VE Day: How Suffolk marched to victory 75 years ago
- Credit: Jackie Parker
Almost 75 years ago, victory in Europe was almost close enough to touch as allied forces made rapid gains and the Nazis crumbled. Steven Russell looks back at the first nine historic days of May, 1945
It was a question not of “if” but “when”. As May dawned in 1945 the Nazis stared defeat in the face, though enough of them were fighting to the last.
The EADT of May 1 reported battles in the centre of Berlin, with “German women as street fighters” in Unter den Linden, the leafy boulevard leading to the Brandenburg Gate.
It was a “last-stand struggle” to stem the advance of Red Army tanks and infantry into the heart of the German capital. Russian forces captured the Reichstag and other key locations.
Elsewhere, troops led by British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery were said to be moving in for the kill. Hamburg was about to be taken. “Munich, cradle of the Nazi Party, has been captured.”
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Allied forces took control of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich, liberating about 32,000 inmates and overcoming 300 SS guards.
Back in Suffolk, Ipswich Hippodrome staged twice-nightly performances of Fun Marches On, with “those famous Crazy Gang comedians Naughton and Gold”.
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The Ritz Cinema showed The Man from Morocco, and Laurel and Hardy in Nothing But Trouble, while The Odeon had Alan Ladd and Loretta Young in film And Now Tomorrow. The bill also included a new report: “The horrors of Belsen” - a death camp in northern Germany.
A public meeting in the High Street art gallery, staged by Suffolk Anglo-Polish Society, featured a talk by Mr F Adams on “The Nazi terror in Poland - I was there”.
A five-paragraph snippet in the EADT told of “liberated Ipswich prisoners”. Among them was Gunner Harold Fincham, of Hutland Road, who had been captured at Tobruk, Libya, and came home after being held at Stalag 4F, a prison camp.
Gunner W Fussell had returned to Bramford Lane from Stalag G4. He’d been captured at Tobruk in 1942, too. Gunner R Barker, whose parents lived in Lattice Avenue, had also been a prisoner since the fall of Tobruk. He had been freed from a Nazi camp.
Readers must have struggled to keep their spirits up, with troubling stories domestically as well as in war-torn Europe. The Ipswich borough coroner warned of the dangers of soft pillows after two-month-old Charles Upson was asphyxiated at home in Bramford Road.
A maid had found him lying on his stomach, his head in a soft pillow covered with a linen slip. The coroner stressed the advisability of using fairly hard pillows for young children.
On May 2 the paper announced that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler was dead. Admiral Doenitz, a U-boat commander who became the new fuhrer, said Hitler had “fallen at his post”. The struggle against Bolshevism would continue.
Preparations were being made for the end of the war, whenever it came. Victory in Europe Day, and the day after, would be public holidays.
Churches would be open for prayer, bells would be rung, and floodlighting could be used - except in coastal areas.
“There will be no objection to bonfires, but it is hoped that only materials without salvage value will be used. Dancing may be allowed beyond the normal closing hour,” said a report.
Local authorities were asked to arrange festivities in parks and open spaces, “and it is suggested that applications for an extension of evening permitted hours for licensed premises should receive sympathetic consideration”.
Grocers should stay open on VE Day for at least an hour after the announcement, and ideally two. Should VE Day fall on a Friday, they were urged to open on the Saturday and close instead on Monday.
Dairymen were told they must deliver on VE Day and the day after. Restaurants were asked to stay open.
Shops selling perishable goods and unable to store produce such as fish and vegetables were ordered to stay open long enough after the announcement to clear stocks.
Colchester justices had already announced extended licensing hours to 11pm on VE Day. Public dances could run until midnight.
There was still a sense of realism, however. The Home Office stressed: “The end of warfare in Europe will not be the end of the struggle, and there should be no relaxation of the national effort until the war in the Far East has been won.”
On May 3 readers learned that Hitler had committed suicide, as had Joseph Goebbels, his propaganda chief.
Britain’s Ministry of Home Security announced that the national air raid warning system was being discontinued from midday on May 3.
Lowestoft claimed to have had both the last air raid warning as well as the first. The sirens had sounded at 1.25pm on April 30 and the all-clear came five minutes later - when aircraft approaching the coast were identified as allied planes.
On May 4, more than 40 “girl workers” went back to their positions at The Tower Mill Steam Laundry in Ipswich after a three-hour strike.
The dispute was sparked by wages and VE Day plans, “the management contending that the rule which applied to bank holidays must also apply to this occasion.
“This rule states that the girls should be neither late nor absent for six days before and after the holiday.”
Life on the Home Front wasn’t without hazard. The EADT reported how a Suffolk house might well have gone up in flames had the man who lived there not been working in the garden.
Mr Long rushed into the house in York Road, Bury St Edmunds, when he heard a bang. Cinders and ashes were strewn on the carpet and furniture. Near the fire was a cartridge case, which had been in the coal he’d put in the grate 20 minutes earlier.
How life carried on in Suffolk
It’s interesting to see how domestic life carried on despite five long years of war.
Adverts in the EADT of May 2 had the United States Army Air Forces in Suffolk advertising urgently for batmen, cleaners, typists, kitchen hands, labourers and military transport drivers.
Occold Hall, near Eye, needed a cowman, “single or married”. A cottage was available.
Another vacancy for a horseman looked enticing, as it offered a rent-free house on a bus route - “son who can use tractor an advantage”.
Ipswich Industrial Co-operative Society wanted a lady assistant (sic) for its pharmacy department in Carr Street, Ipswich - “apply in writing, stating age, experience”.
There were post-war opportunities overseas, too. Clerk-typists (men or women) could get £240 to £300 a year, plus living allowance or quarters and rations. They had to be under 50. The jobs would last six months to a year and were offered through the Ministry of Labour and National Service.
AW Hubbard, in Carr Street, Ipswich, was selling ladies’ fancy powder compacts, in a variety of colours and designs, from 15 shillings. Gents’ leather wallets were from 16s/6d.
At Clopton, near Woodbridge, a Miss Vesey offered a freshly-kidded nanny goat and her two offspring.
A detached period house in Garrison Lane, Felixstowe, was on the market for £4,300. It had six bedrooms, two box rooms, Tudor-style fireplace, a brick garage and one-acre garden.
Elsewhere in town a seven-bedroom house on the cliff-top (six of its rooms faced the sea) was yours for £3,250.
A couple of miles from Clacton-on-Sea, £8,750 would secure a modern residence with five main bedrooms and two bathrooms. There were compact domestic quarters, with a staff sitting room, bathroom and two bedrooms; gardener’s bungalow and a small farmery - all set in 18 acres.
Latimer’s Garage in Princes Street, Ipswich, advertised a 1939 Morris Eight Saloon de Luxe - black, with brown upholstery - for £250.
A thousand or more animals were being auctioned at RC Knight and Sons’ Great Annual May Fair Sale at Stowmarket Cattle Market on May 3. It included home-wintered grazing steers, heifers, cows and bulls.
Many foodstuffs were of course in short supply. As the war in Europe entered its final days, the EADT reported: “Five thousand tons of Australian currants have been released and are now beginning to appear in the shops. They require 16 (rationing) points a pound.”