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Victory March

London hosted a formal — and boisterous—celebration on  the first anniversary of the end of the Second World War

Before the parade, Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King (second from right) chats with Winston Churchill, flanked by British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts.

A year after the Second World War ended, Britain threw a proper celebration, one that the whole country—civilians as well as the men and women who had served overseas—could enjoy together.

And what a party it was.

More than five million people crowded the sidewalks and streets of London and choked The Mall to take part in daylong celebrations on June 8, 1946. The crowd included visitors from all over the world. They started gathering before daylight to claim good positions along the parade route.

A Royal Air Force regiment marches along Parliament Street. The parade included the RAF, the Royal Navy, the British Army, Allied forces, British civilian services and more than 500 vehicles.

At 10 a.m. an open carriage carrying the Royal Family slowly proceeded from Buckingham Palace to the reviewing stand on The Mall, where military commanders and heads of state from many countries awaited, including Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

The parade, which was about 6.5 kilometres long, started with a mechanized column featuring every manner of war machine that could be driven or pulled. Aircraft intermittently flew overhead.

Then massed pipers led a marching column of more than 20,000 men and women representing military and civilian services that contributed to victory, interlaced with an assortment of bands. Newsreels captured boisterous cheering that must have left many people hoarse.

Afterwards, the crowd adjourned to parks throughout the city to dance and listen to bands and orchestras and watch free entertainment, including a performance of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

That night, the whole city lit up. Floodlights illuminated bridges and searchlights picked out aircraft overhead. Fireworks were launched from barges on the Thames River, where coloured water spouted from jets on floats and barges. The evening ended nigh on midnight with the firing of 50 shells and the national anthem.

The next day, Londoners went back to keeping calm and carrying on. 

Spectators assemble in Trafalgar Square, ready for a long day of celebrations: a parade in the morning, entertainment in the afternoon and fireworks at night.
PA Images/Alamy/GAFH7H
King George VI salutes as he and Queen Elizabeth review the Queen’s Royal Regiment and The Buffs as they march past.
People flock to windows, balconies and rooftops above the cheering crowds on Oxford Street as the parade wends from Marble Arch.
PA Images/Alamy/GAF9A4
The Women’s Royal Naval Service contingent passes the reviewing platform. The women’s branch of the Royal Navy had 75,000 active servicewomen in 1944, and 102 members were killed in action.
The RAF Salvage Unit passes the saluting base where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and other dignitaries watch. The dismantled aircraft is a late-model Spitfire.
The Australian contingent marches along The Mall from the  Admiralty Arch.
A massive crowd surges around Nelson’s Column and surrounding streets, necks craned to watch aircraft overhead.
PA Images/Alamy/GAF9E4


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