The steam wireless (no transistors then) had been
playing every happy song ever written. We
had heard Churchill tell us, “This is your Day! This is what all the
suffering, hardship and heartache has been for. You are free, you are safe, you
are at peace. The Far East will now be taken care of.”
And so it was, within three months.
With all this in our minds my friend, home on leave, and
myself waiting to 'go in', made our way at 7.30 pm to Albert Square. As the No.
80 bus wound its way past flag and bunting-draped tables down every street,
filled with kids, some of whom must have been born into a 'bombs coming down and
anti-aircraft shells going up' world, and who were now scoffing what remained of
the afternoon street parties.
Soon all the mums, and dads who were not still on active
service, would take over the tables. Wembley Ale and Guinness would take over
from Lemonade and Orangeade. No Pepsi or Coca Cola then.
The bus got no further than All Saints because of the
volume of people on the roads, arm in arm from left to right. Wembley Way? -
Manchester's Oxford Road, Oxford Street and St. Peter's Square left it
standing! When a Manchester team has won the FA Cup and the team is
on the balcony there is a terrific crowd in the Square. By comparison to V.E. Day
the Square was only half full. The bells were ringing the full range, and every
song of the era was being sung - and still being sung 60 years on.
My pal and I made it a night to recount over and over
again. Our kid, (brother Bob) a Desert Rat and service in Italy, would soon be
home, and I had not seen him for nearly four years. Its half-past two on the 9th
May, 1945, better go home to bed.
Bob Garratt was still in
Italy and things there were not so pleasant:
Our unit had, four days previously to the war
ending in Europe, been held up on the South Bank of the river Po, because all
bridges had been destroyed by enemy action. Our R.E. Squadron was working flat
out to get a pontoon bridge across the river, which was in full flood, due to
heavy rains and snow melting on the nearby mountains. Once we got across the
river we pushed on after the Jerries and reached Mestre, a town near Venice,
where we stayed for the night.
After the evening meal, permission was given for most of
the Unit to visit Venice. Word came through over the radio that Peace had been
declared, as most of us had left the camp area. The heavens around us were
filled with rockets and star shells from ships already in the Docks at Venice.
Less than 15 minutes had passed from leaving camp when an soldier on a motorbike
caught up with us and said that three N.C.O.s had been killed back at the camp.
It turned out that a shell fired by one of the ships in
the harbour had exploded on a high-tension electricity cable, bringing it down,
falling across some of the Unit vehicles. The lads who had stayed behind were
killed instantly. When we reached the camp area, which was by then lit up by
searchlights, efforts were being made to drag the cables off the trucks so that
the Medical Officer could give some sort of treatment to the lads that the cables had
I was detailed to go back to Company H.Q. to inform them
what had happened, and also to inform the brother of one of the lads who had died.
V.E. Night might have been a happy occasion for some, but
for our lads it was the worst night we had experienced during the last three and
a half years. I must also add that one of the lads who died that night had
transferred from an Infantry unit to the C.M.P. in Algiers. He had taken part in
most battles from El Alamein to Medene and had suffered hardly a scratch, only to die
when the war had been finished in Europe only a few hours.
Next we hear from one of our Royal Navy members, Frank
Woods, who was 'down under' on that day:
When Victory was announced in Europe I was serving in a
cruiser, HMS Bermuda. We were spending a few days leave in Sydney. Being Watch
Ashore, my oppo and I were staying at the British Services Centre where, for a
shilling you could get a bed or a palliasse for the
night. We were going back aboard and were confronted by a host of girls who were
linked arm in arm across the street. Fortunately for us there were two sailors a
few yards in front of us and they were asked to join the chain. The sailors
argued that they were returning to their ship. The next minute they were
surrounded by screaming girls and two pairs of trousers were seen flying through
the air. They had been debagged.
Discretion being the better part of valour we both joined
in with the festivities. Fortunately we were able to escape later and return to
our ship without getting stoppage of leave for being late. I never found out who
those sailors were, but they have my thanks for sparing my blushes.
Dennis Spencer was
in Germany at the time and has this to
Looking back through the Archives, at extracts from
a diary kept by platoon colleagues I find that on the 8th May, when the enemy
finally surrendered, I was stationed in an empty aircraft factory in the small
town of Sirksrade, to the east of Hanover, after crossing the Elbe on the 2nd
My unit, 80 Company, RASC was concerned with the supply
and transport of 5 British Infantry Division, and for a few days previously had
been transporting British ex P.O.W's to Calais, and also captured enemy troops
to P.O.W. cages further back.
We celebrated the occasion with bully beef and biscuits
and a rum issue of one teaspoonful per man (which was the first we had received
since the previous winter in Italy). I remember that we had to convoy many miles
to the last Base Supply Depot to replace the depleted stocks of food, petrol and
ammo needed to keep the Division moving.
Subsequently, on June 8th we moved to a village east of
Magdeburg, but had to evacuate this and move back to Brunswick as the Russians
moved in to take over. I was stationed near Brunswick, a small village involving
coal depot until March 1946, when the longed for day of demob arrived.
Leave was uppermost in the mind of Harry Blood on
On V.E.Day I didn't get quite as much chance to
celebrate as many other people. A few days before, my unit had moved from Italy
and across France from Marseilles by rail in cattle trucks, and were setting up
a Depot in Brussels. We were told that we would get home leave, and one man
would go every three days. I had to toss for second place - and I won!
On V.E. Day itself I was given my Movement Instructions
for 9 days home leave, my first since early 1941. But on that day my Unit had to
move across Brussels, therefore I spent part of the day helping with the move
and then handing in some of my kit before Unit transport took me at 8.00 pm to
Schaerbeek Station for an overnight train to Calais.
The ship, which sailed at 12.15 pm was very crowded, much
singing, some Belgian beer, and everyone was happy. On arrival at Dover we had
been given forms to fill in for sending a telegram home. But there was a
terrific queue, and someone cried "this train is for Stockport and
Manchester, and its going now". So I fought my way on to it, got a seat and
took the telegram home with me.
I arrived at Stockport in the late afternoon on 9th May
only to find that there was no transport of any kind from the station to take me
to Cheadle Hulme. I can only assume that everyone including taxi drivers were
still celebrating, or suffering the after effects of the day before. I set off
to walk, a distance of about six miles, and as I reached Lowfield Road I met two
ladies who felt sorry for me, and gave me kind words and a cup of tea to help me
on my way.
The last time I had been home was 10th April 1941, so my
mother was rather surprised to see me, and yelled "Its Harry", which
caused my Dad to get out of the bath rather faster than usual. I suppose getting
home for the first time in over four years did make V.E. Day and V.E. Day plus 1
something for me to celebrate after all.
One of our members, still on duty at the time, is Len
Willcock who was serving on the fleet oiler, HMS Olna.
I left England again at the end of April 1945,
after having previously served on a Hunt Class destroyer in the Mediterranean
Fleet during the Desert and Italian campaigns in support of the Eighth Army and
Allied Forces in Italy. This was my second ship, HMS Olna, a Fleet Oiler bound
for the Pacific. Therefore I was at sea when the news came through about Victory
in Europe on May 8th, eleven days after sailing. Not much chance to celebrate
then, although I seem to remember we spliced the main brace with a double issue
of rum. Celebrations came later at our first port of call in the Pacific, being
After operations with the British Pacific Fleet and
Allied ships right up to the Japanese surrender, we returned to the U.K. I was
finally demobbed on 23rd April 1946.
Jack Stace was another one who was not able to celebrate
the day in the way he would have wished, but for a different reason:
In the Italian winter of 1944-45 I was with 573 Field
Company, Devon and Cornwall Royal Engineers. We were part of 10 Corps but were
working with the Polish Corps on the Adriatic side of Italy.
In early 1945 we were ordered to move across to Leghorn
on the West coast of the country. We boarded an L.C.T. (Landing Craft, Tank) and
sailed for Marseilles. On arrival we were met by Army personnel armed with D.D.T.
Insecticide Guns, which were pushed into the back and front of our trousers and
shirts. We were covered in D.D.T. and were told to push off on our transport.
The reason given was that there had been a Typhus epidemic in Italy, although we
had been given three injections previously.
We travelled on through France, Belgium and Holland into
Germany and stopped in some place of which the name now escapes me, but it was
not far from Oldenburg where we moved to later. However, VE Day came along
whilst we were at this unknown place near Oldenburg. There was nothing there,
and by that I mean there was no wine or beer. Consequently, on VE night we had
nothing to celebrate with, we didn't even get an extra cup of tea.
However, sometime later at Oldenburg we completed our
four and a half years overseas, and so by the time VI Day came along I was at
home in my native town of Accrington, and the celebrations their were very good.
But now, you can never recapture the atmosphere of those days, of Victory and of
coming home again.
Wolverhampton Branch spent the Day in hospital:
I was stationed at 70 B.S.D., R.A.S.C. El Kirsh by
the side of the Suez Canal, Ismaile, and was taken ill with Sandfly Fever just a
couple of days before VE Day. I was transferred to a military hospital at El
Ballah, near Port Said.
I was pretty rough at the time, feeling cold and sweating
at the same time. I think it was during the second day that we heard that the
war was over in Europe, and celebrations began to take place. Beer was found
from somewhere and everyone was to have two bottles each, except me. Too ill to
have any, but, during the day something happened which no one could remember
ever happening at any time whilst in Egypt. It was a terrible thunder and
lightning rainstorm in early May.
The ward I was in had a concrete floor, with a concrete
wall about four feet high dug in the sand, and a large marquee type of tent
above. The rain was so heavy that within ten minutes it was soon almost two feet
deep to the level of the beds. Panic stations! But when the storm ended the
water began to go down, almost as fast as it came up, leaving a thickness of
about four to five inches of sand on the floor. All able-bodied personnel were
ordered to clear it away which took about two hours.
A week or so later I returned to camp at El Kirsh and
rejoined my unit. Yet, funnily enough when VJ Day arrived the same thing
happened again. This time an open sports day had been arranged but had to be
cancelled because of the wet conditions. However we had 'Housey, Housey'
sessions in the NAAFI instead that Day, and I did get my two bottles of beer
Mary Blood was in Brussels, and she gives us a vivid account of her VE
In May 1945 I was serving with A.P.D.U. (Air
Publications Distribution Unit) attached to H. Q. 2nd T.A.F. (Tactical Air
Force) in Brussels. During the early days of May there had been much speculation
that the war was about to end. We had been told we could have three days off
when it happened. Finally, at 7 pm on the 7th May, one of the girls dashed into
the bedroom saying there had just been a newsflash, and the war in Europe was
over. At that moment we all seemed to feel very homesick.
Our Barracks were at the top of a hill, and our bedroom
on the top floor - 100 steps up - so we had a magnificent view. That evening the
whole city was lit up by rockets, flares and verey lights. British, American and
Belgium flags appeared all over the place and there were great crowds in the
street, shouting, singing and laughing together with the noise from car horns
and the clanking trams - there were even some people standing and dancing on top
of the trams. It was all a wonderful sight that I shall never forget.
On VE Day I was up early and went to a Service commencing
at 9.30 am at Wesley House where I had many friends. It was a 'Thanksgiving for
Victory' Service, and a very touching ceremony it was too, and it started with
the English, American and Belgian National Anthems. This day we had waited for
over six years, had finally arrived.
