Seventy years ago today the Allies declared victory in Europe. ADRIAN IMMS reports on the anniversary

IT was the day Europe had been waiting for – for almost six long years.

After the turmoil of the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, false hopes and the fear of invasion, the Second World War came one step closer to its final curtain on May 8, 1945.

By the time the Germans capitulated, the war had claimed 50 million lives.

Now, on the 70th anniversary of this moment, services are being held across Sussex.

There are several VE Day beacon lighting ceremonies tonight at 9.30pm to mark the anniversary of Winston Churchill making his speech formally announcing the end of the war in Europe.

A beacon will be lit in the grounds of Blind Veterans UK in Ovingdean, Brighton, at 9.30pm.

The public can arrive at the reception of Blind Veterans UK (formerly St Dunstan's) from 8.30pm, before gathering outside in the east side of the grounds at 9.15pm for the lighting ceremony.

A local blind veteran supported by the charity, 95-year-old Clifford Gower, will read out an official tribute as part of the ceremony.

Blind Veterans UK will also be cutting a large “VE” into the grass before the event to mark the anniversary. Another beacon will be lit at the same time on Worthing seafront. Its foreshore beacon can be found to the right of Worthing Pier if looking towards the sea.

Burgess Hill Mayor Ann Jones, accompanied by war veteran and chairman of the local Royal British Legion David Truran BEM and a cadet from the local Air Training Corps, will light a beacon at St John’s Park in Burgess Hill at the same time.

Councillor Jones said: “The community could not let this day pass without reflecting on the sacrifice, courage and determination of the people who saw us through this dark period.”

The Burgess Hill Bonfire Society will lay the beacon and the Burgess Hill Marching Youth will parade and provide music from 9pm.

During the day, a cafe in Peacehaven holds a celebratory event called Stepping Back In Time.

Peggy Berry’s De Ja Vu, in South Coast Road, will be playing all the classics from back in the day with bunting and balloons out in force.

Another event, being organised by Music of Our Time, sees Martin James Bartlett, BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014, play music by Mozart and Tchaikovsky in the Music Room of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton at 8pm.

Part of the Brighton Fringe, tickets are £20/£16 (call 01273 917272).

Then, on Sunday, an open-air service is to be held at the War Memorial in Old Steine, Brighton, at 3pm.

Open to all, it will include a wreath laying ceremony and two-minute silence.

The event is being co-ordinated by Brighton and Hove City Council, the Royal British Legion and other partners.

l See page 10 for an opinion piece by Argus history specialist Ben James about VE Day.

Narrative by Adrian Imms

“NO one fought better or more bravely than the Germans, obeying the mad, merciless command to defend to the death every inch of ground, futile as it proved.”

So wrote Argus reader Tony Atcherley of Brighton in a letter to this newspaper last May.

As we remember VE-Day, it is easy to image Germany crumbling before the Allied advance as it swept through the Reich.

But victory in Europe was by no means all downhill after D-Day the previous June.

It was the result of an arduous, three-pronged campaign that saw Allied troops (from Britain, the US and Russia) battle their way into Germany from France in the west, Italy in the south and Russia in the east.

And it was the Russians who had the task of plunging the dagger into the heart of Berlin, where Adolf Hitler and some of his henchmen lived their last days.

Berlin was the bull’s eye. Competition between the armies to be first into Berlin ramped up the assault. Initially the US and British troops were keen for a piece of the action, until it was revealed that, prior to invading the country, Germany had been split into zones – and Berlin was in the Russians' zone. But Josef Stalin, in co-ordinating two massive armies which eventually outnumbered the Germans by ten to one, was able to create a rivalry that expedited the fall of Berlin.

Advancing with one gun for every 13ft of the front, they wanted more than just to win – they wanted revenge.

The fear of an impending Red Army from the east was too much for the remaining Berliners to bear, with some taking their own lives rather than fall into the hands of the Russians. Germany fought the Russians right up to the last moment. Even when the Russians reached the Reichstag, the country’s parliamentary centre and a monolithic symbol of Nazi Germany, on April 30, they were halted by heavy fire.

The Russians did not mess around and blasted the building from point-blank range with heavy artillery.

But even then the Germans held on. The Russians stormed the Reichstag in the evening and, after fighting from room to room, hoisted their flag four hours later amid the roaring mess.

By the morning of May 1, Hitler was dead, committing suicide in his bunker under the building.

