The Builder marks the surrender of Nazi Germany as Britain looks to the future

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The statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square

Below is The Builder’s leading article from 11 May, 1945, three days after the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany following five and a half years of warfare. Much of London lay in ruins but, like the publication’s issue marking the end of the First World War 27 years earlier, the focus of the piece is firmly on the future.

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Despite the mammoth rebuilding job at hand, there is a strong sense of optimism inspired by a feeling of national pride at how Britain had managed to withstand the challenges of the war.

“We have the right to expect that master builder and craftsman will meet the teeming needs of postwar Britain with such a surge of energy and interest that in 10 years’ time we shall be able to look back upon a monument of industry and achievement of which we may well be proud. That will be the true day of victory,” the article says.


ALL who had preserved their faith in the destiny of a free Europe knew that victory must come; but even they, in these hours of fulfilment, must feel that the reality is almost unbelievable at the end of the long, grim road of effort. All alike share the emotions of relief and pride. 

This has been the greatest of trials for those who were engaged in the great creative callings. War is destructive, the direct negation of the builder’s urge. Building there has been, of course, and a great deal of it; but it has been building for the war term, with no thought for the times ahead. Standards have been cut to the bone to eke out the scant supplies of material within a beleaguered fortress. We shall want to forget such building as soon as we can, for it has given little pleasure or profit to those who engaged upon it, but as part of a campaign there is much we can pride ourselves upon.

The thought that in all the baffling difficulties of war within a besieged island we were able to plan, equip and complete in time for urgent needs, vast airfields, camps, fortifications, war factories and pre-fabricated harbours is a stirring comment on the nation’s solid fibre and patriotic energy - qualities which will stand it in good stead through the years ahead. We do not need to prejudice such feelings with memories of apparent muddles, wasted effort and frequent change of intent. Those are things which must occur when faced with an enemy whose chief aim is to create unplannable conditions. 

Archives text VE Day

Text as printed on 11 May 1945, three days after the German surrender

Then we are justified also in indulging a sense of relief that destruction of the treasures in which we took so much pride has at last ceased. St. Paul’s dome still soars above the Metropolis, and the wounds the Cathedral has suffered are less than we feared, and well within our powers of complete repair. Westminster Abbey also resisted with slight damage the “irresistible force”.

Westminster Hall escaped by a miracle from the total destruction its inflammable material invited. The battered House of Commons hides its scars behind façades substantially intact. The City churches suffered much, but the graceful spires of Bow Church, St. Bride’s and others still point skywards.

In the provinces, we shuddered as enemy spite surrounded our beloved Canterbury and York with vengeful destruction, and we honour the brave men who laboured amid the ruins of their towns to save these great treasures. Now we can breathe again, knowing that much of the ancient loveliness for which this country is famed has been spared to us and the guests from abroad, to whom England will become a mecca of all free men.

Relief and pride also struggle for ascendancy as we think of our young men who have gone forth as crusaders in a great cause, have learned the trade of soldier in the three Services - a trade which has been the antithesis of all they had learned in relation to creative building - and have exercised their new calling with the valour and skill which is the Britisher’s birthright.

Those who have paid the full price would be the first to deny regrets and the last to grudge the sacrifice. Those who return deserve the eternal service of those they saved. Victory in a world cause has no price nor reward that can be measured by human standards.

And so, amid the sound of jubilation and a sense of happiness almost forgotten, it must be with solemn thoughts that we face the future - the time during which we shall be well tested as to whether we deserve this merciful deliverance, and whether the better world for which we have professed to fight is to become a reality.

To the architect, it is a time of special moment, and he is particularly blessed with the qualities and training with which to face such a situation. His must be an unselfish calling at all times if it is to be a successful one. Even in the cold terms of money, it is well known how much time is spent by the average practitioner contriving economies and scrutinising accounts, with the net result of a reduced percentage fee at the end of it. Deeper than this, is the way in which an architect has to identify himself with the interests of his client if he is to produce the best. Men who are trained on these lines are the type which the world most needs in the approaching decade.

But they, like other men, are still human, and the guard must still be mounted. Prejudice thrives upon deep feelings, and those of the true architect run very deep indeed. The formidable building task that lies ahead is both inviting and perplexing. Art has much to offer to the common sense of fact and condition, and true art never hinders. But much that assumes the name of art can stand very much in the way of things.

On the one hand, there are those who have been steeped in tradition so much that the thought of new methods and a new expression is anathema. To them, some of the things we shall have to do to get our people under cover as quickly as possible will be torture unless they are ready to face the facts and lend their energies to the contrivance of plain decency.

On the other hand, there are those who regard the pressure of the moment as a sign from Heaven that everything old is bad, and that everything strange is admirable. To them may appear the opportunity for propagating a gospel of modernity which pre-war England would not stand at any price. Those must take good stock of their beliefs. Human values are complex and varied, and fit uncomfortably into too rigid a prescription. Between these extremes there are many other hazards which threaten the probity of the architect.

Among builders and operatives there are still more pitfalls to avoid, and among the public in its relation to the trade still others. We were too ready to assume that it was inevitable that men in the building trade should have their livings denied to them if the weather so dictated.

We tend to take a more generous view with wartime experience, and in return we have the right to expect that master builder and craftsman will meet the teeming needs of post-war Britain with such a surge of energy and interest that in ten years time we shall be able to look back upon a monument of industry and achievement of which we may well be proud. That will be the true Day of Victory.

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