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Victory in Europe Day announced at Coventry Cinema

On 30 April 1945 Adolf Hilter committed suicide, triggering the beginning of the end of Second World War. On 7 May 1945 Hitler’s successor, Karl Donitz, signed the act of military surrender in France and in Berlin on 8 May.

In response to this, the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation recorded a message from their news commentator E.V.H Emmett, which told of the end of the Second World War in Europe. Copies of this record were sent to all of the Gaumont-British cinemas in the country, including the Coventry branch where George Smith worked as a second projectionist; a reserved occupation that was considered a morale-boosting job. 

As the news of the German surrender came through, George halted the afternoon film, Madonna of the Seven Moons, and played this record. The message invited the audience to sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at the end of the recording, which was spontaneously followed by ‘Roll out the Barrel’.
After six years at war, people across Britain started to celebrate immediately. The next day Winston Churchill made a live radio broadcast, later telling crowds gathered in London, “This is your victory.”

While Victory in Europe Day is celebrated on 7 or 8 May every year, the Second World War did not officially end until 2 September 1945 when Japan signed the surrender document. This record is a very real connection to the moment when people in Coventry found out that the war in Europe was over.
The Gaumont-British cinema, where George Smith played the VE Day record, still stands. It is now the Ellen Terry Arts and Media Building at Coventry University.

Visitors can find out more about Coventry’s role in the Second World War in the History Gallery.

Written by Ali Wells, Keeper of Collections at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum