I was 11 years old. In May, 1945, my Dad made the long train journey from London to the Lake District in northwest England. I can imagine the parental debate; was I old enough to appreciate it, was I old enough to remember it and, was I big enough to be safe in the celebratory crowds. My Dad, an electrical engineer, worked on developing radar all the war years and had stayed in England.
My mother, younger sister and I had spent most of the war living in a stone cottage whose exterior was decorated with pink and white roses. It had running water which regularly froze but no electricity. Heat came from a stove built into the wall which was used for all cooking and heated a tank of water. It was the land of Wordsworth and Beatrice Potter; it was the countryside of red deer, red squirrels, a multitude of sheep and a host of golden daffodils.
I do not remember the train ride back to London but I remember entering an un-remembered but familiar house that had shrunk in size during my absence.
The next day was the VE Day Celebrations. I marveled at the doors on the Underground train which opened and closed automatically. Wondrous indeed after our basic cottage. We met an aunt at Westminster Abbey and we walked through St James Park. It was a fairyland. Fountains had been installed in the lake which was lit with lights that changed colours. I was not the only one dazzled by this sight. The oohs and aahs were universal. The park was full of people celebrating. There was dancing and singing and lots of joy. My words do not capture the overwhelming emotionality of the occasion. London was celebrating the end of a war that had stretched the endurance of everyone.
We did not go to Buckingham Palace as my Dad felt that the crowds there would have too dense for safety. Instead, we went to the Cenotaph on Whitehall. We saw Winston Churchill come out on the balcony and we three joined the multitude cheering our hero. I have wondered since if the Princesses were among the crowd. They did go out and join the celebrations but it could have been at a different time as Churchill came out on that balcony several times that day and evening.
The atmosphere was joy amplified. The crowd was mostly young adults. Everything happened in snatches – part of a song, spontaneous dancing, lots of hugging, lots of kissing, and then more cheering. There were no correctly constrained Brits around that night. I saw no other children. This why I am sharing this with you as I suspect, there are few others who experienced this huge and heartfelt celebration. I was of an age to appreciate and am still alive to remember it.
When we got back to our home in Ruislip, my Dad found his prewar string of multi-coloured Christmas lights and hung them outside a bedroom window. Passersby were thrilled to see them.
It had been so long and everyone was starved for what we now take for granted.
My Dad made another round trip to the Lake District where I remained with my mother and sister until late August. VJ day was celebrated with Lemon Squash and biscuits in a field. There were no sheep in attendance. For some reason, it was an anticlimax.
School started in September and with it, a whole new life. Britain entered an extended decade of shortages, rationing, extreme weather conditions, and unprecedented smog. But that is another story and it included emigrating to Canada.
The photos are off the web. We did not think to take a camera with us that day. It is doubtful that my Dad had any film for it anyway.
Diana Remko says
How very interesting to read, and what an amazing adventure it was for you Ann. – I was only 6 years old.
and the family had just moved from Bristol. We were In between homes, and temporarily staying with relatives in the north of Manchester. My recollection of the day, was a large Street party, bunting zigzagging
from one side of the street to the other, little sandwiches, cake, jelly, ice cream, party hats and balloons.
I can still remember the excitement in the air, as husbands, sons and fathers were all coming home.
In the evening, we had the enjoyment of watching a huge bonfire, and toffee apples on sticks.
Ann Bernard says
Diana, That is a good memory and a very vivid one. With the food shortages, it amazes me that there could be sandwiches, little cakes and ice cream. I do not remember icecream until well after the war years. All the menfolk coming home too. It was all a huge event and a totally welcome one. We remember it all so vividly. thank you for sharing. Ann
Caroline Dufait says
Un grand merci pour votre témoignage.
Ann Bernard says
Thank you for replying Caroline. I appreciate your letter. Ann
Margaret Wilson says
I was born 11 years later, but your recollections of the times painted a very real picture so I could imagine being there- thank you.
Ann Bernard says
Hello Margaret, Glad that it gave you a picture of what it was like on that amazing day. The War years had been endless and the contrast of celebrating was profound. It had all been such a difficult time. Thank you for writing. Ann
Jessica Grimm says
What a lovely story Ann! Thank you for sharing.
Ann Bernard says
Jessica, Always glad to know that you read my blogs and that you reply. It really is appreciated.
Thank you, Ann