Millions Rejoiced at Symbolic New Dawn

Press/Media: Relating to Research



Dr Derek Patrick

On 8 May 1945, Sir James Colquhoun Irvine, Principal of the University of St Andrews, addressed a large gathering of students. ‘That day was a great day for the world, for Scotland, and for St Andrews. They had looked forward to it with longing and eagerness … Now the day of triumph had come’. He asked that they ‘give thanks for what had come to them and to remember with gratitude those who had fallen. All who had served had added something to their heritage that was worthy the sons and daughters of their sires’. For Professor E. P. Dickie, of St Mary’s College, it had been a ‘religious war’. ‘Five years ago He permitted us to be carried to the very rim of the dark abyss. Our prayers became very earnest in those days, very real. Our fighting-men were never more courageous – on the high seas, in the burning sand of the desert, in the skies over the city of London. Our people in their homes and in the war factories were more deeply devoted to their tasks than ever they had been before. And from the very rim of the abyss God, in his grace, plucked us back’.

Following Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s broadcast of the German unconditional surrender at 15.00, some 2,000 local residents attended an open-air service outside the Holy Trinity Church in South Street. The Rev. A. M. MacIver observed that it ‘was not only the fighting men who had had a hard time during these years of war, but also the people of the towns and cities – women and children … Our country had won through’. VE Day in St Andrews was celebrated with ‘restraint and dignity as well as general rejoicings’. The Boys’ Brigade and Home Guard pipe bands were soon joined by dancing sailors, while an R.A.F. officer and two others entertained the crowd by singing ballads in three parts. The Town Hall was packed for a ‘Victory’ dance and a large crowd gathered outside. The streets were decorated with flags and bunting, fireworks illuminated the darkening skies, and at 11.00 p.m. a torch light procession made its way through the old town. ‘The celebrations went on well into the night, and crowds stood about in spite of a thick fog which began to descend’.

The scenes in St Andrews were repeated across Scotland. Several bonfires on the hills around Perth ‘glowed deeply red through the mist’, as crowds gathered in a city illuminated by large flood lights. Despite the fact that citizens ‘made merry well past midnight’, the verdict of the Perth police was that the VE celebrations had been an ‘orderly and sober’ affair. It was reported that the police court was completely devoid of drunks. Their main concern was the reported theft of flags and bunting from various premises across the city by overly ‘patriotic’ persons. In Cupar Sheriff-Substitute J. W. More was inclined to be charitable when reviewing the case of a Polish soldier who had admitted to having ridden a bicycle without a rear light. ‘As this is Victory Day for you as well as everyone else, I shall impose no penalty’. Fines imposed on other offenders were reduced by nearly half.

In Scone crowds gathered around a large bonfire adorned with an effigy of Adolf Hitler and a large wooden Swastika, ‘the crooked cross’. Despite the rain revellers went on singing and dancing into the early hours of the morning. Similar scenes were found in Newburgh, Meikleour, Alyth and Comrie, where ‘the effigy of “Painter Adolf”, perished in the flames’. Residents in the Dumfriesshire village of Collin went so far as to erect a gallows beside their bonfire, ‘to hang and then roast’ Hitler. Much to the disappointment of the crowd the effigy stubbornly refused to burn until a Major Aird shot him into the midst of the flames. In Dunblane the cathedral was floodlit for the first time in some eight hundred years, one commentator describing ‘a memorable picture of grace and beauty’.

In Edinburgh celebrations were described as ‘modified’. As in other locations across the country there were some doubts over when celebrations should begin. General Jodl had signed the unconditional surrender document for all German forces on 7 May but the official intimation was not made until the following day. In the nation’s capital, pending official notification, the citizens ‘exercised restraint’. Some children lit bonfires but, ‘in the main thoroughfares the heavier permanent flagstaffs, showing on the skyline, remained free of coloured cloth in deference to re-arrangements’. In comparison, ‘Glasgow’s flag-bedecked streets were thronged with animated crowds’.

Bonfires appeared in most districts which the National Fire Service were quick to extinguish. One hard-pressed fireman man mentioned that he and his colleagues had been called to deal with between 70 and 80 bonfires. Speaking to a journalist he said that ‘if this is just a rehearsal I shudder to think what will happen on VE night’. Street vendors were quick to respond and did a roaring trade in flags, rosettes and red, white and blue ribbons’. It was reported that by the early evening few people were without a national emblem of some sort. In Kirkcaldy it was agreed that those who had celebrated on the Monday, albeit a little prematurely, ‘had the best of it’. ‘VE-Day itself, after a promising start, developed into one of the downpour affairs which are characteristic of our Scottish climate … and those on holiday were grateful that the cinemas were open in the afternoon’.

However, the bad weather did not dampen the spirits of most Scots. On 8 May, following official intimation of Germany’s surrender, Glasgow was said to have gone ‘daft with joy’. One reporter observed that ‘victory celebrations were still in full swing in the early hours of this morning as thousands of happy citizens, hundreds left with no means of transport, made their way home’. In Edinburgh large crowds assembled in the centre of the city, and at the Mound thousands danced and sang for several hours, joining in a rousing version of Harry Lauder’s ‘End of the Road’.

Dundee’s celebrations were very similar to those in other parts of the country, but The Telegraph reported ‘a bad start on account of the confusion caused by the sudden declaration that 8 May would be holiday. ‘Workpeople didn’t know definitely whether they should “go in” to-day or not. Some said, “We’ll risk it.” Others said, “We won’t.” Result – chaos’. Some workers appeared at jute mills, foundries, offices and shops as usual, only to find them closed. Likewise, the queue of pensioners outside the main Post Office was said to be in ‘angry mood’, as it became clear that the doors would remain closed and allowances would not be available until later that week.

Despite the holiday it was imperative that some services carried on as normal and the Ministry of Food was confident that food shops ‘having served the public well throughout the war years, will provide a service during the V Holiday that will enable the public to obtain their essential minimum food supplies’. Retailers attracted a great deal of attention as people sourced provisions for the holiday period.

Nonetheless, as people across the nation celebrated the welcome news of VE Day it was with tempered with an understanding and appreciation of what the war had cost. In St Andrews, as elsewhere, the Victory Memorial Fund Committee had already been discussing ‘the best form in which to commemorate the Allies’ victory … and also to express the city’s gratitude to its men and women in the Services’. There was tacit recognition that several of those had made the ultimate sacrifice. Similarly, it was appreciated that while the war in Europe was finished the wider conflict was not over. In his address to thos gathered in the University Chapel on 8 May, Professor Dickie was quick to remind listeners ‘that our struggle goes on in the Far East’. The ‘day of triumph’ celebrated on 8 May was ‘a great day for the world, for Scotland, and for St Andrews’, but it would be 15 August and Imperial Japan’s surrender before the war would effectively brought to an end.

Period8 May 2020

Media contributions


Media contributions

  • TitleMillions Rejoiced at Symbolic New Dawn
    Degree of recognitionLocal
    Media name/outletThe Courier VE Day 75th Anniversary Supplement, 4-5
    Media typePrint
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Producer/AuthorDerek Patrick
    PersonsDerek John Patrick