group of nations – we shall be equally guilty of the betrayal.”

Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Wakaw Recorder