At 2.41 am on the morning of the 7th May 1945, Allied Supreme Commander General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower accepted the unconditional surrender of all German forces at his headquarters in an old schoolhouse in the town of Reims, France. This unconditional surrender to the Western Allies was signed by Colonel-General Alfred Jodl, head of the German armed forces, and Admiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg of the Navy. The agreement was to come effect the next day.
Initially information about this unconditional surrender was embargoed, in order that it could be also signed by the Russians in Berlin the next day, as their leader Stalin desired. However, an unidentified journalist found out and leaked the news before this could occur. This resulted in a third surrender well after victory celebrations had already started in the West, this time jointly to the Western Allies and the USSR. This was written in English, Russian and German, and was signed at Berlin by Field Marshall William Keitel on the 8th May.
By a twist of fate this third surrender required the end of hostilities to start at 23:01 pm Central European Time. However, as Russian time was an hour forwards from this, by their reckoning the surrender occurred at 00:01 hrs on the 9th May. This time difference explains why today Russia commemorates the end of the War in Europe on the 9th May, rather than on the 8th May as in most other Countries.
At 7.40 pm on the evening of the 7th May BBC Radio interrupted its scheduled programming with a news-flash that the war in Europe was over, and that tomorrow would be the long awaited VE Day national holiday.
Newspapers across the country quickly commenced working throughout the night to get the news out in their next editions. The National Board of Trade also immediately issued reassurances via BBC radio that despite rationing there was enough food and beer available to celebrate, and authorised that red, white and blue bunting could be bought without the use of a ration coupon.
The general public also instantly reacted, with some people starting to celebrate a day early. Bonfires were lit in some towns, bunting began to be put up, while in some place pubs opened without permission to serve the revellers. Locally, on hearing the news some ships in the Hartlepool docks sounded their hooters, while a few armed merchantmen shot off bursts of tracer bullets into the sky from their ship’s anti-aircraft guns. This unauthorised gunfire alarmed people who had not yet found out about the Victory, but due to the situation no-one was ever prosecuted by the Military Authorities.
On the whole though, life across the Borough seems to have continued normally that evening. Maybe the lateness of the news, the continuing Blackout conditions, and essential war work kept many revellers off the streets?
For example, at 8.00 pm that evening the Mayors of West Hartlepool and Hartlepool, Mayors Williams and Pailor, continued with their ordinary duties and presided over a business meeting at the Grand Hotel, West Hartlepool, to arrange a programme of boxing matches in aid of the forthcoming Navy Week.