8 May 1945. VE Day. The end of the Second World War in Europe. The war in Asia was to drag on for another three months until the surrender of Japan in August, but by 8 May, Hitler was dead and the fighting in Europe was over.
If there is one image of VE Day that lives in the public imagination, it must be that of huge crowds in front of Buckingham Palace cheering Winston Churchill and the Royal Family as they waved from the balcony. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege of talking to several older Teddingtonians about their memories of VE Day, and it’s true – the majority of them did go up to London on VE Day. Teddington was well represented in those crowds.
Pam Bryant was a teenager at the end of the war. She vividly remembers going up to Waterloo with her great friend Edna and joining the crowds heading to Buckingham Palace. ‘There were such crowds in the Mall that you couldn’t move,’ she says. ‘Everyone was happy. The atmosphere was electric…it was a wonderful experience.’ Pam had seen plenty of the horrors of war in Teddington, where she lived with her family in St Mary’s Avenue. She had witnessed the devastation after the terrible bombing around Church Road on the night of 29 November 1940, and remembers cycling to work in Hampton Hill while air raid sirens went off around her.
Pam also has happier memories of the weekly dances at St Mary’s Church Hall, Hampton which were an excellent opportunity to dance with the American GIs stationed in Bushy Park. Pam remembers Edna and herself dancing with lots of them, although neither ended up marrying one!
June Hill’s neighbour in Clarence Road did marry the American officer who was billeted with them, and she left June some of her clothes when she moved to America. June’s mother altered them to fit, and June was very grateful because clothes were hard to come by. June was 14 at the end of the war, and she too went up to London with her father and brother on VE Day. She remembers seeing the King and Queen on the balcony, everyone cheering and waving. Somewhere else in the crowd was Penny Munkenbeck, who was ten in 1945, and remembers going with her mother from their home in Hanworth to join the celebrating crowds in front of Buckingham Palace.
June – who had been evacuated not just once but twice during the war – also recalls a street party in Clarence Road, and the enormous bonfire in the middle of the road at the junction with Avenue Gardens. Bonfires were still a common way of celebrating national events, as they had been for centuries. Many roads held VE Day street parties, as seen in this photograph of a party in Clonmel Road, Fulwell (courtesy of Val Elmes Hartnell and Chris French). At the time of VE Day, Teddington resident Mary Green was living in Wales, where she was brought up. Living in West Wales, Mary was one of the people who didn’t travel to London, but she remembers VE Day clearly. The community in Kidwelly where she lived celebrated with a carnival, everyone dressing up in fancy dress using whatever odds and ends they could find and parading through the town. Mary remembers dressing up as a kind of Eastern vamp, with baggy trousers! Mary also remembers a poignant moment on VJ Day (Victory in Japan Day) in August when she woke up to hear the local postwoman telling her father, ‘The war is over, sir,’ after which there was a great outburst of weeping from her aunt who had lost her son in the war.
Back in London, Sheila Cooper was nine and living in Wimbledon. Sheila wasn’t taken up to London on VE Day either – possibly because her father was still away with the Royal Artillery, not returning until 1946. Sheila remembers that on VE Day everyone went up to see a travelling fair on Wimbledon Common. A local philanthropist arranged for the children to have books of free tickets so that they could go on all the rides.
(On VJ Day, they roasted a whole ox on the Common!) The other thing Sheila recalls vividly is that the buses could now have their inside lights on. ‘It looked like fairyland,’ she says. ‘You could actually see the people in the buses!’ She had been three at the outbreak of war, so she knew nothing of peacetime. She also remembers how people dug out the flags that they’d had for the coronation of George VI in 1937 because you couldn’t buy them.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to share their memories with me, and I am sorry that there was not room to include them all. However, I hope that these stories will make the 75th anniversary of VE Day that much more significant for those of us living in Teddington today.
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. Crr1@btinternet.com @Crr1Randall