Crowds of service people and civilians at Piccadilly Circus, with the Shaftesbury memorial in the centre.
A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London on VE Day 8 May, 1945. © IWM EA 65879.
A mass of civilians and servicemen crowding around Piccadilly Circus, London on VE Day 8 May, 1945. © IWM EA 65879.

VE to VJ Day: 75 Places that Witnessed the War

To mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War, we have curated a collection of 75 listed places which help build a picture of life during the conflict, from public contributions, from our archives and those of partners.

Our friends at the Imperial War Museums, the D-Day Story museum, the Women's Land Army MuseumThe London Transport Museum and Alexandra Palace shared images and stories from their collections of some of these amazing places, some examples are featured on this page.

 

What was VE Day?

  • This was the culmination of the Allied struggle against the Nazis and Axis forces in Europe during the Second World War.
  • VE day was not the end of that conflict: the war in the Far East against Japan continued until 15 August 1945. 
  • However the immediate threat to the British isles was over and 8 May saw scenes of relief and joy; scenes captured here along with those of devastation and other impacts caused by the war.

The long road to VE Day: enduring the bombs

The heavy and frequent bombing raids carried out over Britain in 1940 and 1941 began with raids on London on 7 September 1940. In what became known as the Blitz, industrial sites and civilian centres were targeted by the Luftwaffe, the German air force.

In September 1940 alone, 5,300 tonnes of high explosives were dropped on London in just 24 nights. The Germans were intent on destroying morale before their planned invasion of Britain and as part of this strategy they extended their targets to include the major coastal ports and other key industrial towns and cities throughout the country.

St Paul's Cathedral, surrounded by flames, withstood the bombing.

Londoners famously used underground stations as shelters, captured in this iconic image of Aldwych station from London Transport Museum's collection.

London was not alone. Civilians from Plymouth to Liverpool and Manchester, and Portsmouth to Hull suffered from the bombing.

Below are images of the destruction wrought from the area around the Queen Victoria Monument, Liverpool...

Many courageous people worked to save lives and further damage by defusing bombs; a number were decorated for their service.

Harold Newgass was awarded the George Cross for a particularly dangerous mission making safe a bomb that had landed in a gasometer in Liverpool.

Total mobilisation

Great Swathes of people on the Home Front were mobilised for the war effort, for example in the Women's Land Army, who carried out vital agricultural work to help keep the country fed.

A rare survival of a Women's Land Army hostel was recently listed.

VE Day celebrations 8 May 1945

After years of fighting the tide had turned, a war on multiple fronts forced Germany to unconditional surrender.

In Britain, Prime Minister Winston Churchill allowed the British people a "brief period of rejoicing" before pressing on with the war on Japan.

Churchill spoke to the crowds from the Ministry of Health building in Whitehall, making his famous "V-for Victory sign".

This is your victory...In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this.

Winston Churchill

While still not forgetting loved ones or friends still at war, missing or dead, Britain celebrated with an outpouring of relief.

In the capital many gathered in crowds at public places, such as Trafalgar Square...

...or swarmed over Piccadilly, around the statue of Eros.

Others held impromtu street parties, like this one attended by women and children outside 52 Stanhope Street, London.

British units in the field were informed of the end of hostilities in Europe by telegraph messages. It had been a hard fight since the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy the previous year, when the final decision to launch the invasion was taken at Southwick House.

Recent listings to commemorate VE Day

An unusual three-storey Second World War command post and a London war memorial which commemorates civilian casualties amongst those who died during the Second World War have been granted protection to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day – Victory in Europe in 1945. The listings were granted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

Find out more from our news story

New listings for VJ Day

VJ Day stands for Victory over Japan on 15 August 1945, and the end of the Second World War.

In addition to relisting a number of places to underline their significance, a Second World War memorial commemorating the role of the Chindit Special Forces, who served in Burma, has been granted protection to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day. The Chindits Memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens in London has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

Find out more from our news article

Interactive map of 75 places that witnessed the war

Explore our selection of 75 places that witnessed the war: from airfields, anti invasion defences; blitzed towns, country houses that served as headquarters, camps or hospitals or buildings with graffiti or art left by troops, to places that were part of celebrations at the war's end. Click on the pins to see the wartime association of the places and read their List entries and added contributions.

Discover more about the Second World War

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