War history: The happy patients burned their cushions when we won the war… and we got a good telling-off for it!

The ladies at Stoke Mandeville in 1945. Physiotherapist Margaret Potter (nee Creasey) is on the left

The ladies at Stoke Mandeville in 1945. Physiotherapist Margaret Potter (nee Creasey) is on the left - Credit: Archant

Not everyone was dancing in fountains or putting on their Sunday best for a street party to celebrate Victory in Europe.

A slightly ghostly shot - thanks to double-exposure of part of the film! - of men with spinal injuri

A slightly ghostly shot - thanks to double-exposure of part of the film! - of men with spinal injuries at Stoke Mandeville - Credit: Archant

Steven Russell hears from three people with different stories of May, 1945, and one who does remember posing for the camera.

Margaret Creasey’s abiding memory of the end of the war? The wrath of the man who had fled the Nazis and established the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital!

Margaret, the daughter of an east Suffolk butcher, was training as a physiotherapist at The Middlesex Hospital in London as the war moved into its final stages. Then she and colleagues were transferred to Stoke Mandeville in Buckinghamshire to be part of Dr Ludwig Guttmann’s innovative team working with spinal injury patients.

The neurosurgeon, who came to be known as Poppa, had been appointed director of the centre when it opened in February, 1944.

Ahh! Tony Smith is the three-year-old with his head turned outside The Margaret Catchpole Hotel in C

Ahh! Tony Smith is the three-year-old with his head turned outside The Margaret Catchpole Hotel in Cliff Lane, Ipswich, 70 years ago - Credit: cont

The physiotherapists would often push the men about in their wheelchairs. “When news of victory came we were asked to take the men to Aylesbury to join in the celebrations,” says Margaret – now Margaret Potter – who lives in Woodbridge.

“There was a huge crowd – singing and dancing – and our patients joined in the excitement by throwing their seat cushions on the huge bonfire! What a night we had.

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“The next morning Dr Guttmann stood at the door of the ward and told us loudly and clearly how furious he was that we had allowed the men to do this! ‘What a waste of hard-to-acquire equipment!’

“He didn’t realise there was no way we could have stopped them – they were trained to be very strong!”

Dr Guttmann would go on to organise the first Stoke Mandeville Games for disabled people. It was held in the summer of 1948, on the same day as the start of the Olympics in London.

The event came to be known as the Paralympics and within a few years was attracting well over 130 international competitors.

In 1960 the International Stoke Mandeville Games were staged alongside the Olympics in Rome and are now acknowledged as the first Paralympic Games.

Dr Guttman was knighted in 1966. His daughter lives on the Suffolk coast.

Peter Steggall’s memories of VE Day on May 8, 1945, are “a complete contrast with what happened, for example, in the streets of London, as recorded in newspapers and films in the following days, and repeated recently for the 70th anniversary”.

Peter was a gunner in the Royal Artillery and had been serving overseas since the end of 1941. When VE Day arrived, he was in Germany. About 25 men and several vehicles were camped on a grassy field in a remote rural area a few miles from Hamburg.

“We had packed up overnight, expecting an early-morning move, but for reasons unknown to the rank and file we had to stay put all day, with nothing to celebrate with or to sustain us, except occasional biscuits and mugs of tea.

“We eventually moved a few miles in the evening and set up our regimental headquarters in an empty village inn at Fulenhagen,” says Peter, from Chelmsford.

“A few days later we received newspapers from England, with reports and pictures of British troops in Germany celebrating the end of war with special meals and plenty of drink, all served to them by their officers!

“We also heard on the radio, and read in the papers, of street parties all over Britain, and wild celebrations in the heart of London. In rural Germany we were quietly thankful that the war was over, and waited for our chance to celebrate ? but it never came!”

VE Day revelry in Ipswich didn’t mean much to Tony Smith at the time. It does now.

“If you look at the photo of the party outside the Margaret Catchpole [pub] there is a small fair-haired boy looking to the right.

“I was that boy. I was three years old at the time. I don’t remember it but my father did tell me about the party they held as celebration.

“They had a drink in the pub and then lit a bonfire in the middle of the road, outside the row of shops in Cliff Lane. It must have been a good party as the bonfire set fire to the road, and it needed the fire brigade to sort it out!”

Earlier this year we published a picture of a street party at St Thomas’s Church Hall, Bramford Road, Ipswich. It brought back memories for Beryl Willson.

She was 10, then, and her brother was seven. They were in the photograph, as was their mother.

Beryl’s still living in the same house as she was 70 years ago, and tells us “I still have my gas mask in its original case”.

“My grandma – Maud Kerridge – lived in Old Foundry Road, opposite Phillips and Piper’s factory. She worked in the canteen there until she was 80.

“There were also celebrations on the large car park at Tower Ramparts, which is now the Ipswich Buses station. I remember going there from Grandma’s and seeing hundreds of people dancing to music very late into the night. There were lots of American servicemen from Bentwaters [near Woodbridge].”