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Background

... the lead up to VE Day

In 1933, Germany gained a new leader, Adolf Hitler, who was leader of the new Nazi Party. At this time the German economy was beginning to recover following the First World War. Unemployment was reducing. More jobs and an improving economy made Hitler’s Nazi Party very popular across the country.

After the First World War, the Treaty of Versailles stated that Rhineland, a strip of land between Germany and France, should remain demilitarised. However, in March 1936, Hitler sent Germany troops marching into the area.  Germany went on to gain control of Austria and Sudetenland in 1938, Czechoslovakia in March 1939 and then Poland in September 1939.

 

In September 1939, Germany, under the command of Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland. A move by Hitler to conquer more land and gain more power for himself and his country.

In response to this and Germany’s refusal to back down on the invasion, Britain and France declared war on Germany and the Second World War began. Italy joined Germany and the war became a battle between the Axis and the Allied forces as other countries were drawn into the war. Germany, Italy and Japan made up the Axis countries and Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and United States of America were some of the countries making up the Allied forces.

In 1944 D-Day (6 June), saw the beginning of the Allied advancement into France, with Britain, the US and Canada all sending troops to Normandy in Northern France. This was followed by the Battle of the Bulge, after the Allied troops had moved through France and started to advance on to Germany.  The Germans made a last attempt to defend themselves and their land, but were defeated in December 1944, allowing the Allied troops to move into Germany.

At the beginning of 1945 it was clear that Germany would not win and with the Soviet Union attacking from the east and surrounding Berlin (Germany’s capital city) on 25 April, they stood little chance. Hitler killed himself on 30 April and Germany surrendered a week later – May 7.

The following day was declared a public holiday – VE Day and was designated for celebrations across Europe.

The Chatham Division

Find out more about the role the Naval Chatham Division played in both world wars:

London celebrates

On 4 May Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery took the unconditional surrender of the German Troops on the Western Front. By the 7 May 1945 a full German Surrender was signed in the French city of Reims.

Back in Britain newspapers prepared to distribute the good news in early editions and a public holiday was declared for the following day, Tuesday 8 May. News of the surrender spread around Britain during the afternoon and immediately bunting and flags appeared in the streets.

At 7.40 pm the BBC announced the news of the German surrender and that there was to be a VE Day public holiday the next day. It wasn’t long before the news had spread worldwide. Many London families started their celebrations early on the night of the 7th, lighting bonfires and gathering in the streets to celebrate into the night.

On the afternoon of VE Day, the royal family appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in front of thousands of Londoners. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth with their daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret were joined by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to wave and celebrate with the thousands of people who had gathered.  They appeared seven times that day, always to warm applause and shouts for the King.
The ringing of church bells was not permitted during the war, unless signifying an air raid. With the announcement that the war had ended, the church bells rang out, across the capital and the rest of the country. They had not been heard for almost 6 years! Church bells are often rung at times of celebration across Britain and are also related to peace times.

At St. Paul’s Cathedral that day, there were 10 consecutive services, with thousands of people attending to worship and celebrate the arrival of peace.

Large groups of people gathered at London’s landmarks.  Trafalgar Square was packed with people wanting to celebrate.

 

This photograph was taken of two women, Cynthia Covello and Joyce Digney who were life-long friends who had travelled to London for the day. Here you can see them celebrating with two men from the Navy in the fountain in Trafalgar Square. Find out more.

The crowds filled Piccadilly Circus, with some of the revellers climbing the Shaftesbury Memorial fountain to sit with the statue of Anteros.  It was estimated that there were around 50,000 gathered there by the end of the night.

 

In Whitehall, many were making their way towards Trafalgar Square, past the Ministry of Health, where Churchill had earlier addressed the crowds. Find out more.

 

Celebrators climbed on board this truck to drive down The Strand in central London.

 

Crowds also gathered by the River Thames at the Houses of Parliament.

 

 

Across the capital, there were street parties with people taking their tables and chairs and lining the streets for the celebrations. Everyone brought food, drinks, made party hats and decorated tables and the streets with bunting, or anything else they could find.

 

Families played games and brought gramophones and instruments out to the streets to provide music for singing and dancing. In this amateur film from Bromley Archives, local filmmaker Cyril Rickert captured the street parties held for VE and VJ Day on Ridsdale Road. The VE Day celebration includes a tug of war; tea, sandwiches, and cakes at a long table in the street; and performances by children on an outdoor stage.

 

Dancing in Berkley Square, both soldiers and civilians joined in.