Sat next to me was a middle aged lady, and as we got up
to leave she asked if I would care to go for lunch. I said I would be delighted
and met her at 11.20 am. We hurried to catch her husband at his office so that
we could go in his car instead of the tram. To my surprise there was a very
large car with a chauffeur. I was formally introduced to her husband and we set
off, with our host pointing out places of interest including Brussels
After about 15 minutes we turned through large gates and
went up a long well-kept drive. The house was quite large and comfortably
furnished. On the left was the dining room, and on the right was the drawing
room. In the centre was a large room with french windows which opened on to the
terrace with a beautiful view. Mme Tournay took me round the grounds which
included a sunken garden with flowers of all colours. One interesting thing was
an old tombstone which I was told was a 16th century one from one of their
farms. It was walked on now, and was beginning to wear. We went next to the
kitchen garden where there were lovely lilies-of-the valley, and the paths were
so well raked it seemed a pity to walk on them. The rest of the grounds were
woodlands, with a river flowing through the bottom. To wander through there was
indeed a haven of peace.
Our host gave me the latest English papers they had,
including the London Illustrated and the Picture Post; and sitting there one
couldn't help feeling at peace with the world. I was called in for lunch and was
introduced to Madame Tournay's niece, and to Monsieur Tourney's nurse - he was
an invalid although it wasn't obvious. The beauty of the dining room took one's
breath away. As the guest I sat on Madame's right. The polished table, silver
and glassware shone, and the sun pouring through the window added lustre to an
already beautiful scene. Looking through the window one could see quite a long
way through a break in the trees to where the river flowed.
We were waited on by a butler resplendent in dinner
jacket - perfect in every detail, even to the wearing of white gloves. A very
enjoyable meal! After lunch we retired to the drawing room where we sat and
talked for a time. Then Madame went for a rest, and her husband had to go to the
University. Their niece and I talked and then wandered round the garden again. I
left around 3.00 pm, with an armful of tulips and lilies-of-the-valley. They
were all very concerned as to whether I had enjoyed myself, and was 1 sure I
didn't regret coming? - and would I come again. I needn't say what my answers
were. They were exceptionally nice people, speaking very good English, and their
every thought had been for my welfare.
I arrived back at the Barracks at about 4.30 pm. Had a
clean up and then met an airman friend of mine at about 7.00 pm. The trams were
few and far between. As we waited for one, an American in a jeep asked if we
wanted a lift to the centre of town. We climbed aboard and held on - and we
needed to - it was certainly a miracle that we ever stepped out again! He tore
through the streets like a madman. However, we lived and then wandered through
the main streets, or rather we followed the crowds. Everywhere was crowded and
if the crowd turned a corner, you did. It was impossible to go against it. We
nipped into the Malcolm Club for a drink, and from there walked to the Pont Pont
Namur and sat in a cafe there, drinking and talking etc. Got back to Barracks
about 3.00 am; and so ended my VE Day. I'd had a wonderful time.
Fred Hirst was a POW in Munich.
We POWs had to work, and at this particular time I was
attached to a party who were working in the centre of the City on a roof,
salvaging tiles from a bombed-out building. News of the progress of the war
managed to get through to us via the German Guards who were now getting more
friendly each day, from civilians, foreign workers and from newspapers specially
printed for dropping by the Allied bombers during air raids. The RAF version was
called 'The Night Raider' We were marched each day to our place of work, a
matter of about four or five miles each way, and would return to the school to
stay in the building until the next day. At the weekend we were kept in there
from lunch time Saturday until Monday morning.
Air raids were continually hitting the City, and at night
time we would be escorted down into the cellars under the school. During the day
we sheltered in the same air raid shelters in the City as the German civilians.
