VE DAY (Victory in Europe Day): SHARING MEMORIES FROM AROUND THE BENEFICE OF THAT MOMENTOUS DAY ON 8 MAY 1945
The Royal British Legion has sent out a plan for celebrating VE Day:
- 11.00 hrs: 2 minutes' silence in front gardens or on the pavement
- 15.00 hrs: Churchill's speech on the BBC, followed by a picnic in front gardens
- 16.00 hrs: Tea in front gardens
- 18.00 hrs: Raise a glass with neighbours
- 21.00 hrs: Singalong with the Royal British Legion after the Queen's Speech.
Go to the Royal British Legion website for VE Day live-stream from 11.15 hrs on Friday 8 May 2020.
Perhaps we could follow the 11.00 am silence and the 6.00 pm raise a glass either in our front gardens or on the pavement, following social distancing guidelines? And anything else you can organise with your near neighbours, of course.
It would be good if we could also do some decorating. If you have bunting or balloons, ribbons and bows, please decorate your front gardens because it would cheer everyone up. It gives restless children (and adults) something to do and it is a sign that we are all 'keeping calm and carrying on' as our parents and grandparents did before us and for us.
I'm going to use the box of glittery ribbon and shiny bows that I've collected over the years and tie them on to my trees in the front. It will not be tasteful but it will be noticeable....
I attach ... a short piece by John, together with his account of the VE Day Street Party.
All I can offer again is a factual account of the street party that I attended with my brother which our mothers and grandmothers put on to celebrate VE Day.
I wrote this as all the celebrations on the media simply show crowds of people but never anything about the individual street parties that went on.
Both Sheila and myself were very lucky to survive the London Blitz and the V weapons which followed, although many of my school friends and Sheila's father did not. He was killed in 1940.
We were both evacuated twice. Myself, by sea in 1939 and billeted with a fisherman and his family . We could see the convoys being shot up and bombed.
We went back home just in time for the London Blitz. We were evacuated for the second time shortly after the V2s started, this time to an uncle’s in Hampshire. We came home in time for the Street Party. Readjustment after the war was just as difficult for children like ourselves for which the war became a way of life. A car back firing, or similar, an aircraft in the sky. It was a children's war as much as adults.
The Street Party, May 1945
The War in Europe was over. It was difficult to believe. No more killing. No more sleeping in an air raid shelter in the back garden or under the stairs sheltering from an air raid. The street lights were on. No more stumbling home in the pitch black blackout. No more covering the windows at night. There was still some fighting to be done in the Far East but that was only a matter of time. It was time to celebrate. A party for everyone, a street party.
Some thought that it would be better to wait until fathers, sons, brothers and sisters returned but not everyone would be coming home. How would those feel waiting for someone who would never return? No, it was decided, let us have the party now with a line of tables down the middle of the street. No petrol, no cars. No problem.
Tablecloths? Let us really celebrate and use tablecloths. If any were damaged, replacements could be bought once the austerity was over. Food, drinks and decorations were made right up to just before the great day dawned. Finally, the day arrived and the bustle and organisation began. The tables were set up directly down the middle of the street and surrounded by chairs. Paper decorations, specially made for the occasion were hung. Unseasonable Christmas decorations were dusted down and put up. Flags appeared. Union flags, Royal Navy flags! No one asked from whence they came. They just appeared and flown proudly from the lamp posts and the lone telegraph pole which bisected the street neatly in half which also acted to divide the street into a them-and-us society until the War blew it all away.
There were jellies, previously held back and carefully spooned out to deserving children on birthdays and Christmas. Cakes were provided. Quantities of cakes evolved over the past six years with a strange mix of compromise ingredients. A celebratory iced cake appeared but only the icing was real. There were still rationing and shortages. Precious mugs, cups and saucers were produced together with sugar. Sugar made from sugar beet. A wartime measure destined to continue. Meat paste sandwiches. Bananas and apples and oranges. For the younger children, this was the first time they had met bananas. Parents watched their offspring coming to grips with a banana until they were taught how to unzip. There was cream, carefully syphoned from the top of the milk bottle before the blue tits pecked through the silver topped lid and stole the cream. All this activity was watched by the street children and their friends carefully penned up in their homes. Extra places were made at the table for young friends who had joined them from another street who were celebrating in a different way or on a different day when the hospitality would be expected and returned. There were homemade sweets and toffees made from sugar and condensed milk. Sweet rations had been carefully kept back and pooled so that the children could really enjoy a decent sweet harvest. The delicious smell of cooking had been tantalising the street for the past week.