Celebrations across the country

Across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland families celebrated the end of the war in Europe. Newspapers across the UK captured the celebrations.

Liverpool

This image shows the celebrations in Liverpool, from The Liverpool Echo. Here we see residents of Moorland Road celebrating VE Day. Scenes like this were repeated across the city.

Manchester

Workers celebrate Victory in Europe Day in Manchester at the end of WW2.

VE Day dancing in Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester. Images from the Manchester Evening News

VE day celebrations were held in Piccadilly and Manchester city centre. Image from ‘Manchester Library and Information Service: Manchester Archives and Local Studies’.

Birmingham

The Birmingham Mail announce the news on 7 May 1945.

In Birmingham, people gathered in the streets to celebrate with dancing.

Bonfires were lit across the City.

There was a Victory Parade arranged for the following week on 15 May 1945 to take place across the city centre. The streets were full of flags and bunting.

Glasgow, Scotland

In Glasgow people started to gather early in the morning and stayed in George Square, where a parade passed through during the day.  The celebrations went on, not only until late into the night, but with two days public holiday and the factories being closed, the celebrations continued over 3 days.  Parties were held all over the city centre, with dancing, flags and bunting and spotlights lighting the night sky.

 

(Image: Daily Record, featured on Glasgow Live

Belfast, Northern Ireland

 

“Belfast is letting itself go, that’s plain fact… below me the population of this city, laughing cheering and dancing is surging past in great waves of colour and sound in brilliant sunshine.”

These were the words of BBC radio commentator Harry McMullan as he broadcast from a second-floor window on Royal Avenue, Belfast on 8 May 1945 – Victory in Europe (VE) Day. Read full article.

Cardiff, Wales

In Wales there were celebrations, not too dissimilar to those happening in London.

Images taken from Wales Online

Street parties were held across the city and throughout Wales. Some parties included fancy dress for the children.

A victory parade marched past City Hall, Cardiff.

In Newport, Wales, people lined the streets to wave flags, cheer, applaud and thank all those who had contributed to the war effort.

https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-ve-celebrations-at-newport-may-1945-1945-online

Medway Memories

Moira Offord (previously Moira Bigg)

Born in 1932 – 13 ½ years old on VE Day

Moira’s father was a petty officer in the Navy on HMS Belfast and was stationed at Chatham when war broke out. Her mother was an ambulance driver and operated around the Chatham Dockyard area. Not many women drove at that time, but Moira’s grandfather had taught all his daughters to drive when they were teenagers. Aunty Peg lived with them and looked after Moira and her siblings and cousins and Moira’s mother gave her half of her wages, so both women felt they were doing ‘their bit’ during the war.

Moira remembers going to school on just one day a week and being given enough homework to see her through for the week. “I did it all the next day, so that I could have the week off.

Later on she only had to attend for ½ day and remembers the teachers being older. She assumes that the younger teachers had gone off to war and retired teachers were taking on the role in school. She tells of how the children enjoyed watching the planes dogfighting in the air above where she lived.

When the war started, Moira’s parents were buying a house in Penenden Heath, Maidstone and Moira’s father was required to sign the mortgage papers for the builder. However, with the announcement of war, he was unable to leave the barracks in Chatham. The builder drove her mother down to the barracks gate and they explained the situation to the guardsman, who then fetched her father who was passed the mortgage through the gate to sign, enabling them to still purchase their house.

Her mother told her horrendous stories about having to pick up dead bodies as part of her job and she had many near misses herself. On one occasion Moira’s mother was taking a break outside with her friend, who was sitting just two seats away, when shrapnel came through the corrugated roof and killed her friend outright. She also tells of how her uncle, who had taken part in WW1 and was not called up to serve again, was a representative for Brooke Bond Tea and had been driving along Pilgrim’s Way, when his van was machine gunned. Luckily, he was unharmed.

At the end of the war, Moira assumes it was her mother who told her war had ended. Their house had the biggest garden in the road, so that is where the party was. All the children from the road came and she thinks, some from the next road too. She remembers the children going ‘mad’. Her uncle had a big box of apples, which he needed to keep high up on his shoulders because the children were jumping up at him, shouting and cheering and trying to grab the apples out of it.

Shortly after war had ended, Moira went to the ‘pictures’ (cinema) with her mother and one of her work friends who was younger (Bessy) and she remembers the newsreel showing devastating scenes from the Belgen-Belsen in Northern Germany. Bessy burst into tears, as her brother was in a prisoner of war camp and wasn’t home yet.

Moira, to this day, cannot watch any footage related to the camps, or Nazi soldier.


