As we mark 75 years since VE Day, Radio Times invited its readers to share their bittersweet memories of that day in May 1945.
We are privileged that so many readers got in touch from all over the country to recount their experience of VE Day, many more than the pages of the magazine could hold. To highlight as many memories as possible we have published a further selection here.
In the commemorative VE Day issue you’ll find an interview with Dame Vera Lynn, on providing a soundtrack to history and still singing We’ll Meet Again aged 103. David Dimbleby reflects on 8 May 1945 and on marking the anniversary in isolation, and full listings for VE Day celebrations across TV and radio are featured.
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Check back on this page as we continue to add memories from VE Day.
Christine Medlow, Guildford
My brother Geoffrey was nearly 9 years old and I, Christine, was 7 years old. We lived with our mother and father near a farm and we had a younger brother and two younger sisters.
Our maternal grandparents, Mr and Mrs Robson, lived in Wood Green, London N22. On VE Day, May 8th 1945, Geoffrey and I travelled on our own to their house. The first stage of the journey was on the number 84 bus from London Colney to Arnos Grove Underground station. I can’t remember whether we then travelled on the Underground to Wood Green station or whether we walked down Palmer’s Road and then took a trolley bus (if they were operating) along Bounds Green Road to Selborne Road. Over the years we used both routes.
Our Grandfather was at work, but we had a nice time with our grandmother. In the afternoon she took us to the nearby junction of Park Avenue and Bounds Green Road, where the pavement was wide. Several people had built a smallish bonfire on the pavement. I think the wood was mostly old broken furniture. Things like that were hoarded in case they would come in useful or to burn in the sitting room fireplace. The bonfire was lit and we all danced round it, singing songs like “Knees up, Mother Brown”, “The hokey-cokey” and “The Lambeth Walk”. It was probably late afternoon, definitely still daylight, so there were not many people there, probably about 20, mostly housewives and children, including us. We all enjoyed it very much and were so thankful that the war was over. We didn’t have any refreshments at the bonfire, probably because food was rationed and people only ate at home.
Pamela G Buckingham, Epsom
My VE Day memories do not include dancing in Piccadilly or calling for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace. I was aged 14 at the time and was living with my widowed mother. My father had been killed in an air raid in 1940, so for us the end of the war did not mean that he would be coming home. With his death my mother had had to go out to work in a job which she disliked, but she needed the money to keep the home going. This meant that I was left on my own at home for many hours. I came to dread Saturdays and the school holidays when I was on my own from 8 am to 6 pm, and the ending of the war meant little to us. We were thankful that there would be an end to fighting and bombing, but our lives would continue in the same dreary way.
In the afternoon we took some flowers to the churchyard where my father was buried and in the evening we went for a walk to see how others were celebrating. Many of our neighbours had lit bonfires. One family had brought their piano into their garden and were having a sing-song round it.
Back at school we were asked to write a description of how we had spent VE Day. I just managed to scrape together one and a half pages, unlike my friend who had covered eight pages with her descriptions of celebrating in London. My essay got a very low mark. I suppose it was not thought to be sufficiently interesting and I am sure that will be your reaction, but I think it is important for people to realise that for many of us the end of the war didn’t mean that life would go back to what it was before 1939.
Molly Van Cleemput nee Britten, Northampton
I was on duty at the GPO Telephone Exchange Northampton (aged 16) on VE Day and when victory came, wanted to call someone. Ours was a manual exchange then and each subscriber had its own little lamp so the exchange was like Blackpool illuminations with all lights calling and some flashing.
We had no hope of giving swift service but luckily most of the callers were understanding and some commiserated with us at having to work at a time when everyone was celebrating.
The telephonist sitting next to me was a bit cross when, after advising the caller that there was no reply from her number, was told “You are not trying, I can seem them in the garden”.
On the whole though it was quite an experience to be working on that momentous day.
I was going out with a Pilot Officer at that time and when he met me at 8 pm when I finished, he had a fellow officer with him, who didn’t want to be alone on such a day so, of course, we asked him to join us.
We went for a meal and then joined in the dancing and singing festivities on the Market Square.
When I got home, very much later, I found that my brother, who had managed to get home from the RAF for a few hours, and Dad had rigged up a Victory V in our front garden using Christmas lights.
It was a fitting ending to a happy day, one I shall never forget.
Anne Polley, Seaford
This is a photo of me in our street party in Shaftesbury Avenue Carshalton celebrating VE Day 1945. I can’t remember the actual date of the party.
