Members of the COMET Club in Mission purchase Victory Bonds in 1943. / Photo from Mission Community Archives

Looking back on Mission’s end-of-war celebration in 1945

May 8, 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day

Tomorrow, May 8, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. The following is a glimpse of how Mission reacted to the end of the Second World War.

At the headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Rheims, France on May 7, 1945, General Alfred Jodl of the German High Command signed an unconditional surrender agreement at 5:41 p.m. (Mission time) to take effect on May 8, marking the official end to the six-year combat in Europe during the Second World War.

A front-page headline in the May 10 issue of Mission’s local newspaper (The Fraser Valley Record) decreed “News of Victory in Europe Is Observed Quietly Here,” followed by the sub-headline: “Some Confusion when Official Siren Signal Not Confirmed by Allied Leaders; Two Holidays.”

The account explained how initially there was “mild confusion” in Mission about the war’s end. Although the “Victory-in-Europe signal on the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) sirens sounded shortly after 7 a.m. on May 7, the official confirmation from the Allied Forces was not received until the following day.

Mission’s war-weary residents did not wait. They ended up celebrating the momentous news “unofficially throughout Monday and officially on Tuesday.”

Although there are no known photographs of the celebrations, the May 10 news report provides a glimpse into what occurred, stating that by 9 a.m. on Monday, May 7 “throngs of smiling men, women and children” had gathered downtown to mark the historic occasion, lining the sidewalks in great numbers while others “cruised the length of the street, hands waving through the open windows in cheerful comradeship.”

Telephone poles along the thoroughfare were decorated with “festoons of flags” while business storefronts were draped with bunting. Businesses were closed for the next two days.

Members of the Legion of Frontiersmen and the Women’s Training Corps distributed to the growing crowds leaflets about a service of Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. in the Canadian Legion Auditorium at the west end of Main Street. The huge auditorium was filled to capacity for it.

Members of the local Ministerial Association conducted the services, augmented by performances of both All Saints Anglican and St. Andrew’s United Church choirs. Following the service, it appears residents partook in private and neighbourhood area celebrations as the newspaper reported that the streets were “virtually deserted” for the remainder of the day and on Tuesday and that, all in all, “Orderly, thoughtful appreciation of the significance of the day was the keynote of Mission City observance of victory in Europe.”

But that is not the entire story.

On Monday evening, 400 members of the community attended a dance held in the Legion Auditorium with all proceeds being donated to the Red Cross. That same night Steelhead held a victory celebration on their schoolgrounds which was attended by more than 60 parents and children who enjoyed “an outdoor wiener roast.”

In the following days, Mission residents contributed in great numbers to the “Say Thanks With Bonds” for the victory in Europe – a local slogan adopted for the final days of the 8th Victory Campaign chaired by Mission Reeve Albert Bryant Catherwood. Surpassing previous loan drives and all competing neighbouring communities, Mission invested a record total of $319,600. The celebratory mood was maintained over the next several weeks through a decision by the Board of Trade to keep the VE-Day decorations up on Main Street until the conclusion of the annual May Day celebrations on the 24th.

An insightful editorial about the victory in Europe by Lang Sands, managing editor of the newspaper, published on May 10 concluded: “With this experience and knowledge surely we cannot doubt our ability to achieve similar marvels in the name of peace and with the goal of happiness.”

If you or anyone you know is able to contribute information about Mission’s VE-Day celebrations in 1945, please email the Mission Community Archives at: mca@missionarchives.com. Info provided by Val Billesberger.

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