London Victory Celebrations of 1946
The London Victory Celebrations of 1946 were British Commonwealth, Empire and Allied victory celebrations held after the defeat of Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II. The celebrations took place in London on 8 June 1946, and consisted mainly of a military parade through the city and a night time fireworks display. Most British allies took part in the parade, including Belgium, Brazil, China, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Holland, Luxembourg and the United States. The parade arrangements caused a controversy surrounding the lack of representation of Polish forces.
The first part of the parade was the Chiefs of Staff's procession, featuring the British Chiefs of Staff together with the Supreme Allied Commanders. This was followed by a mechanised column which went from Regent's Park to Tower Hill to The Mall (where the saluting base was) and then back to Regent's park. It was more than four miles long and contained more than 500 vehicles from the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force, British civilian services and the British Army (in that order).
Next came a marching column, which went from Marble Arch to The Mall to Hyde Park Corner. This was headed by the flags of the Allied nations which took part in the parade, each with an honour guard. Next came units of the navies, air forces, civilian services and armies of the nations of the British Empire. They were followed by units from the Royal Navy, followed by British civilian services, the British Army, representatives of certain Allied air forces and the Royal Air Force. This was followed by a fly-past of 300 aircraft, led by Douglas Bader. In the aftermath, 4,127 persons needed medical attention and 65 were taken to hospital.
Most of the allies were represented at the parade, including representatives from the USA, France, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Luxembourg, Mexico, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway and Transjordan.
The Australian contingent was headed by Major General Ken Eather, an officer with a distinguished record in the war. The contingent consisted of 250 servicemen and women, drawn from the three services, including Private Richard Kelliher, who had won the Victoria Cross in the Battle of Lae in 1943. The Victory March Contingent sailed for the United Kingdom on HMAS Shropshire on 8 April 1946.
After sunset of the same day, the principal buildings of London were lit by floodlights, and crowds thronged the banks of the Thames and Westminster Bridge to watch King George VI and his family proceed down the river in the Royal barge. The planned festivities ended with a fireworks display over Central London. However, crowds continued to gather in London and surrounded Buckingham Palace even after the Royal family had retired from the festivities. Many festival goers could not return home that night and spent the rest of the night in public parks and other public areas around London.
The parade caused political controversy in the UK and has continued to be criticised because of the lack of representation of Polish forces. During the war, more than 200,000 members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West had fought under British High Command. These were loyal to the Polish government-in-exile, were opposed to the Soviet Union since the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact and hoped to return to a democratic, non-communist Poland after the war. However, by 1946, the British government changed its diplomatic recognition from the pro-democracy Poles in exile to the new communist-dominated Provisional Government of National Unity in Poland, where, according to Winston Churchill and others, totalitarian control was being established.
The British government initially invited the Soviet-backed government in Poland to send a flag party to represent Poland among the allied forces in the parade, but did not specifically invite representatives of the Polish forces that had fought under British High Command. Britons including Winston Churchill, figures in the RAF and a number of MPs protested against the decision, which was described as an affront to the Polish war effort as well as an immoral concession to communist power. Also, the pro-democracy Polish forces did not agree that the Soviet-backed Polish government could represent them, and saw the development as a negation of what they had fought the War for.
After these complaints, 25 pilots of the Polish fighter squadrons in the Royal Air Force, who had taken part in the Battle of Britain, were invited to march together with other foreign detachments as part of the parade of the Royal Air Force. The government said this was a necessary compromise due to the political circumstances of the day. Also, after the public criticism in Britain, last-minute invitations were sent by Foreign Minister Bevin directly to the Chief of Staff of the Polish Army, General Kopanski, who was still in post in London, and to the chiefs of the Polish Air Force and the Polish Navy and to individual generals.
These invitations were declined, and the airmen refused to participate in protest against the omission of the other branches of the Polish forces. The Soviet-backed Polish government, in turn, chose not to send a delegation, and later cited the invitation to the pilots as its reason to stay away. In the end, the parade thus took place without any Polish forces. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia also stayed away.
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