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Following the partial surrender a multinational Allied army comprising of Canadian, British, American, Polish, Czechoslovak, and Free Dutch soldiers liberated the Netherlands on the morning of the 5th May. Today the Dutch remember and honour their war dead on the 4th May, and celebrate their “Liberation Day” national holiday on every 5thMay.
Denmark received the news of the German’s partial surrender late on the evening of the 4th May, but had to wait until 8.00 am on Saturday 5th May for the surrender to become active. Later that same afternoon the first Allied forces entered Denmark, and were greeted by throngs of people celebrating in the streets. When Field Marshal Montgomery came to the capital a week later, the Danes honoured him with a victory parade through Copenhagen. The Danes still light candles in their windows every May 4th as a reminder of the five years under German occupation, when Danish towns and cities spent their nights in total darkness.
With a partial surrender achieved, Grand Admiral Dönitz now sent a message by radio to all German submarines to cease combat operations, and return to their home bases. Most complied, although a handful either didn’t get his order or refused to obey it and kept fighting. Representatives from his new government, based in the northern German town of Flensburg, were also sent to start surrender negotiations with the Americans.
This Saturday saw the liberation by American forces, from the 41st Reconnaissance Squadron, of the last remaining Nazi Concentration Camp at Mauthausen in Austria. A total of just under 6 million Jewish people died in the Holocaust. In addition some 11 million other victims, including prisoners of war, the disabled, political prisoners, and LGBTQ+, Roma, and Black people, were also murdered during the Nazi genocides. Contemporary newsreel footage of the liberation of the Concentration Camps was widely shown in cinemas and theatres across Britain, including in the Hartlepools. Letters from local eyewitnesses were also published in the papers. Both caused considerable public revulsion and anger.
Back at home, Maurice Mell, the Town Clerk of Hartlepool, issued a press release that Saturday morning informing the public that there would be a victory parade and thanksgiving service on the first Sunday after the forthcoming VE Day. This parade was expected to form up in the High Street at 10.20 am on the Sunday, then proceed past the Borough Buildings to St Hilda’s Church. The Mayor of Hartlepool, P. M. Williams, invited all local organisations, including youth groups and war veterans, to attend by sending an RSVP to the Chief Constable, who was in the process of arranging the events.
The Northern Daily Mail’s edition of Saturday 5th May also looked forward, carrying numerous notices and adverts from various churches announcing that they would be open for services and prayers on the forthcoming VE day. These included St Hilda’s Church, both Grange Road and Park Road Methodist Churches. St George’s Congregational, the Wesley Methodist Church, Burbank Central Hall, and the York Road Methodists.
As things turned out, the Hartlepool Civic Parade and civic church service at St Hilda’s took place exactly as planned on the 13th May 1945. Despite the torrential rain that Sunday large crowds turned out, for both this, and the Civic Parade held the same day in West Hartlepool. The latter moved off from Ward Jackson Park at 3.00 pm to the tune of “Colonel Bogey”, played by the West Hartlepool Mission Silver Prize Band. The crowds in Victoria Road, waiting for the parade to arrive for the Thanksgiving Service in Victory Square, were so large that they closed the road to bus traffic.