At last all was now ready. The signal to begin was given on a now redundant gas rattle. The children were released, surging out into the street and with excited pushing and barging, took their places. On each plate was a paper hat, carefully made by the mum who had worked at the big house over the way and a very large bar of milk chocolate. The assembled children looked wide eyed at the spread. Those old enough to remember were reminded of birthdays and Christmases from happier times in the past. For the younger ones, the dream was now reality. Some of them remembered the American soldiers riding on trucks in convoys on their way to D-Day who had thrown them large bars of milky chocolate which they then shared between them. Ice cream appeared, made by an enterprising mum and doled out to the youngest first as there was not enough to go round. The repast, so long in preparation, was soon gone leaving empty plates and full, contented children.
Games followed, organised by fathers who had remained at home as they were in reserved occupations and by others who had been demobilised early from the armed forces, due to war wounds. There were handicapped races so everyone could take part. Egg and spoon races with a small apple instead of a precious egg. Hopscotch, skipping until it began to grow darker. The children were allowed to stay up as it was a special occasion. A very special occasion. A large bonfire was quickly built on nearby waste ground using wood from a house which had received a direct hit in 1941. A piano was dragged out from one of the houses and a pianist began to play. He played the songs which the majority knew and everyone joined in.
A store keeper from the now disbanded Home Guard threw a thunder flash directly into the fire. It exploded with an intense flash of light and deafening bang, startling the people and children surrounding the bonfire, reminding them of recent times. Some looked up into the sky, conditioned by six years of warfare until they realised it was now only a firework. More thunder flashes followed, each with the brilliant flash and deafening bang which shook the windows. Slowly the fire died down, the pianist closed the lid and people started to drift away taking their children with them. Some to bed with thoughts of returning husbands. Others to their beds which would remain empty and to an uncertain future living on a war widow’s pension.
During WW2, my mother and I lived with her mother and father, my grandparents, and her brother, my uncle, in Peckham, South London. My father, a civil servant, was evacuated to Rhyl, North Wales, with the Ministry for which he worked.
Throughout the war, my grandfather worked in a munitions factory in Deptford, South London. It was mainly night work and on the morning of VE Day he left the factory around seven o’clock. Because he appreciated a pint, he hoped to have one on the way home. The factory was about three miles from where we all lived and he usually caught a bus which took him most of the way. My grandfather was late home for breakfast that morning because he walked all the way from the factory in the hope of having a celebratory pint but all of the pubs had run out of beer! He wasn’t very happy, but we all though it a great joke.
That evening we all caught a bus and joined the crowds outside Buckingham Palace. It was quite a crush and sometimes my grandfather put me on his shoulders. I was only just eight at the time, so I would not be swept away with the crowd. We all chanted, “We want the King” and on a number of occasions the Royal family plus the Prime Minister, Winston, appeared on the balcony of the palace which was flood lit.
It was an occasion that I have remembered for the rest of my life; the films of the occasion, shown on television, bring the memories of that day flooding back.
I do remember VE Day very well. I was nine years old and Grandma and Grandpa took me to London. We joined the jubilant crowds outside Buckingham Palace to cheer the Royal Family led by King George VI and Winston Churchill when they appeared on the balcony to receive the thanks of the nation. There were unforgettable scenes of happiness and relief that the conflict and bloodshed was over in Europe.
Here is the only photograph I have to prove I was there, which I stuck at the back of my diary in 1947. You can just see me as the small boy in the white shirt sitting among the daffodils eating sandwiches with my mother stretched out on the ground next to me. Later, I recall being held aloft by my father to obtain a better view as we all chanted, "We want to see the King!" He and the Royal Family obliged by appearing on the balcony several times during the day.
I attach a photo of me taken at a street party in Birmingham on VE Day in 1945. I'm the little chap sitting at the table in the middle of the photo, next to my mother (pointing towards the camera). The other lad beside her (looking sideways) is my older brother Ian. I was nearly two-and-half, but not old enough to have any memory of the event!
Ron has recorded his interesting memories of VE Day on video. You can see it here.
