On May 8, known as VE-Day (Victory in Europe), we again remembered the fallen, the wounded, and all those who fought in World War II. The negotiations leading up to the surrender of Germany to the Allies on May 8, 1945, were led by Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Foulkes, who would be a visitor to Perth on two occasions after the war ended. An account of those visits was given in the July, 2019 column.
While all unexpected or preventable deaths are tragic, the losses in World War II were the result of Canadians offering up their lives “for King and Country”. Perth and district lost 69 men in battle, and the names can be seen etched on a plaque at the Cenotaph of the Great War Memorial site on Drummond Street.
To recap that phase of the war, Germany signed an unconditional surrender at Allied headquarters in Reims, France, on May 7, 1945, to take effect the following day. Thus, the European conflict of World War II ended, even though war in the Pacific continued on for a time.
There had been terrible losses at Hong Kong in 1941, and at Dieppe in 1942, but the effects of casualties were not really felt until 1944 during the difficult advances north up the Italian peninsula. That advance, and Normandy beachhead, resulted in far greater infantry casualties than were anticipated.
The news that day in 1945 was received with celebration in Perth and across the country, after nearly six trying years of heartache and suffering. The Perth Courier front page of the May 10, 1945 edition blared: “VICTORY IS OURS!”, with the large text underneath proclaiming: “Monday the United Nations, Partners in Freedom, triumphed over the beast of Berlin and all his Nazi Tyrants. Let us join in Joyous Thanksgiving, praising God, that through His Wisdom, Justice and Freedom have prevailed … Thanks be to God which Giveth us the Victory.”
The rest of the front page was taken up by a large naval-themed drawing, flanked by two articles. The story on the left was titled “Germany Surrenders!”, and went on to say “Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and Russia … The surrender brought the war in Europe to a formal end after five years, eight months and six days of bloodshed and destruction, was signed for Germany by Col. Gen. Gustav-Jodl …” The rest of that story recounted some of the formalities of the signing, and the first official announcement by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower of the United States. German broadcasts had already told their people that Admiral Doenitz had ordered the cessation of all fighting.
The right flank of the front page was headlined “Peace at last!” and the story gave some insight into the extent of suffering endured by Canadians: “The civilized world has at last emerged from its hour of trial, the most awful in history. The agony of almost six years, since September, 1939, the slaughter of millions of men of youth and promise, the laying in waste of much of some of the fairest regions in Europe, the desolation of homes, the torture and outrage inflicted on millions, combine to make a picture of the horrors of war beyond all power of description …”
In Halifax, sadly, the celebrations erupted into looting and rioting as a result of built-up tension between the civilian population and the more than 25,000 servicemen there at the time. The riots began on May 7, the day of the signing, and continued through the next day. What began as a victory celebration, left an indelible stain on the population of Halifax. Animosity exists to this day between members of the Royal Canadian Navy and Halifax residents.
The Canadian War Museum pegs the World War II death toll for our country at 45,400, with approximately 55,000 wounded. In addition, almost 9,000 were taken prisoner, including Perth war heroes Flying Officer Jimmy Kanelakos, DFC, and Flying Officer Ron Code, DFC. More on Kanelakos and Code can be found on Dave Bromley’s Perth Remembered website, and The Perth Courier issue of May 31, 1945.
When U.S. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman coined the phrase “war is hell,” he and other warriors knew better than those who talk about the war, or write the stories. We have learned that whether we succeed or fail in war, everyone loses.
The latest statistics available from Veterans Affairs Canada on Second World War veterans puts the number of living as of March, 2019, at 33,200, and that number would have dropped significantly since then. Only one living veteran of that war is known to the Perth Legion as a member, although no doubt a few others are alive and well.
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