VE Day at Downford in May 1945 - 78th Fighter Group Band on the Parade Ground

VE Day at Downford in May 1945 – 78th Fighter Group Band on the Parade Ground

IWM Duxford looks at how Victory in Europe was marked at RAF Duxford, across Britain and beyond. Through engaging activities and personal stories, we discover VE Day as experienced by a Field Marshal, a chaplain and an air crew.

We also commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day with the VE Day Anniversary Air Show (Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 May).

Diane Lees, Director-General of Imperial War Museums said: “It is hugely important that we commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe and that we recognise not only the inspiring community spirit on the streets of Britain’s Home Front but also remember the huge loss of life and the impact of the Second World War on nations and societies worldwide. Through events, activities and the personal stories in our collections, we show how people reacted to the end of the war in Europe and how they began to rebuild their lives afterwards.”

February half term activities

Saturday 14 to Sunday 22 February

Our February half term activities share stories from our collections about the people and the equipment that won the Second World War.

Daily from 10.30am to 2.30pm, we’ll be marvelling at the impressive Avro Lancaster in our AirSpace exhibition and finding out about the bombing campaigns carried out by this type of aircraft. We’ll discover how the Lancaster works, the crew it carried and the role each played in a bombing raid. You’ll see, touch and try on items of uniform worn in the Lancaster bomber and find out about the experiences of the young men who flew in these remarkable aircraft. We’ll be hosting talks about our legendary Lancaster at 10.30am, 11.15am and 12pm. Hold and handle equipment and uniforms from the Lancaster bomber between 10.30am and 2.30pm.

From 10.30am to 2.30pm, we’ll be making aircraft-themed keyrings for school bags under the vast wings of the supersonic Concorde in AirSpace.

From 12.30pm to 3pm, the career of Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein – popularly known as ‘Monty’ – takes centre stage. One of the most famous military commanders of the Second World War, it was ‘Monty’ who accepted the surrender of all German forces in Holland, North West Germany and Denmark, leading to Victory in Europe.

Land Warfare is home to the Monty exhibition which features the three Second World War campaign caravans in which Field Marshal Montgomery lived, worked and planned campaigns. The campaign caravans are exactly as Monty left them at the end of the Second World War.

In the foreground of these historic vehicles, we’ll follow Monty’s battle plans for El Alamein, the crossing of the Rhine and the surrender of the German forces and work out how his strategy was so successful.

At 12.30pm, our history interpreter, dressed as a member of Montgomery’s 8th Army, will explore the battle of El Alamein. He’ll start by showing you Monty’s tank and caravans, looking at the markings, designation and purpose of each vehicle. We’ll then move to a recreated map table to discover how Montgomery planned out his military strategies and tactics. Using a map, flags and models, we’ll follow Monty’s plan and find out how it led to victory in Africa.

At 1.30pm, we’ll discover Monty’s strategy for the crossing of the Rhine and how his caravan-based tactical headquarters contributed to his success in this campaign.

At 3pm, we’ll see how Montgomery accepted the surrender of the German forces and find out how terms were carefully negotiated before the surrender was publically announced, ending the Second World War in Europe.

February half term activities are included in general admission to the museum.

VE Day Anniversary Air Show

Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 May

The VE Day Anniversary Air Show pays tribute to the men, women and children who endured six years of conflict on the fighting fronts and the Home Front of the Second World War.

Our flying display honours the Allied forces, and their aircraft, from across the world, which contributed towards Victory in Europe. Across the museum, we remember the fortitude of the British people on the Home Front and evoke the spirit of celebration and weary relief with which they marked VE Day.

Join us as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day and the people who made victory possible.

Tickets for the VE Day Anniversary Air Show can be purchased at iwm.org.uk/duxford

As a mark of our gratitude and heartfelt thanks, we are offering Second World War Armed Forces and Home Front Civilian Forces veterans complimentary entry to the VE Day Anniversary Air Show. Advance booking is not required for veterans attending the VE Day Anniversary Air Show; simply arrive on the day.

The Padre’s Trail

Land Warfare exhibition

The Padre’s Trail in our Land Warfare exhibition gives one man’s very personal and evocative view of war as fought on the ground.

Captain Leslie Skinner was an army chaplain who landed on the coast of Normandy on the morning of 6 June 1944 with the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry tank regiment. Apart from 29 days spent at home recovering from his wounds, he spent the rest of the war with the Sherwood Rangers as they fought through France and into Germany. The Padre’s Trail is Captain Skinner’s story told in his own words via extracts from the diary he meticulously kept throughout his time with the Sherwood Rangers.

Padre Skinner travelled all over the front line and the battlefield, talking to the troops and listening to their worries. When the end of the war in Europe came, for Captain Skinner, as for many, it felt like a weary anti-climax, as this diary entry from 4 and 5 May 1945 shows:

“Rumours that end is very near. Decided to have an early night and went to bed in a barn. Wakened to sound and sight of Verey lights being fired everywhere. Guessed the surrender had been announced. Too tired and cold to care, Stayed in bed. Slept miserably…Tried all day to make some sort of preliminary arrangements for “Victory” services. No one really interested – understandably enough. Too much ‘morning after”.

Captain Skinner’s wartime journey can be experienced in our Land Warfare exhibition. The Padre’s Trail is included in general admission to IWM Duxford.

VE Day at Duxford

RAF Duxford was home to the 78th Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces when Victory in Europe was announced on 8 May 1945.

78th Fighter Group reports read: “Victory in Europe, which has promised to storm in like a lion for so many months, sneaked into Duxford, May 8, almost like an unwanted dog…On May 7 the public address system carried the news that the next day would be VE Day. GIs who listened said little and celebrated none that day. They were not surprised to learn that they were restricted to the base or that all planes were grounded…”

“Normal duties were scheduled for VE Day, but few worked. Free beer poured out at the Officers’ Club, the Sergeants’ Club and at Duffy’s Tavern (enlisted men’s beer hall) throughout the afternoon. In the evening soldiers clustered around the parade ground to watch a scheduled open-air dance, but only a smattering of girls appeared, and the dance metamorphisized into a singing meeting. Few patriotic songs were heard; old favourites such as “Workin’ the Railroad” and “In the Evenin’ by the Moonlight” led in popularity.”

“Next morning a formal parade was held on the parade ground, with Colonel Landers reading the proclamation of victory and the chaplain offering prayer. After the march-off, most went back to their beer or to their bull sessions. That night the restriction lifted, but only the usual number of pub-crawlers left for town. VE Day had come and gone.”

Another report read: “About 1000 hours on 7 May 1945, the Tannoy broadcast the news that Germany had capitulated. It didn’t cause much excitement. There were a few self-concious whoops, but for the most part, work wasn’t even interrupted. However, using VE Day as an excuse, work was suspended as of noon on the seventh until the morning of the tenth. All airplanes were grounded. The bars were opened and the beer began to flow. The real celebration didn’t get underway until the next day, May 8th. All personnel were restricted to base and that evening the Post Orchestra held a short concert on the parade ground, preceded, interrupted and followed by alcoholic beverages. The next morning an unhappy group of officers and men paraded their hangovers past the Colonel in a formal VE Day review. After lunch the more hardy souls went back to their celebrating and the others went back to the “sack” and Victory in Europe was history.”

For more information on IWM Duxford and Airshow Ticket Prices, please visit http://www.iwm.org.uk/duxford/