The people of the Victorian city of Bendigo were facing two battles as World War II drew to a close. Seventy six years ago, the city was surrounded by flames as the then-largest bushfire in its history erupted on Friday, January 14, 1944. The fire swept through 16 kilometres of nearby countryside as more than 1000 volunteer firefighters were deployed to try contain the flames. Victory in another battle, World War II, seemed a long way off for the city's residents in 1944. So when, 18 months later, prime minister Ben Chifley told the nation the most bloody conflict in human history was over and Japan had surrendered, the town went "mad with joy", according to reports in The Bendigo Advertiser from the time. "Young and old careered through the city streets like spirits, cheering and giving full vent to their joy," the paper reported. That giddy day was the first break from grinding hardship that had claimed nearly 40,000 Australian lives. Just like during today's pandemic, travel restrictions had been imposed during the war, though they stretched far longer and also came with blackouts, rationing, and the very real threat of invasion. People faced challenges they had never been asked to meet, including housewives who took up work to help the war effort. Many women previously employed at local shops and offices were recruited for a major ordnance factory in what is now north Bendigo. They became highly-skilled munitions workers. Local industries were swept up in the war effort and supplied everything from uniforms to food. People worked longer hours than ever before and had to juggle new volunteer rolls needed to raise money for the war effort, keep the town running and host visiting troops. A pall of anxiety had hung over Bendigo until the day the war ended. Many people expected the war to continue well into 1946 and for fighting to become especially bloody if Allied forces invaded Japan's mainland. Then, America dropped two nuclear bombs on Japanese cities and within a fortnight everything changed. Hopes for victory was building in Bendigo the weekend before peace broke out, but there were still no guarantees that it would happen. A shell-shocked Japan was reeling from nuclear bombs that had killed at least 129,000 people. It was also mulling five non-negotiable demands from Allied powers that would effectively hand control of the country's government and armed forces to its enemies in a humiliating defeat. No-one could be certain that Japan would accept the terms, or whether hardliners in the government and military would accept surrender. Japan appeared unlikely to make a decision quickly, even as major Allied forces continued offensives on multiple fronts. Bendigo's council was forging ahead with plans for VP Day anyway, The Advertiser reported. The world was holding its breath. At 9pm Australian time on Tuesday, Japan delivered its reply to Switzerland's foreign office in Washington. Its contents remained secret but speculation was reaching fever pitch. A Tokyo radio station reported that a weeping crowd had gathered outside the Emperor's imperial palace. "When the news first reached the city citizens rushed from their wireless sets to shake hands and hug their neighbours," The Advertiser reported. Bosses closed their businesses and children were "loosed from school" to march into the city centre, yelling to any one and everyone that "it's over, be in it". Huge throngs blocked traffic, dancing, singing. A photographer captured the moment a police officer was "mobbed" by women celebrating in the Bendigo suburb of Eaglehawk. Things were no different in the city centre. "Throughout the day throngs in the streets went through their antics with a freedom that had not been seen in years. They cheered, danced, jitterbugged, and marched until their energy gave out, but still remained happy," the paper reported. Luckily, no-one was injured during the celebrations, even as merrymakers took "grave risks" by climbing on top of moving cars and buses to cheer. Police struggled to curb revellers' enthusiasm and to make sure everyone was following road rules. Dance halls were packed well into the evening. Photo gallery: Many businesses festooned shopfronts with photos of employees and family members who had been deployed, or honoured their service in newspaper advertisements. But even at the height of the celebrations The Advertiser's reporters noted a subdued tone in the way many people reacted. Some of those who had lost loved ones were seen crying in the streets and thousands turned up to memorial services across the region. Others were turning their attention to the long task of rebuilding a nation shattered by six long years of war. Bendigo mayor L W Galvin told crowds who gathered for memorial services that it was one thing to revel in victory, another to boast. "With victory it will now be our job to put them back into normal life and set out nation in its rightful place ... when that task is completed, then perhaps we can boast," he said. The Bendigo Advertiser would like to thank staff at the Goldfields Library Corporation for their help sourcing historical documents for this story, and in particular Leanne Wagner.