On 8 May this year, it will be 75 years since VE Day, marking the end of the Second World War in Europe.
Teddington and its inhabit- ants played a huge part in the Second World War. It has been calculated that more than 800 Teddington residents were on active service during the war. It is not clear exactly how many lost their lives, but it is estimated to have been around 150. The town itself was badly bombed, and there are known to have been at least 90 civilian casualties, many of them on the terrible night of 29 November 1940 when The Willoughby Arms in Church Road was completely destroyed and the air raid shelter in the NPL grounds suffered a direct hit.
The NPL played a significant role in the war – this was where Barnes-Wallis tested his famous bouncing bombs, and where Watson Watt developed radar. Teddington also made a major contribution to the evacuation of the Allied forces from Dunkirk in what became known as ‘the miracle of Dunkirk’. Douglas Tough of Tough’s Boatyard in Teddington was charged with com- mandeering over 100 of the famous ‘little ships’. It is estimated that over 5000 soldiers were saved by these vessels which first assembled on the Thames at Teddington and were then crewed by volunteers down to Sheerness.
Bushy Park, of course, was also the HQ of the US Air Force from 1942, and then became the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), from where General Eisenhower planned the D-Day landings. Teddington residents got used to seeing American GIs around, and the younger people in the town enjoyed going to dances with them!
To commemorate this important date, a three-day international celebration had been organised for the weekend of 8 – 10 May: VE Day 75. It was designed as an opportunity for us all to remember the enormous sacrifices that were made at home and abroad during the six years of conflict, and to celebrate – as people did 75 years ago – the arrival of peace in Europe.
Sadly, in the current circumstances the celebration as planned can no longer go ahead.
All the VE Day 75 celebrations have been cancelled, including Teddington’s own special service of commemoration and celebration which was to have been held in St Mary with St Alban’s Church on Sunday 10 May.
However, Teddington has much to remember, and much to celebrate. We plan to move this important service to a date later in the year. If the situation allows, it may be moved to August to coincide with VJ Day. Alternatively, we will have a special commemoration in November to pay tribute to the men, women and children of this town who contributed so much in the Second World War.
Catherine Randall is a member of St Mary with St Alban Church, and a local author. Her first children’s novel, The White Phoenix, will be published in August.