THE war was over. Victory was proclaimed. Bells, free from muffles, rang from every church steeple. Tables, chairs and pianos were tossed out into the street for impromptu parties; town centres filled up with joyous youth making "whoopee" – to use an Americanism which had come over here during the war.

And, as night drew in, everyone gasped as public buildings which had been blacked out in darkness for five-and-a-half years were suddenly floodlit once again.

“The proclamation of Peace with Victory set the seal on hopes and aspirations which had never wavered through the long, dark years,” said the D&S Times’ powerful editorial of May 12, 1945. “This victory is greater than all the victories of history, greater than all the triumphs of Julius Caesar, Saladin, Napoleon and Wellington. It is a victory of all the United Nations, but it is one which would never have been won without the courage, resolution and resource of our own people.

“Standing firm and steadfast we, as lone sentinels of civilisation, resisted the on-slaughts of the enemy and won the battle which historians may record as the turning point in the war, the Battle of Britain.”

People had been waiting for victory to be declared for some weeks, but late on May 7, 1945, it became known that the Germans had unconditionally surrendered and that May 8 would be an official national holiday.

But as the day dawned, no one really knew if they could celebrate until they had official confirmation from the Prime Minister himself, and he wasn’t due on the wireless until 3pm.

"At 11am, Stockton High Street was a mass of people walking aimlessly about or draped over the pavement barriers waiting for something to turn up, " said the D&ST.

"The impression one had was that the suddenness of the announcement – it had been expected the previous day – came almost as an anti-climax and that with all that the people had endured, and in hundreds of cases suffered, there was little disposition to throw aside all restraint."

Then it rained at lunchtime. "Redcar, Saltburn and Marske were gaily decorated but continuous rain drove jubilant people indoors," said the Echo.

This shower may have come at a surprise because since the start of the war, weather forecasts had been banned, for fear they might give the enemy some advantage. The first forecasts appeared in the evening papers of VE Day, and Spectator mused on the subject in his column on May 12.

“We are free again to talk and speculate on atmospherical changes, of sunshine and shower and frost and snow with as much loquacity as we talk about football and cricket,” he said. “So the BBC and the newspapers once more give weather forecasts with their “general inference”, their “further outlook” and those “deep depressions” which, for our peace of mind, are usually hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away.

“In agricultural districts, the forecasts will certainly be welcomed, though the real countryman, with his experience of local signs and portents, will continue to place reliance on his own judgment and – dare it be said? – his intuition!”

The rain cleared up just in time for 3pm when Prime Minister Winston Churchill took to the airwaves, from the same room in the War Cabinet Office that his predecessor Neville Chamberlain had used on September 3, 1939, to broadcast that war had been declared.

Churchill was the national hero. When he made an impromptu appearance on the Ministry of Health department balcony in London that afternoon, he told the crowd: “This is your victory.” But the crowd shouted back: “No – it's yours!”.

During his wireless broadcast, he soberly said: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.”

This really fired the cacophonous starting gun for the day's celebrations. Immediately in Sedgefield, for example, the bells of St Edmund’s Church rang out a victory peal.

"At Middleham in Wensleydale on Williams Hill," reported the D&S, "from the old Roman fort, the bells of five churches were heard simultaneously, viz Middleham, East Witton, Wensley, Leyburn and Spennithorne."

Streets spilled out into their spontaneous parties. Red, white and blue bunting was the order of the day because people were able to purchase it without using up precious rationing coupons. Similarly, the Government allowed black-out restrictions to come to an end and celebratory bonfires to be prepared, as long as there was no material with salvage value burned.

In Catterick, the RAF organised dances and cinema shows for adults and treated 200 children to tea. In Winston, there were children's sports in farmer's field; in Great Aycliffe there was a baby show and ankle competition on the green. In Askrigg, the "long defunct" role of Town Crier was reinvigorated with Mr J Dickinson touring the village in "old time dress carrying a large bell" shouting out the festivities.

In Richmond, someone found a Union flag which had been forgotten since 1910 when children of Richmond, Tasmania, had sent it to their North Yorkshire namesakes. The flag was proudly flown from the top of Trinity Tower in the Market Place.

In several towns, the mayors followed Churchill’s broadcast with an address from town hall steps. In Stockton, "the mayor (Coun A Ross) had a son in the Far East, " reported the D&S. "He asked everybody to go back to work after the holidays and to work as hard as ever to assist the war against Japan.

"We had, he said, got over the first hurdle and we must work religiously until we had surmounted the second."

