How did Suffolk celebrate VE Day 75 years ago?
- Credit: Jackie Parker
Millions had dared to dream of this moment, and now The Second World War was over – in Europe, at any rate. Steven Russell finds out how Suffolk celebrated VE Day
It’s hard to imagine exactly how people must have felt on Tuesday, May 8, 1945, when it was confirmed the Nazis had admitted defeat and years of aggression were over. Euphoria, of course, but also sadness because friends and family had never lived to see this day.
General Alfred Jodl had signed the unconditional surrender in the early hours of the previous day, though it was not to take effect officially until the late morning of the 8th.
The EADT reported the massing on Ipswich Cornhill of a “great and colourful crowd” that Tuesday, as 3pm neared. The mayor and members of the council came to the front of the town hall. Then, the crowd hanging on his every word, the broadcast voice of Winston Churchill brought confirmation that “The European war is therefore at an end”.
When the Prime Minister had finished, and the national anthem been sung, mayor Sidney Grimwade said: “The courage and endurance of our men and those of our gallant allies has been crowned with success, and a cruel and powerful enemy has been smashed.
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“When we look back on the perils and difficulties of the last five and a half years we thank God for the way we have been led and protected.
“In the midst of our rejoicing, let us not forget those who have fallen in the fight, and those here at home who mourn their loss. It is up to us to see a new world is built in which such things as war cannot happen.
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“But the war against tyranny is not yet finished, and we must not tire until Japan is brought to total surrender and the world is free from the threat of fascism. May that time come soon. God save The King.”
Later, a thanksgiving service at St Mary-le-Tower was packed - people standing the length of the aisles until the church could take no more.
Dr Brook, Lord Bishop of the diocese, said that - as the Bible stated - those who took up the sword would perish by the sword.
“That evil power built by force, which threatened civilisation, has itself been destroyed.” There was, however, still that powerful enemy in the Far East: Japan.
That was also on people’s minds in Saxmundham – a town “well beflagged” on VE Day.
A crowd gathered on the Market Place an hour after the PM’s announcement. The chairman of the council, Mr S Franks, said everyone felt thankful. However, Japan had not been defeated and the council thought this was not the right time for joyous celebration. That could come when victory over Japan had been achieved.
There was a short service of thanksgiving and then, in the evening, a series of well-attended services at local churches.
The next day, the Wednesday, military town Colchester was heaving. Buildings were adorned with emblems and bunting, which often stretched across the street.
The flags of the three main allies fluttered above the town hall, and from early morning until late at night music from the Second World War era – and some favourite tunes from the first war - were broadcast.
One or two buildings were floodlit with a huge V sign, and figures of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin were cheered. Joining personnel from the British army and navy were American and Canadian airmen and soldiers, and French paratroopers.
Adults and children enjoyed competing in sports at Abbey Field, arranged by the military authorities.
Felixstowe not surprisingly saw more people on its main streets than at any time since 1939. Flags had appeared overnight and the band of the Gloucestershire Regiment, on a week’s visit, marched through the town in the morning.
Sports and other events were held in the afternoon for children, in the County School grounds.
In the evening, on the Triangle site, folk danced in the road to music from loudspeakers. The streetlights in Hamilton Road were turned on for two minutes, fireworks and maroons were let off, and ships in the harbour sounded their sirens.
At Lowestoft, the blackout was still in force – officially – but for the first time in years the darkness was banished by bonfires, star shells and Very lights (flares from a pistol) soaring into the sky.
There had been a morning Thanksgiving for Victory service on the Denes Oval, attended by thousands, and churches held services in the evening.
The navy organised a fair on the Oval that ended with a big bonfire. Elsewhere in the town, bonfires were stoked up with bomb debris.
Diss was a blaze of colour. Our correspondent said “the sky for miles around resembled the aurora borealis by reason of the rejoicing at nearby (military) service stations.
“For four hours there was a continuous discharge of brightly-coloured Very lights, rockets and fireworks into the skies, while aircraft overhead dropped pretty-lighted chandeliers, the whole effect turning the surrounding countryside into an unforgettable fairyland of colour.”
In the county town, VE Day celebrations continued on the Wednesday with a packed public service on Ipswich Cornhill. It was attended by contingents from the Royal Navy, Army, RAF and USAAF. The balconies of surrounding buildings were crowded by sightseers.
A band played in Christchurch Park at 3pm and 7pm, and there was dancing in the car park.
After the Cornhill service, rejoicing continued in the streets - the crowd’s euphoria said to have risen to a high pitch of cheering and singing as Wednesday evening drew to a close.
“Thousands of allied soldiers, sailors and airmen joined with the general population in rocket-firing, dancing, singing and many other ways of hectic celebrating.
“In spite of the intense excitement prevailing, little damage has been reported.”
Nowhere was the ending of the blackout more appreciated than in hospitals, said the EADT. The celebrations at East Suffolk and Ipswich Hospital in Anglesea Road included the floodlighting of the central block, with its iconic columned portico.
“Again, as in the Great War of 1914-18, this imposing edifice, with its wards full of patients, has escaped damage or casualties, although bombs have been dropped immediately outside its confines, in all directions.”
How radio broke the news to a nation
In 1945, folk generally got information from newspapers, Movietone News reports shown at cinemas, and, to an extent, BBC radio. BBC TV broadcasts, still in their relative infancy, were suspended during the war. There were fears the TV signals might help guide German bombers.
Here’s a look at the schedules for the two BBC radio channels on May 8, 1945:
The Home Service included the chimes of Big Ben and the news at 7am, with Exercise for Men and Women at 7.15am. Programmes for schools began at 9.35am.
Then there was Robinson Cleaver at the organ of the Granada, Clapham Junction; Crookhall Colliery Band; and Workers’ Playtime.
The Prime Minister spoke at 3pm, with Victory Celebration Bells at 3.20pm.
The evening featured Joe Loss and His Band at 7pm; a Service of Thanksgiving and address by the Archbishop of Canterbury at 8pm; the King, news and Victory Report at 9pm; and Plaza Ballroom at 11pm.
The News in Norwegian at 12.20am was followed by Albert White’s Ballroom Orchestra. The station closed down at 2am.
The other channel was the lighter-in-tone BBC General Forces Programme. It included Variety Bandbox at 1.15pm, “light music records” after the news at 2pm, commentary on the 1000 Guineas horse-race at Newmarket, and Tom Arnold’s Hoop-la! at 8.15pm.