I am the first girl standing the front row with the flossy hair, aged 12.
My memories of the spread are jellies that didn’t set and running off the plates, hunt the filling in the sandwiches (mostly fish paste) and rock cakes that were so hard we could have dropped them on Hitler. Of course everything was on ration so no surprise that the food was not the best but we all pulled together and had a good time. I only remember a loud cheer going up as the news was announced.
Rita Schneider, Northope, Lincolnshire
It is etched on my brain for eternity. I was only 7 years old, standing outside the air raid shelter in the grounds of the flats overlooking Clapham Junction Station where I lived, always a general target for air raid, and I remember looking up at the sky and saying out loud “I’m not going to die now”. Yes, it was a day I will never forget.
Jen Thomas, Cardiff
During the war my mother and I lived with my mother’s sister in a village called Llwydcoed in the Aberdare Valley in South Wales. My sister was born during the war and she was due to celebrate her first birthday on May 9th. We saved our food points for months so that mum could bake her a birthday cake. We were all so looking forward to this cake as it would be such a treat in those frugal times. When the end of the war was announced, it was decided to hold a street party in Kingsbury Place where we lived. Everyone there would provide something and Mum and her sister thought the birthday cake would be an ideal contribution. I was devastated! I didn’t want to share this cake with anyone! Sure enough it was in pride of place in the street table party on May 9th. This is something that I’ve never forgotten. PS I still love cake!
Laurence Crisp, East Wittering
I was ten years old and on the morning of May 8th our gang, immediately after breakfast, met opposite my home on a parade of shops. There were four of us and two of our number said that their fathers had suggested that we should do something special. Suggesting it should be a massive bonfire. A bonfire like the ones that before the War were made to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day. From our VE celebration bonfire idea the news spread, by mid morning children appeared from all over with prams, carts and wheelbarrows loaded with all kinds of garden waste. Hedge trimmings, bundles of old magazines, old disused furniture, trees that had been lopped – some that had been trees now sawn into lengths by us junior tree fellers with saws borrowed from their father’s toolboxes.
By midday, us army of village children had built a massive heap of waste on spare ground in the centre of our village, and it became apparent to our parents and other adults that our efforts were in deadly earnest to create some form of celebration. The local garage proprietor gave us two large oil drums which were full of old sump oil, a farmer donated a load of straw, and a local newsagent gave us some fireworks saying, “Mind you I have saved these for five years, so I’m not sure they’ll work.”
I vividly remember a senior member of our gang taking a banger from the box and lighting it, we all waited expectantly for something to happen, after a few seconds, “Ah !” exclaimed our leader, “is no good.” With that a small child ran forward picking up the banger, as he did so it exploded in his face.
A sheer cry of fear came from this small boy who had to that day never seen a firework, but in the past years had heard and feared exploding bombs and gunfire – he ran home screaming in a state of extreme fear, his face singed by the accidental mini-explosion.
At 8pm as the sun sunk below the horizon we lit our bonfire to a huge cheer from the many villagers present. As the night drew in, a huge glow enveloped the village whilst some sang and celebrated the country’s wonderful victory. Late in the evening as I climbed the stairs to my bedroom I halted on the landing and through the landing window could see, for the first time in five years, all the surrounding houses all lit up. Five years of ‘blackout’ had come to an end.
Margaret Davies, Swansea
I was 5 years old and was being taken to hospital in an ambulance having been diagnosed with scarlet fever. I could see lots of flags being waved and wondering what was happening. I was in hospital for about a month and my parents were not allowed to visit because of the infection. Have times changed? This was before the NHS but health professionals were just as dedicated to caring for the sick. We are so thankful for them.
Sheila Eyres, 89
On May 8th 1945 I was 14 and together with a school friend, made our way to Buckingham Palace where we pushed our way through the crowds and got really close to the black railings at the front. After a long while the King, Queen, the two Princesses and Winston Churchill came out onto the balcony. All the crowd cheered themselves hoarse. We stayed until very late in the evening before going home. It was a lovely warm night. After the blackout and privations of the war years it was the feelings of relief and the knowledge that we had survived the bombings that fixed that memory for me.
Jean Turner, Cottenham
I was in Trafalgar Square watching bellbottomed sailors jump in and out of the moats round the lions. My father was on Army leave and my mother and I had joined him in London staying at the Bonnington Hotel near Russell Square. We had come in a crowded train from North Wales and although I was only 10 years old I remember it well.
