Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of VE Day - Victory in Europe Day.

May 8, 1945 - the day on which Allied forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany - was not in itself the end of the war. The Nazis may have been defeated but the victory over Japan was not to come for some months. It was not until two atomic bombs had been dropped, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that the final surrender of Japan came, on August 15.

But VE Day marked at least the beginning of the end, and the end of war in Europe.

It was a war which had raged for almost six long years, bringing death, destruction and suffering on an unprecedented scale, but also overturning established social norms and patterns of behaviour.

While their men were at the front, women went to work - staffing the York chocolate factories that had switched to producing munitions, driving trams, or - through organisations such as the ATS or WAAF - working as mechanics, motorbike messengers, administrators and even intelligence officers.

Long-ingrained habits of social deference towards our ‘betters’ also began to change, too. It was no coincidence that a Labour government was elected once the war was over, bringing sweeping change, which included a new ‘National Health Service’.

The war which had for so long engulfed the world was one which Britain, to begin with at least, had been very reluctant to join. In September 1938, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from a meeting with Hitler in Germany to declare, famously, there there was to be ‘peace for our time’.

That peace lasted for just one year.

Hitler’s Germany was in an expansionist mood. It had occupied part of Czechoslovakia in 1938, then effectively took over the rest in March 1939. As the year wore on, it began eyeing up Poland. Britain and France promised Poland that they would declare war on Germany if it invaded.

Tensions mounted steadily that summer of 1939: and Britain began to prepare itself for war, while hoping still that it wouldn’t be necessary.

In an editorial on July 20, 1939, the Yorkshire Evening Press was both defiantly patriotic and resolutely optimistic. The ranks of the Territorial Army had doubled in size in just three weeks, it noted. “It can be seen that, week by week, the wall of national defence is rising stronger and higher. No aggressor will dare raise his head.”

Sadly, Hitler didn’t seem to be paying attention. The tensions continued to rise, and as war drew closer, the language in the Yorkshire Evening Press became more sombre. “In these grave hours, the need for unity is greatest,” it declared, in an editorial on August 26. “There must be no foolish talk, no stupid bandying about of rumours... Cheerfulness and confidence must rule our conduct.”

It didn’t make any difference. Germany invaded Poland on September 1 in search of more ‘living space’. Britain and France gave Hitler a deadline of 11am on September 3 to pull his forces back from Poland. When he failed to do so, we were officially at war.

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us,” Chamberlain said in a speech delivered from No 10. “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

It was an announcement that came as a huge shock to many ordinary people. In this newspaper last week 91-year-old Mike Bowes, who was just 11 when war was declared in September 1939, recalled his mother crying as she heard the news.

Yet there was no immediate panic - and in fact, for most British people at least, the declaration of war at first made little difference. The next eight months became known as the ‘phony war’, because so little happened. “Was there ever less fuss about a declaration of war than we saw last Sunday morning?”, the weekly Yorkshire Gazette asked in an editorial on September 8.

Fuss or no, in York the authorities began to take steps to protect the population, according to historian David Rubinstein in his book York In War And Peace. All 64 schools in the city were closed so that they could be fitted with shelters or other protection for children and staff. York’s Air Raid Precautions (ARP) committee, meanwhile, ordered 680 public shelters to be built across the city, and the job of recruiting and training hundreds of volunteer air raid wardens began.

Volunteers were told that they would be compensated for the time they spent away from their jobs on ARP duty - but even so, to begin with, recruitment proved difficult. There were more spectators than volunteers at the first ARP exercise, the Yorkshire Gazette noted tartly. By October 17, 1,700 men and women had registered as ARP volunteers - though 500 of these never turned up for duty.

Nevertheless, York was gradually getting itself onto a war footing. Blackouts became a daily occurrence, and on May 10, 1940, when Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, the ‘phony’ war turned frighteningly real. Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain were to follow - and, here on the home front in York, more blackouts, rationing, those dreadful telegrams informing families of the death of a loved one - and, one night in April 1942, the York Blitz.

The war in Europe ended 75 years ago tomorrow. Now is the time to remember...