 

Sid Johnson

Born 1926 – 19 when the war ended

Sid was 19 when the war ended and was working at the dockyard as an apprentice.  He was helping to complete the conversion of a warship (a corvette) into an Atlantic weather ship, which the Americans were sponsoring to help give better weather information, for the ships crossing the Atlantic.  His father also worked at the dockyard and was an expert on diesel engines.  His mother stayed at home to raise Sid and his 3 siblings but, she had previously left school at 12 to work at the Peek Frean factory, soldering the tins for the biscuits.  They lived in Victoria Street in Sheerness.

Both his brother in law and brother Len, had served in the Airforce.  Len had been 18 at the beginning of the war and went to Prince Edward Island in Canada to undertake his 6 month training to become a pilot. Unfortunately, an ambition that did not happen after his medical examination, proved him to be colour blind. He joined, instead, as a navigator and was killed in the North African Campaign, after running into Germans who were retreating in the mountains near Libya and who shot his plane down.

Sid thinks he heard about the end of the war from the radio. He says that rationing meant that there wasn’t a lot to eat but shopkeepers were good and provided things for the party. There was beer to drink, music all day and all night and dancing.

Musical instruments came out that hadn’t been seen for years. There was an upright piano and I’m sure my mum was involved.

Sid’s mother played the piano. He recalls that the music wasn’t always in tune, but that it didn’t seem to matter.  People were noisy.  They weren’t used to being able to be noisy and everyone was happy.

“The party went on for hours.  In fact it seemed to go on for days!

There were a few injured service men at the party, who had already been sent home, but mostly there were women, some from the WAF (Women in the Airforce) and Land army girls.  There were not many children as Sid thinks they were yet to return from having been evacuated.


 

Dorothy Patrick

Born 1939 – Age 5/6 on VE day.

Dorothy moved to Chatham shortly after she married, but previously lived in East Dulwich.  Her father worked for Hotpoint and later went into the homeguard, so was lucky to stay at home during the war.  Her mother was at home too looking after Dorothy and her 4 siblings.

She remembers as a child her father going to the bottom of the garden when the planes flew over to see whether they were ‘one of ours’.  She also remembers their air raid shelter that had bunk beds in it and that one morning when they were returned to the house from the shelter, all the crockery on the dresser was smashed.  Her mother was quite upset about it.

Adults and children gather to be photographed, before the celebrations in East Dulwich.

Although she has little recollection of VE day, she has a photograph to help remind her.  It shows the party in the street, with lots of people around the table and a piano, which she thinks her father played.

Tables and chairs were brought out onto the street for Dorothy and the other children to sit at.

 


 

Roger John Bell

Born 28th January 1937 in Sidcup – aged 8 years and 3 months on VE Day.

Roger’s mum and dad came to Kent from the East End of London. She was a Court Dressmaker and he was a qualified upholsterer. During the war years, his mum did not work, and his dad became a bus conductor. After the war she did dress alterations at a local dress shop and he became a bus driver, first driving the trolleybuses and then petrol buses.  The family were split apart during the war, with Roger’s dad staying in Welling Kent and Roger and his mother being evacuated to Letchworth, then Bristol and finally Ilford. Roger says,

“When I look back, I vaguely remember travelling with mum on the train and have a fleeting memory of the London Docks being on fire.

Later when we settled in Barnehurst in a semi, whose previous owners had been killed by a bomb landing on the Anderson shelter in the garden. Normal life was a kaleidoscope of collecting shrapnel, fighters in the sky, doodlebug raids especially the two that fell on the nearby Bexleyheath bus depot where dad worked. Trolleybuses were lined up in the road with all their windows out! Also, the doodlebug noise, a harsh droning sound that had you instinctively waiting for the noise to stop -it was falling! School life stopped and started. Then it ended with VE Day and life changed!”

Roger thinks he must have heard about the end of the war from the radio which was ‘central to family life.’  He describes a feeling of

europhoria and joy for the adults; and also from the youngsters but with some puzzlement as they had known nothing else.  That includes me!”

Regarding the celebrations, Roger recalls,

“There must have been something in Barnehurst . We lived in a close but mostly old people! I can’t remember. I remember in a fragmented way the street party in Felixstowe Road Edmonton. It was held at the other end of road from my grandmothers. The road was closed off. There was a line of trestle tables in the road with the kids sitting down whilst the adults stood behind them. Lots of noise, bunting, flags, and general gaiety. Don’t really remember the food but I bet it was sandwiches, jelly etc. My first big party!”

 

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