This was the dichotomy of VE Day. While some people celebrated as if their lives depended upon it, other people were mourning the lost lives of loved ones. There was also tragedy amid the celebrations. In Whitby, a soldier drowned while celebrating his escape from hostilities, and back at Winston, on the edge of Teesdale, an Army lorry overturned on its way in to Darlington, hospitalising three soldiers and killing Sgt-Maj Newall-Smith, a female member of the ATS.

York, therefore, was reported to be "strangely quiet, in striking contrast to the hilarity of Monday night, when Canadian and French airmen joined with English servicemen and women and their friends in making considerable 'whoopee'."

But, as the evening of VE Day wore on, the beer took its effect and the bonfires burned. A farmer used his tractor to carry a load of material up Roseberry Topping, while in Richmond, the High Moor beacon was set alight at 10.45pm.

“In doing so, the Mayor said that in days gone by the beacon was lighted in case of danger from enemy invasion, but today it was lit to express their joy and thankfulness for the victory of their gallant forces,” said the D&S.

Richmond, of course, was an Army town – headquarters of the Green Howards and the watering hole of the thousands of soldiers from Catterick camp. Little wonder the scenes here were as joyous as anywhere.

“For the first time in history, dancing took place in Queens Road,” continued the D&S, “the road being effectively illuminated by electric lamps suspended from the trees. Dance music from records supplied by Mr Murphy, amusement caterer, was amplified and dancing continued until 1am when the National Anthem was sung.”

Perhaps the lighting of the beacon assuaged Richmond’s desire to celebrate with more fire, because the D&S reports that many other towns had big celebratory bonfires with Hitler having a particularly rough night. In Hutton Rudby, Sir Bedford Dorman, son of the Middlesbrough ironfounder, ignited a huge bonfire which had sprung up on the village green with the German fuhrer on top.

Barnard Castle's celebrations "culminated at about midnight when a stagecoach in which Hitler lolled by the window was trundled into the market place and set on fire. There was a terrific blaze, and the figure inside went off with a bang. It was a satisfactory finale."

Darlington seems to have seen the region's most boisterous celebrations. At one point, there were 1,200 inside St Cuthbert’s Church for a thanksgiving service, and thousands more outside in the Market Place and thronging High Row.

They climbed poles, ripped down flags, sang popular songs with the lyrics changed and used two Belisha beacons which were used in a football-cum-rugby match "that made Sedgefield's Shrovetide game tame by comparison".

The council had erected a platform and a PA system in the hope of holding some organised dancing but “good-natured rowdyism negative the well planned devices”. Men from the Royal Welsh Guards took control of the platform, and sung songs with “a rare gusto”.

“All the time, a frequent explosion of detonators caused sundry alarms among the crowd, some of whom sought safety on the top of air raid shelters outside Central Hall,” said the D&S. “Here a number of soldiers indulged in a burlesque of classical dancing to the amusement of the crowd, but a sudden detonation ended the exhibition, as well as causing an immediate diminution in the shelter roof congregation, which had grown to alarming proportions.”

Darlington Memorial Hospital was nearly full with casualties. “They were lying all over the floor, but none was detained,” said a nurse. “There were such cases as a hit on the head with a bottle, a girl who collided with a soldier and people who had been struck with something, but there was nothing serious.”

London, of course, was the epicentre of national celebrations, and tens of thousands of people were outside Buckingham Palace, where the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made eight balcony appearances to rapturous receptions, and many, many more filled Trafalgar Square and its fountains.

A symbolic moment was when St Paul’s Cathedral, that great and extraordinary survivor of the Blitz, was floodlit and two searchlights made a V in the dark sky above it. A similar effect was tried in Darlington.

“The floodlighting of the Town Hall clock tower and St Cuthbert’s Church held the attention of the crowd which, however, did not disperse until after midnight, whiling away the time by informal community singing,” said the D&S. “In this direction, a large circle of revellers were particularly successful, their extensive repertoire ending on a triumphant note with Land of Hope and Glory.”

However, probably to the authorities’ relief, celebrations came to a natural end. The Echo’s Stockton reporter wrote: "Those who sought their homes after midnight had their way illuminated by an amazing display of sheet lightning while thunder roared in the distance recalling to the more imaginative the flashes of the worst nights of the air raids."

But, after more than five-and-a-half years, there were no more air raids. The threat had lifted, the war was won and the skies were clear of planes. The thunderstorm was just the good old British weather’s way of beginning the return of life to normal – with an early summer soaking.