V.E. Day, Paris, May 8, 1945

Seventy-five years ago today, much of the western world celebrated the end of World War Two in Europe. On the previous day, the German high command had surrendered to General Eisenhower in a small third floor room in the bombed city of Reims. When the news broke, cities like Paris exploded in jubilation. Huge crowds thronged the city center in a vast sea of humanity. Waving Allied flags, they danced, hugged, kissed, wept and drank as they moved along the boulevards. ‘La guerre est finie! La guerre est finie!’ they shouted. One observer recalled: ‘On the Champs Elysees they were singing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” [an allusion to the old British World War One song] … in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe in the Place l’Etoile, there was hardly any place to breath and no place to move’.

Mixing with the Parisians were thousands of British and French and American servicemen and women. One American GI who witnessed the celebrations was Sergeant Ardis Hughes, a talented artist who was there in his capacity as an artist. He had done his basic training at Fort Belvoir, VA, where he joined the art program creating murals. Following this, he was sent to Washington to create posters. Hughes had been in France since April sketching in La Havre and the capital, but nothing prepared him for what he witnessed on May 8. He tried to capture his experiences in a number of paintings and drawings.

Twenty years ago, Ardis visited the Military Collection at Brown University Library and donated close to one hundred original sketches, drawings and paintings done by him during the war. Among the pictures were these three fine watercolors which evoke the moments when the crowds gathered. We see women riding on a jeep near the Arc de Triomphe, part of the victory parade with flags and confetti raining down near a sidewalk cafe, and the nighttime celebrations at the Arc with flags and fireworks.

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