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Remembering VE Day 1945

Page history last edited by Ian Gillis 6 months, 3 weeks ago Saved with comment


Written in May 2020 by Don Halstead for the 75th Anniversary of VE Day

Personal Recollections

As the Editors of this week's Radio Times say, "Most of us won't remember VE Day. Some who do ... were barely in short trousers at the time". That certainly applied to me, then a nine year old schoolboy living in Thorne, a mining and ship-building community near Doncaster. (Tugs for the Admiralty were built on the banks of the canal, launched sideways and sailed towards the Humber and the North Sea.)

My father, Ernest, became the Methodist minister at Thorne at the beginning of September 1944, just three months after D Day. At the same time he also became a visiting chaplain at RAF Lindholme, by then a training and operational base for heavy bombers.

After my dramatic experience on D Day  I spent much time over the following months studying the war reports in the News Chronicle with its maps and photographs, trying to understand what was happening 'over there'. My youngest uncle was in Signals and, judging by the cryptic clues he sometimes slipped past the censors in letters home, he was somewhere around Belgium and the Ardennes, so another cause of interest.

As the pace built up in the early spring of 1945, by late in April there was news of the advancing Allied forces, of the liberation of Belsen, of  Mussolini's death on April 28, followed by that of Hitler on April 30. By late on May 1 the BBC Monitoring Service had heard the news from Berlin and immediately relayed it to the UK. During the following days there must have been an increasing sense of things coming to a head, with surrenders being formalised and leading onto the VE Day celebrations.

To be honest, I cannot claim any precise memories of that day. Over the decades since I have heard and seen so many replays that I no longer know which are my memories and what is overlaid by other sights and sounds. The one thing I can be certain about is, from my father's records of 60 years of preaching, that day in the chapel at Thorne he took as his text Romans 12:15: "Rejoice with those that rejoice; weep with them that weep." A timely reminder not only of triumph but of sacrifice, not dissimilar to the thoughts George VI broadcast that evening. Talking to Christine Sutherby, now the minister in charge of the Thorne Methodist cause, she felt that text quite appropriate to the situation existing today.

VE Day would have been a welcome day off from a rather rough primary school where I found it difficult to fit in; dogged by my lifelong bronchial problems, so not able to play games, no Yorkshire accent, father a clergyman, and so on. But I am sure we would have heard the 3 pm broadcast by Winston Churchill, the 9 pm broadcast by George VI, and in between the national rejoicing caught on BBC radio by reporters such as Richard Dimbleby, and even Tommy Trinder. Snippets can be heard on BBC Sounds.

In the article that David Dimbleby has contributed to Radio Times, stressing the importance of remembrance as well as celebration, he believes that his father Richard was still in Germany, but in fact he was in London, reporting from Parliament Square as late as 3 a.m. as a lone accordion player ended the celebrations - the beer having long since ceased to flow.

   

In London too had been Howard Marshall, another famous BBC war reporter, broadcasting from The Mall as the crowds called for the Royal Family to appear on the floodlit Palace balcony. In the crowds in The Mall that evening was a young Pam Reynolds, then a Wren; here is a contemporary picture.

By 1960 both Pam and I were working for Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company Limited in Chelmsford. She was  a key member of the Publicity Department, serving under Lt.Cdr. Raymond Raikes, who took the Cockleshell Heroes towards France as captain of HM Submarine Tuna. I worked in what became Marconi Radar Systems in a variety of technical and associated roles.

Both Pam and I stayed with MWT and its successors throughout the remainder of our careers. Long after she retired, Pam continued to edit Marconi Radar Systems News and Views, the bi-monthly newspaper aimed at both staff and customers, for which I wrote articles from time to time.

Early in 1995 I realised that we were on the verge of celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War 2 and that many of our younger staff would have no appreciation of just how much the Marconi organisation contributed to that victory. Encouraged by Pam I created a two-page spread, Marconi at War.

Almost as it was going to press, Pam told me of her vivid VE Day memories and, after protesting "But I wasn't Marconi then!", wrote up what follows - a splendid postscript to my article, I thought, and still do:


VE Day – the nation erupts!


I’m in London, one of the Wren crew of HMS Pembroke III, a stone-bound frigate permanently moored in Hampstead [a London accounting centre and recruit reception unit: DFH]. Six of us hot-foot it that evening to the West End. We are in uniform so we’re fêted – hauled into pubs, plied with drinks, shaken by the hand, thumped on the back.

By the time we reach Baker Street we’re two feet off the ground and feel we’ve won the war single-handed. Have no compunction removing an enormous flag pole and Union Jack from the entrance of Daniel Neal’s store.

We’re joined by a drunken naval bugler. Flag aloft, our bugler ripping the air with discords, we act as a magnet to other naval ratings. In tumultuous Piccadilly Circus more naval types detach themselves from the swarming crowds to tag along with us to Trafalgar Square.

We are now about 100-strong but this is our greatest catchment area. The Navy’s there in force, celebrating under the single benevolent eye of its patron saint high on his column among the pigeons.

The Mall – here it really starts – a solid phalanx of naval personnel marching down The Mall towards the Palace headed by six delirious Wrens, a half-stoned bugler and a huge flag. The crowds part to make way for us and we finally join the thousands outside the gates roaring with one voice “We want the King!” The Royals come out onto the balcony again and again.

The roars continue until, suddenly a silence falls as it sometimes does in a crowded room. Booming over the heads of the throngs comes a lonely beery voice; “I want the Queen – my Gawd, I want the Queen.”

Time passes; slowly the crowds disperse, our vast naval column breaks ranks and the bugler subsides in the gutter. We make our way back, euphoric but very, very weary. It is 2 a.m. In Oxford Street a taxi draws up. A man leans out of the window.

“Where are you for, girls?”

“Hampstead.”

“Jump in, I’ll drop you off.”

It’s Jack Buchanan. Magic, or what?  "

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Pam died peacefully in July 2018, aged 97. Just afterwards I discovered her inimitable video account of VE Day - including the return of the flag and its pole.

 

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