The very last day that we were taken to work, there was a raid by the Free
French Air Force. We knew it was the French because it was the practice of the
Germans to have a radio in the larger shelters, and Munich Radio used to
broadcast details of the movement of the raiding aircraft, and warn when they
were heading for the City. We heard three bombs drop, each one closer and louder
until the fourth one of the stick dropped, thankfully, at the other side of the
shelter, damaging the building above us. We were so lucky that it was not a
The German Guards decided to take it into their own hands
to call it a day, and marched us back to the school. On the way we saw people
hanging white sheets out of their windows which the guards told us was in
response to instructions by the Allies to indicate that they had surrendered. As
we proceeded along the main road towards the school, suddenly we saw fighter
aircraft diving and machine gunning over that area. There was no air-raid
warning siren, I don't suppose there would be time. We thought that perhaps the
target was the East Station and we hoped that the school had not been hit.
However, when we finally got back all was well. The guards told us that we would
not be going to work again and that we should stay in the building until we were
The next day we heard that all except two of the guards
had gone. The two remaining guards, who were Austrian, said that they would stay
until the Americans came and would we speak up on their behalf. I don't know
what they expected would happen to them.
The next day, 30th April, I went up on to the top floor
of the school. This had always been forbidden and we were always confined to our
own floor. There was a small tower in the roof and from there I could see the
red flashes from the tanks as they advanced in to the City. Small arms fire
could be heard coming from the city centre and 1 felt a feeling of anxious
elation, for liberation would soon be at hand.
Suddenly one of the guards, along with our German
speaking British Camp Leader, came rushing along the corridors of the building
shouting and indicating for us to come away from the windows. Instinctively,
from a distance I looked out, to see a company of the dreaded German SS Troops
marching on to the open space in front of the school. We had always wondered
what might happen as liberation came near, for we had heard that as the German
Army retreated they would possibly take POWs with them as hostages in the hope
of getting the best terms of surrender. Was this going to happen now? The SS
were capable of anything. The guards were also afraid for their lives if they
tried to protect us. Standing well back from the windows we watched them as they
marched from the road into the compound in front of the school. They looked
tired as if they had marched hard for a good distance, and they sank to the
ground to rest. I saw some of them drinking from their water bottles and eating
some food. All the time we were being advised by our Camp Leader to keep as
quiet as possible, for if they had suspected that the building was occupied by
us they would most certainly have come in if only for our Red Cross food.
After what seemed hours but could only have been about 30
minutes we saw them get up and prepare to leave. Several of them glanced up at
the building but their suspicions were not aroused, and I expect that they were
in a hurry to get moving before the advancing tanks caught up with them. They
departed along the road towards Ingolstadt and we all heaved a sigh of relief as
they disappeared out of sight. It had been a very anxious time.
That evening at about 7.30 pm the Camp Leader, who had
been out to do a reconnaissance, returned to say that he had established contact
with the American forces who's tanks were only now quarter of a mile down the
road. He had told them about the school and they advised him that we should stay
where we were until they arrived in the morning. Freedom was hopefully only a
few hours away, so near and yet so far.
Little sleep was possible, but I must have dozed off,
because I was suddenly awakened by shouting and noise in the room. I sat up, and
then realised that what I could hear was, "The Yanks are here".
Everyone was rushing about, trying to get down the stairs as quickly as possible
to greet our liberators. Most of us had not changed out of our daytime clothes
over the past three days because of the uncertainty of the situation. It was
about 5.30 am, and gentle flakes of fine snow were fluttering down, it was
bitter cold and it was the 1st May 1945. There they were, spread out along the
road, these wonderful looking American tanks of the US Seventh Army with their
beaming occupants waving back to us, obviously delighted to have helped. Some of
them jumped down from their tanks and began chatting to us.
They told us that they had also liberated the Dachau concentration camp a
few miles NW of Munich, and that it had sickened them. We were handed a few
bottles of Cognac and were told that we would soon receive sufficient American
'K' Rations to supply all our needs. It was great to be talking to people who
were on our side at last. Some of the Yanks pulled up wooden railings in front
of the houses near by, poured on petrol and soon had a blazing warm fire going
on the footpath. All these things I vividly remember, for this day, the 1st of
May, was my VE Day. Three days later, the 4th, it was my 22nd birthday.