British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey famously remarked on 3 August 1914 as Europe began going to war that the lamps were going out all over Europe and that “we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.” It sounds like a far-fetched thing to say, but Lord Grey was not far off. He died in September 1933, just after Hitler’s assumption of power in Germany began unraveling the tenuous peace that had existed for the previous fifteen years. I say all this because today, May 8, is the anniversary of V-E Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Edward Grey was just one of the many men who played a role in both wars, some of whom did and some of whom did not live to see the end of what amounted to Europe’s Second Thirty Year War. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration and later the four-term president, died on 12 April 1945. Hitler, a young enlisted man in the trenches of France before taking over in the wake of the Versailles Treaty and unstable Weimar government, committed suicide on 30 April 1945 as the Soviets were tightening their grip on Berlin. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty in the Great War until forced out for his role in the calamitous Gallipoli Campaign. He had a way of returning to the center of things and in the image above we see him on 8 May 1945, 73 years ago today, as the prime minister, seeing the lights finally come back on after so many–tens of millions–of people had died.
(images/top, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; bottom, Imperial War Museum)