Gallery: A day off school, street parties and revellers climbing lampposts - childhood memories of VE Day
There can’t be much more terrifying than being a child during wartime, when you have no idea what is happening and why.
Steven Russell begins our latest look at the Second World War, which ended nearly 70 years ago, with the memories of a woman who heard the bombs fall.
Janet Mitchell was only about three years old as the Second World War drew to a close, but has vivid memories of that chilling time.
She was living in Nacton Road, Ipswich, and recalls the names of many of the neighbours, including the couple next door. “I remember running to theirs to use their shelter when the bombs were dropping,” she says.
“I remember one dark morning, standing outside the Racecourse pub with my mum, waiting for the bus to take us to the railway station. I was being taken on the train for the very first time – to Nottingham. My brother was being evacuated to Leicester. His name was Alan Bales.
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“I can hear the sound of the train even now, and seeing the countryside. It was a big adventure to me.
“We arrived at the big house. Mum took me in and then left me. I cried, but I soon got used to being there. I was there for two years. When I came home, Nacton Road school had been bombed.
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“When the war ended, I remember wearing a red, white and blue dress. Those were the days: didn’t have much, but made the best of what we had.”
I made an effigy of Hitler
Gerald Burrows, who lives near Bury St Edmunds, has a dreadfully sad childhood memory of a wartime tragedy that rocked his family.
He was eight years old in the early part of the war when his Auntie Betty and his cousin Barbara were living with his grandmother at Troston.
“My Uncle Tom, her husband, was in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Tom had a 48-hour pass and Betty travelled up alone to meet him in Manchester.
“On the Sunday morning there was a knock on our door and there stood a police officer, telling my father that his only sister, and her husband, had been killed in an air raid on Manchester.
“Needless to say, my cousin became an orphan from that day.”
Mr Burrows has a happier memory from the end of the war – though the experience didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.
“He was 13 when Europe began to recall what it was like to live in peace.
“In the days before VE Day I created what I considered to be a perfect effigy of Adolf Hitler. This was to be the centrepiece of our enormous bonfire.
“However, the previous day I was struck down by influenza and was denied the pleasure of watching my masterpiece go up in flames. All I saw was the glow of the fire – from my bedroom window.”
Mother’s costume made me cry
Evelyn Wilkie was nine when the war ended.
“We lived in Tennyson Road [Ipswich] and celebrated with having a party in the road, with table and chairs set down the road for us children to eat on. There seemed to be plenty of food; something I had never seen before.
“As I sat eating, a lady appeared by me, wearing very bright clothes, a turban and long dress. Her face was very black, maybe boot polish? I burst into tears…” But it was Evelyn’s mother dressed up!
“My father was the rear end of a pretend horse and kept running around, amusing the children. He worked on Ipswich Docks and was a lockgate man. His name was Jack Brown.
“In the 1930s my parents lived in a house on the dock at New Cut East. It was infested with rats. My sister was born there.
“I remember men coming round and helping my father to dig a large hole in the garden to build the air raid shelter. It was not very pleasant to sit in and be in the dark.
“When the big raids came, the air raid warden used to bang on the door to wake us. Then we would go down Clifford Road School air raid shelters.
“Being half asleep, we would grab as many bed covers as we could and our mattress off the bed as we knew it would be a long night.
“When the war broke out, my father joined the Ipswich Fire Service and had to go to sea to put the fires out on the ships. He survived, but I do not know his duties or where he travelled.
“VE Day is special. Everyone was relaxed and happy, but most of all free!”
My mother wasn’t there
The little girl in the striped cardigan in the front row of the Victory in Europe street party in Sherborne Avenue, Ipswich, is Christine Gammie, who grew up to be Christine Bennett.
“I was just over two years old at the time and can remember being at the party,” she says.
“I can identify some of the mothers and children. The lady with me is my aunt, who was staying with my mother as both their husbands were serving in the Royal Navy.
“My mother was unwell at the time (following a miscarriage) and is not on the photo. My aunt is pregnant with my cousin, who will be 70 in July.”
How did we all look so well?
Diane Buckenham also has a lovely photo of a VE Day street party. She’s in it but has no memory of the day, having been born in July, 1944. “My mother is holding me in her arms, right at the back of the group.”
The celebration was held in Pearce Road, Ipswich – near Derby Road railway station.
“At that time my parents, Albert and Win Noble, were living at number 33 with my grandmother, Mrs E Adams, who can just be seen on the extreme right edge of the photo. Shortly after the war they moved next door to number 31, where they lived for many years.
“My father worked for Reavell’s engineers, as a lathe turner, from 1928 to 1979. During the war he was also a member of Reavell’s fire brigade. My mother worked in the book-binding department of Cowells printers for many years before I came along. Two well-known Ipswich firms which now, sadly, have disappeared.”
Diane, who lives in Felixstowe, says she had never seen the photograph published anywhere. “Whenever I look at it I am surprised at how healthy and well-dressed everyone appears after five long years of war.”
Reavell began life as Reavell & Co Ltd Engineers in June, 1898. It was founded by Sir William Reavell in Ranelagh Road.
Diane also sent us a photocopy of a Reavell advert that appeared in the Evening Star newspaper at the time of the firm’s 75th anniversary. It includes a picture of her dad, “Nobby” Noble, as one of four men who had clocked up 150 years of service between them. Her father had at that stage worked for the company for 46 years.
They were climbing drainpipes
Ipswich man Roy Proctor has an unusual memory of VE Day.
“I was working at the Ritz Cinema, now the Palace Bingo club [Felixstowe] as a trainee projector operator. I had to work until 9pm. When I finished, I went outside the cinema. The road was full. The band was playing.”
Revellers were singing with joy. “Some of them were trying to climb up the drainpipes to get in the flats over the shops. Then all the streetlights came on for the first time since September 3, 1939.”
School was closed for the day
Peter Threadkell writes of May 8, 1945: “On that day I was living in Lacey Street, Ipswich, with my war-widow mother and attending St Helen’s Primary School.
“My grandfather, Harry Cole, lived in Woodville Road and had a watch repair business in St Helen’s Street. My mother worked in Lacey Street, at a firm called King, Whitefield and Co, who as stamp dealers imported foreign stamps (one wonders where they got the stamps in wartime!) At the time, my closest friend was Michael Berry, whose father worked for Ipswich Borough Council.
“School was closed for the day and I remember running around the town centre and Christchurch Park, waving my Union Flag and cheering loudly. With hindsight, it was a bittersweet day for many people, like my mother, who had lost a husband and a brother.”
Do you have any memories of VE Day or any other war story that you would like to share with us in future issues? If so, email Steve Russell
See our dedicated war page for more on VE day, the liberation of the concentration camps and more