THE suicide of Adolf Hitler on April 30, 1945, brought V Day within touching distance, but The Northern Echo of May 2 which reported his demise was worried by his successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz.

“He is known as a hard, bitter man who trained his U-boat crews to be utterly murderous,” said the paper’s front page beneath the headline “Supreme Hater of Britain”.

“He is one of the most tremendous haters of Britain among all the Nazi hierarchy.

“He spent a considerable time in England as a prisoner of war in the last war – in a Manchester lunatic asylum. The British sloop Snapdragon fished him out of the Mediterranean after sinking his U-boat in 1917 and he was confined to the asylum as out of his mind.”

For all that, Dönitz was rational enough to know that his armed forces were likely to get a far fairer hearing if they surrendered to the Allies of the US and the UK rather than to the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin.

With Berlin falling to the Red Army on May 2, the following day, Dönitz sent a delegation to meet the British senior officer, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, who was camped on Luneberg Heath near Hamburg.

Amazingly, the first British soldier this delegation bumped in to was Sergeant John Kirman of Dodds Street, Darlington.

“We were on reconnaissance patrol on Thursday in the direction of Hamburg,” Sgt Kirman told The Northern Echo. “We came under very heavy fire and having established contact with the enemy pulled back to allow the supporting infantry and tanks to attack.

“The battle was at its height when I noticed two German officers walking forward under a white flag. I drove up to them with a sergeant-major from the Argylls. The senior officer, a major, immediately asked to be taken to an officer.

"I told them we would have to blindfold them to take them through our lines and the major protested at this and made quite a fuss about it."

Sgt Kirman was from Grimsby but 18 months earlier had married Margaret Lee, of Darlington. While he had landed with the Reconnaissance Corps on D Day and fought his way across Europe to Hamburg, Margaret was working in the stores department of the North Road shops, where Morrisons supermarket is today.

"They were eventually blindfolded and taken back," said Sgt Kirman. "In the meantime, the battle was being fought all the time.”

Montgomery demanded an unconditional surrender from the two, who returned to Dönitz for discussions.

"The two officers were brought back again through our lines and they returned almost immediately with three other officers and were again escorted back," said Sgt Kirman. "By now the rumour had got around that there were some sort of peace negotiations going on, but it did not make any difference to the battle."

The delegation arrived at Montgomery’s carpeted tent at 6pm on May 4. They signed a document agreeing the unconditional surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, north-west Germany and Denmark to come into effect at 8am on May 5.

The most junior of the five signatories on the Instrument of Surrender was Major Hans Jochen Freidel, described by one English officer who was there as having “the cruellest face of any man I have ever seen”. Could he have been the major who intimated his wish to surrender to a Darlington sergeant?

This, though, was only a local capitulation. At 2.41am on May 7 in Reims in France, another German delegation led by General Alfred Jodl, representing Donitz, signed an unconditional surrender of all German forces with the Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower.

This was the big one, and Churchill was told when he awoke at 7am.

How were the Allies going to stage manage the announcement of the end of the war when each of the main participants – the US, Britain and Russia – wished to be portrayed as the ones which had won the war.

Britain and the US both had had a surrender from Germany, and Stalin wanted one of his own. He said that to be complete, a German surrender had to be signed in the German capital of Berlin which, conveniently, he held. Therefore, he arranged for a third German surrender to be signed in Berlin, with Russians leading the way, at 3pm on May 8.

Everyone knew the jostling going on behind the scenes – even the Evening Despatch in Darlington. With the nation’s mood lightning, it replaced its front page pictures with cartoons showing the orchestration of the peace announcement.

But Stalin’s way meant keeping the news that the surrender had been signed from the British people for more than 36 hours.

Such important, joyous news naturally began to leak. The London morning newspapers began preparing special evening editions with headlines about Victory, and so, not to be left out, at 7.40pm, the Ministry of Information made a short announcement: “In accordance with arrangements between the three great powers, tomorrow, Tuesday, will be treated as Victory in Europe Day and will be regarded as a holiday.”

And so the Echo’s front page on May 8 shouted that “Today is V-Day”, even though there was no Prime Ministerial announcement to confirm until 3pm. As the third peace was signed in Berlin with the Russians, Churchill was able to broadcast to the British people what they already knew: the war against Germany was won.