After much bombing and boys not coming to school for a day or two because their father had been killed in the war or landed in a Prison of War camp or in a military hospital or the bombing in the next road ,VE Day, when I was nine, came as a great relief as we listened to King George VI give the very welcome news and we heard Winston Churchill on the wireless.
There was an automatic friendliness that had developed during the War. Now no more running to the shelter, which we shared with neighbours, or very worried about any chink of light.
So everybody gathered for a party in the road, all sorts of people. The luxury of fish paste sandwiches and pretty cakes on decorative paper table coverings with flowers out of our gardens. Of course, the nearest we got to sweets was cough sweets and rationing continued for quite some time. I remembering a year or so later waiting in a queue for a quarter of boiled sweets. I remember having an ice cream on holiday in Torquay just before the War when I was three, the next time was well after I was ten and then we saw a banana!
In 1945 my Mum, Win McHenry, was a teleprinter operator at the Gravesend Post Office. She was 18. Her memory of VE Day is that nothing happened! Mum and her colleagues worked all day, as usual, sending and receiving telegrams. I attach a photo of WW2 teleprinter operators.
At the end of the working day Mum went home for supper as usual.
I have discovered that there were celebrations in Gravesend – bonfires and torchlit processions. But Mum knew nothing about them!
On the other hand, my father, Ted McHenry, celebrated in style. He was 19 and in a reserved occupation, working at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. He told me that he went into central London, met a group of Canadian soldiers, and could not remember much of what happened thereafter!
I was 4 1/2 at the time and living in The Borough where my parents owned the Fish Shop, which is still trading today. The Street Party took place in the Staplegate Yard, which was (maybe is) somewhere behind Homespire House in Knotts Lane. I remember it was a very warm day and there was lots of food; especially cakes and trifle!
The memory which is still very clear in my mind was that Dr Hewlett Johnson, the 'Red Dean' of Canterbury was present and readily took part in all the proceedings, including the games. He also presented the prizes. His very imposing figure, clad, as always, in full decanal dress (frock coat, gaiters and apron) is a sight I will always remember. There was a photograph of the occasion, but alas I cannot find it at the moment!
Michele writes: Here are my dad's memories of VE Day - Bob Chapman. He lived in Red Lion Lane, Shooters Hill, London. He was 10 1/2. He wrote all of his childhood war memories up for his family before he died in 2014.
The nation's elation and joy knew no bounds. We had bonfires in the roads and on the bombsites and street parties were organised. Our party was held at Red Lion Place, situated at the back of the houses where Barrie Bull (one of our group) lived and in front of the Red Lion Public House. All the children from the locality were there and it was amazing despite continuing food rationing, just how much food had been accumulated and made available for the occasion by the parents and local residents. Flags and bunting were hung across the streets from lamppost to lamppost and from house to house, a scene replicated all over the country in celebration of VE Day.
When I was just under 4 years, one of the last bombing raids took place over England. We lived near Manchester and I was woken in the small hours by an almighty noise. I felt rather scared but (having strict parents) did not dare to waken them. At breakfast the following morning, I mentioned it to my mother (including my fear). "Oh" she said quite calmly, "There was a stampede of elephants across the sky over Manchester last night and they made an awful noise". She then added, "They won't be allowed back again." And they were not because the war ended. This particular child was quite satisfied with the explanation.
A REFLECTION FROM JOHN ALBIN
“We want the King. We want the King”. A wave of joy is flooding towards the Palace gates. An intoxicating emotion of liberation and deliverance fills the air. Almost six years of waiting, not knowing. Fear, once bottled up, now uncorked, explodes into joyful song. King George, his family and Prime Minister Winston Churchill emerge onto the balcony. The decibel levels rise. War is finally over.
It was a day of release and celebration, but also tinged with feelings of separation and loss. Families and friends were reunited, dancing together, being together.
75 years on. The old film reel speaks movingly into our own lives. We and our loved ones are not separated by time. In the midst of present day troubles, we recall the joys of times past.
We remember with eternal gratitude all those who served their country in World War 2. Recalling their heroic sacrifice, we pray for and thank all our key workers in today’s battle against Coronavirus.
May faith and the rainbow of hope sustain and carry us towards more sunlit uplands. 8 May 1945: let it be a foretaste of the freedom and joy which are yet to come. We will see our families and friends again. We will meet again….
God bless us all.