Aug. 14–16, 1945: VJ Day, London

Aug. 14 — Returned to London, a London noise and excited. Piccadilly Circus was crowded, the streets were full, flags of all Nations were flying everywhere. At midnight the official announcement of the unconditional surrender of Japan. The noise and celebration continued through out the night but myself, being a very old man, went to bed, but not to sleep for a very long time.

Aug. 15 — Today and tomorrow are holidays — Parliament opens today — expect to take part in my first peace time celebration in an English speaking country. It seems impossible to realize that at last — the whole world is at peace. Can we make a better job of it this time? Will we find that the things we have fought for are worth it? Outside my window crowds are already standing to see the great procession. At home you will be listening to an account of the same scene I am witnessing. This is what is happening in London today. What is happening in Calgary? Soon, very soon I hope — I will know.

10:25 P.M. — Have just returned from a full day of celebration, very very tired, but very very well satisfied. I started for Waterloo Place on a bus but could get no further then the Parliament Buildings on account of the crowds, so walked the rest of the way. The bells of St. Paul Cathedral were playing and the whole city was decked in flags — everything was crowded. Soon the rain began to fall, but enthusiasm was not dampened. I found my way to the Mall, just as the Royal Procession passed by. A gorgeous sight — led by Police on black horses, then the Household Cavalry also on black horses, followed by the Royal Golden Coach — drawn by six white horses, the riders in scarlet robes, the Queen in blue and the King in Naval Uniform.

This was followed by more Household Cavalry — then several other beautiful open coaches, in one of which the two Princesses rode. After they passed, I worked my way up to the African Portals just as the road widens before the monument of Queen Victoria, immediately in front of the Palace. There, I got a chair and climbed up on it and commanded a wonderful view of the Procession when it returned. I then took my chair to a vantage point just in front of the Palace, with the a grand view of the balcony. The men came out on the balcony and spread the Royal Purple.

Massive crowds gather outside Buckingham Palace  Photo: Getty Images

Massive crowds gather outside Buckingham Palace Photo: Getty Images

In about one hours time, the King, Queen, and the two Princesses appeared and stood and waved to the crowd for about three minutes. The scene was very impressive, thousands of people crowded into all the open spaces cheering, waving wildly, and actually delirious with joy.

After they withdrew, the crowd dispersed. I went and got some lunch and then went to Piccadilly Circus. The place was mad. An American band was playing. All traffic was stopped and humanity was there in the thousands, singing, dancing, wearing bright ribbons of red, white and blue, colored hats — and streamers of paper and confetti were flying through the air.

15 August 1945: Crowds assemble in Piccadilly Circus to celebrate the news of Japan's surrender and the end of the second world war. (Keystone/Getty Images)

15 August 1945: Crowds assemble in Piccadilly Circus to celebrate the news of Japan’s surrender and the end of the second world war.
(Keystone/Getty Images)

I worked my way through here and then had a rest until supper time. I walked down the Strand, still crowded, to Trafalgar Square — all traffic suspended — a living mass of people — even climbing Nelson’s Monument.

The great loud speakers were there playing. Soon a soldier spoke (I know you heard part of this at home) and in the name of the Armed Forces saluted His Majesty the King. The National Anthem was played — not a sound from this vast crowd who stood rigidly at attention — then the King was introduced and in my opinion gave his best talk to his Empire. This was followed again by the National Anthem, then “Land of Hope and Glory” in which everybody joined — then the “Star Spangled Banner”, the “Oh Canada” and the “Maple Leaf Forever”. This was very impressive and beautiful, in old Trafalgar Square, with the flood lights lighting up everything, even including Nelson high up on his monument.

After this, I followed the crowd, through Admiralty Arch, flooded in light, and slowly made my way back to Buckingham Palace, on which the flood lights were playing.

The King probably made another appearance, but I did not wait, but threaded my way back to Victoria, and to my room in the Legion Club.

I feel very fortunate to have witnessed this scene and can at last understand the Englishman’s love of pageantry. This is the most impressive sight by far, that I have every seen, and I never really knew what crowds were until today.

Tonight the fireworks are still flying — the search lights are on, London is a blaze of light and a bedlam of noise. The British are happy. They deserve to be.

Aug. 16 — Returned to barracks in Aldershot. In the evening Ken Haise and I went over to #4 Can. Gen. Hosp. Saw Vic Matu and Harry Atkinson. Later in the evening we went to a bonfire in the square.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.

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