How Cowichan marked V-E Day

Wednesday, May 6, a week ago today, was the 70th anniversary of the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany. Japan was still at war but much of the world celebrated V-E Day, after almost six horrific years and millions of lives, of victory in Europe.

Cowichan greeted the momentous news with disbelief then sirens – the same sirens meant to warn of impending air raids – and spontaneous public demonstrations tempered with what was said to be "remembrance and subdued happiness". Subdued in the memory of the Valley’s more than 100 soldiers, sailors, airmen and merchant seamen who’d been killed, died on active service or were listed as missing.

Upon its publication four days later, the Cowichan Leader, beneath a two-inch-high headline, urged readers to give thanks in the church of their choice.

Official word of the cease-fire had ended "five years, eight months and six days of bloodshed and destruction". The city’s telephone exchange was overwhelmed by callers trying to verify the news or to inform family and friends. In brilliant sunshine small crowds began to gather on downtown street corners to discuss the news, at first dubiously, then with mounting excitement, and flags, service ribbons and Royal

Canadian Legion hats began to appear. Just after 9 a.m., Mayor George H. Savage declared a civic holiday.

All businesses but bakeries caught in mid-production and given until noon, closed. Provincial Police officers wearing dress uniforms closed off the upper end of Station Street to traffic. With schools closed, "squads of cycling youngsters appeared, streaming flags and bunting," and be-flagged cars filled with celebrants began to fill the streets.

All this occurred on Monday, May 5, pre-empting Ottawa’s intention to delay the news so as to make Tuesday, the 6th, V-E Day. Why? Because officialdom thought that the first priority should be an interdenominational church service then celebration. The 11 a.m. Tuesday service held at the Duncan cenotaph was conducted by Revs. Burns, Willams, Archbold and Hughes before an estimated 500-600 citizens who sang O Canada and the hymns, Now Thank We All Our God, The Supreme Sacrifice and God of Our Fathers.

Prayers were offered in thanskgiving and petitions for the sick and wounded, prisoners of war and those missing were said by the clergy. A combined choir was conducted by C.A. Howard, with Mrs. W.S. Smith playing the organ, and an RCL pipe band in ranks. Also present were students from Queen Margaret’s School, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, Wolf Cubs and Brownies – as many as could be gathered at short notice. Civic officials represented Duncan and North Cowichan.

Such was Cowichan’s "official" observance of one of the most momentous days in history. The remainder of the day "passed without any further organized demonstration" and with no beer parlours or liquor stores open for business through Wednesday the 6th.

Ironically, Tuesday, the real V-E Day, had been the quieter of the two days as many residents came to terms with the climax of years of having to live in a wartime economy and environment. A further sign that the occasion was not one of total joy was the sermon by Fr. L.D. LeClair, SMM, at a well-attended service in St. Edward’s Church: "…It is only right that we raise our hearts in thanksgiving today. Our efforts, our hardships, our sacrifices, those of our boys more particularly, are today crowned with success. We might be tempted to sit back now and bask in the sunshine of this recent victory. But I would urge you to continue your efforts, to re-double them…

"Unless we change our hearts….the peace we want will not come true. We must have this time a just and lasting peace, a peace founded on equity and charity."

Earlier, Chemainus and Cobble Hill, Bamberton and Shawnigan residents had marked their own memorial services at the Chemainus and Cobble Hill cenotaphs.

For some, it was a time of sadness over personal loss.

Even as "bells pealed out victory," his wife was notified that well-known artillery officer Maj. Jim Else had been killed in action. Besides Mrs. Moss he left two young sons.

Word was also received that Maj. A. Compton-Lundie had been posted as missing two weeks earlier.

Such was V-E Day in Cowichan, 1945.