In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’re living in truly terrible times that have altered all of our lives. But as we reach the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, we have to remind ourselves that things for our generation could be a lot worse. In 1939, as Nazi Germany launched its Blitzkrieg invasion of Poland, Europe was plunged into a war of survival that lasted over five years. As each country fell to the German onslaught, Britain remained valiant against all odds thanks to the mobilization of men and women across the country. Millions of men headed overseas to fight a grueling war against a fanatical enemy. By 1945, victory had been declared over the 3rd Reich but Britain had been decimated.
As we celebrate that great victory 75 years ago, albeit indoors, the Reaper Feed team aim to remember VE Day by posting what we consider as some of the most iconic photos of the British spirit during the Second World War.
10. A British Royal Marine Commando training in CQB in Scotland. He is shown demonstrating how to stealthily kill a German sentry from behind using their iconic Fairbairn Sykes Commando Dagger. The commando raids across Europe would become some of the most daring actions along the Western Front and the Royal Marines became a feared enemy amongst the German ranks.
9. An RAF squadron during the Battle of Britain. Made famous through Churchill’s 1940 speech of ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few’. the RAF fought against all odds to defeat the Luftwaffe over the skies of England and deter Operation Sealion: the German seaborne invasion of Britain.
8. A British soldier fires his Lee Enfield .303 at attacking German dive bombers as explosions litter the beach around him, 1940. The British almost lost the bulk of their army at Dunkirk as the German army swept through France. But after a largely civilian fleet arrived from Britain, the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated to British shores to fight another day. It became known as ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’.
7. With Europe under Nazi control, Britain stood alone. Instead of bowing down to Germany, defiant Churchill sought to back up British morale with some public tours of the British coastal defenses. During one of these tours, he was photographed trying out an American Tommy Gun at defense fortifications near Hartlepool in Northern England. Interestingly, it became one of the more controversial WW2 pictures as both the British and Germans used it for propaganda purposes. The British removed soldiers out of the frame to make Churchill more statesmanlike, while the Germans depicted him as an American gangster or a criminal. Winston Churchill sent King George VI his own Tommy gun so his family, including now Queen Elizabeth II, could practice shooting it after he refused to be evacuated in 1940.
6. Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing her service overalls. As the war was still raging, current Queen Elizabeth II had turned 18 in 1945. At her own insistence, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a subaltern and trained as a truck mechanic and driver.
5. A British soldier flashes the V for Victory sign at two German prisoners in the deserts of North Africa, 1943. It became one of the most iconic WW2 pictures symbolizing the victory of the North Africa campaign that subsequently led to the Allied invasion of Italy.
4. Lt Jack Reynolds delivering the two-fingered salute to a German cameraman shortly after he was captured during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944. Operation Market Garden, which was supposed to end the way by Christmas, was a military disaster and leading to 17,000 British casualties.
3. An iconic image of the ‘Blitz Spirit’ as it’s business as usual despite the carnage unleashed by the previous nights Luftwaffe bombing raid upon London.
2. A captured British Soldier named Horace Greasley glares defiantly at the head of the SS Heinrich Himmler. Greasley was captured in May 1940 and later became famous for claiming that he escaped from his camp over 200 times in the conduct of a clandestine love affair with a local German girl, returning into captivity each time. It became one of the most iconic WW2 pictures through the sheer defiance to the Nazi regime.
1. Victory Day celebrations in the streets of London, 8th May 1945. Following the declaration of the defeat of Nazi Germany, street parties broke out across Britain to celebrate the victory. By the end of the war, Britain had lost over 450,900 people.
For related Reaper Feed articles on wars of centuries past and iconic photography throughout history, check out our military history department.