Still the Germans fought their cataclysmic defeat. Even when the Russians said they would accept the full, unconditional surrender of Germany, the Nazis refused.

It was only after Joseph Goebbels killed his six children, wife and himself that Berlin did eventually surrender.

The first document of unconditional surrender was signed in the early hours of May 7, as reported in the Evening Argus at the time.

But Russian leader Stalin wanted the Germans to surrender in Berlin, possibly out of spite, meaning the masses across Europe had to wait until May 8 for a second surrender to be signed.

For Denise Bennett, VE Day could not come soon enough.

The 86-year-old of Mile Oak Gardens in Portslade was subjected to bombings and direct machine gun fire from German planes during the Battle of Britain.

She recalls going to Ford Aerodrome to pick up her brother with her mother and father when German dive-bombers struck.

She was dragged to the ground by a nearby serviceman as bombs fell around her.

She said: “A bomb dropped quite close to us – it was pretty terrifying.”

Another time, she was playing hockey with school friends when a German bomber started machine gunning them.

They had to run for cover and hide in a ditch until the danger had passed.

The match was umpired by future England hockey player Barbara West, whose death aged 100 was featured in The Argus last November.

Mrs Bennett even picked up one of the many bullet cases scattered on the ground by the plane’s turret guns and still has it today.

“It was a terrible, terrible time,” she recalled.

Living in Balfour Road, Brighton, at the time, she remembers VE Day five years later.

She was cycling in Preston Park when she heard people cheering the news. Later, a crowd went to the Clock Tower in Brighton and danced and sang.

Mrs Bennett said: “We knew what it was all right. You just felt elated – it was terrific.”

“We were just thankful we weren’t going to get bombed anymore.”

Aside from these pleasant memories, she said she had many others she wanted to forget.

Her Polish husband came to Britain in 1946 to clear the beaches and Downs of bombs.

Another local who remembered the big day was Dennis Manville, 76, of Stanmer Villas in Brighton, who was only a small boy when the victory announcement came.

He lived in Mafeking Road with his family, in a house with a Morrison shelter in the dining room.

It was one of his overriding early memories. His recollections of VE Day itself largely centre on a picture of him with others celebrating.

He said: “Everybody was friendly back then.”

His siblings had their close shaves – his sister was in the playground of Coombe Road School when a German plane flew over and started shooting at them.

She escaped injury, though a bullet went straight through the face of the clock on top of the building – a clock that is still there to this day.

His brother was not as lucky. Walking down a street one day, he kicked an unexploded sulphur bomb, which then went off.

He spent a year in hospital recovering from debilitating injuries and Mr Manville only really got to know him after he came home.

Even younger, John Underwood was only three-and-a-half when VE Day finally came.

Nevertheless, he has vivid memories of a street party in Hollingdean Terrace, Brighton, also attended by his mother and her parents.

He said: “We had a meal all together at trestle tables under garlands of bunting, which, barely visible in the picture, seemed so colourful to me amid the greyness of the times.”

Now 73, he spends his time between Bramber, near Shoreham, and a second, rented home in Brussels, where he worked as a conference interpreter before retirement.

He added: “Think for a moment of where we would all be had the Allies not won.”

David Rose, 83, of Winton Avenue in Saltdean heard the news on the radio back in 1945.

“We knew the saying ‘Careless talk costs lives’,” he said, “But that got around like grease lightning.”

Mr Rose had two brothers – one in fighter command and one in bomber command.

He said: “When they said the war was over my mother was jumping for joy. I was delighted – everybody was. Things were only going to get better.

“But nothing really changed overnight. As youngsters we were excited like anybody. You were just pleased it was coming to an end.”

Only a young boy, Mr Rose remembers a torchlight procession through Rottingdean, from the village pond up to Beacon Hill, where a large bonfire had been built by the Royal British Legion, with fireworks around it.

Mr Rose said: “Goodness knows where they got the fireworks from, as none were available in the war years.”

He describes bunting and coloured lights around The White Horse pub.

The following June, King George sent a letter to boys and girls at schools across the land.

It read: “I know you will always feel proud to belong to a country which was capable of such supreme effort; proud, too, of parents and elder brothers and sisters who by their courage, endurance and enterprise brought victory.

“May these qualities be yours as you grow up and join in the common effort to establish among the nations of the world unity and peace.”