I rather suspect those sailors were very drunk but I didn’t recognise that at the time!
Brian Cane, Newark
I was 17 years old in May 1945. On VE Day I was celebrating by dancing with my girlfriend – and lots of other people – round the roundabout which is next to Watford Town Hall.
During the build up to the invasion of France in 1944, this roundabout had seen thousands and thousands of troops and army vehicles (mainly American) travelling continuously south over many months through Watford – presumably from ports like Liverpool. As a young person I thought then that the Germans could not possibly win the war !
The roundabout had also seen – on different occasions during the war – several town processions as part of the lively local money-raising campaigns for money to pay for a naval vessel, or an RAF bomber. Interestingly Watford would compete with Luton in some of these campaigns to see which town could raise the most money.
Ann Holloway, 84, Saffron Walden
I was nine years old on VE Day and had never been out after dark. I had no knowledge of anything other than the ‘black out’, so imagine my excitement at being taken for a walk when it was dark! My mother, my Nanny and my sister (who was old enough to remember) set off through our Cheshire village, we were all holding torches and, oh my goodness, the lights were on in all the windows. The shops and the houses had all switched all their lights on and, magically, I could see people inside. I had no idea that you could see families through lighted windows. Truly, it was one of the most exciting evenings of my life, everyone was talking about the war coming to an end but, for me, it was the beginning of something much more exciting – lights. Now 84 it is all as vivid to me as 75 years ago.
John C.B. Millman, 77, Plympton, Devon
On V.E Day, I was two years and ten months old, living with my mother in Mount Gould Road, Plymouth. My father was serving with the Royal Air Force in Holland with the British Liberation Forces.
I have vivid memories of the street party in Mount Gould Road, which was a very long road at the summit with a valley either side. I got separated from my mother and got lost in a sea of legs during either the ‘Hokey Cokey’ or ‘The Conga.’ I ended up bawling my eyes out. I have hated ‘The Conga’ and the ‘Hokey Cokey’ ever since.
Jill Patterson, 83, Ipwich
I was just 8 years old but I remember my mother being so sad and yet everyone being so happy, but my father had been killed earlier in the war so the celebrations, although a relief, was bitter as we knew that life was never going to be the same again.
Valerie Grant, Ringwood
Here is me at my front door during VE Day!
For mum, an RAF nurse, the war didn’t end on VE day as the wounded kept coming via RAF Lyneham. She was at Wroughton CCS hospital where casualties were moved overnight, if there were more than they had beds for the nurses slept in tents near the road so it wasn’t good for sleeping. There was a hooter system for rousing them; 1 for first shift, up to 3 when it was all hands – even if you had just finished a shift. Mum’s best friend died of polio caught whilst nursing, Mum was immune due to having worked at an isolation hospital. Her death still upset Mum 60 years later remembering the girls, Dad leaving walking down the corridor with his little girls effects. Mum had many recollections of how brave the men were especially a Sargent Hughs from Swansea who had lost both legs giving solace to a lad called Plank who had lost one leg, he said ‘ look lad you have one more than me’. Mum also talked about giving a meal to two German pilots, one whom was blind, telling the one who spoke English to guide the other by compass points to his plate of food, it was only many years later it was pointed to her that they were prisoners of war – she only saw a patient. Mum’s name then was Grace Reid so she was always called Grace Fields!
Amy Kneale, Edinburgh
Although I was not quite ten years old I remember VE Day very well and earlier the fall of France. I had to ask my parents what “capitulation” meant.
We knew the end of the war was coming and we collected items for a celebratory bonfire. The joy was over whelming but mixed with sadness for those who were lost. I remember saying to my parents and sisters, “The 8th of May 1945, I’ll never forget this date”.
Another moment of joy for me was when I naively thought “Good, there will be no more news to listen to”. We had to sit quietly when the news was on.
Although I was young the war had quite an impact on me. We were evacuated right at the start and my cousin was killed in March 1945. I also remember the great austerity with the food rationing and general shortages which continued into the 1950s.
I spoke with my father, Robert Allan (Bob) Martin, aged 94 and he tells me exactly where he was on VE Day. He was on board the inshore minesweeper 1034 docked overnight in Grimsby after sweeping up the North Sea coast. He was 19 at the time and the whole crew enjoyed an extra tot of rum, which was most welcome. I’ve attached a photo of him taken at around that time.
1945 was memorable in so many ways. First and foremost of course, it saw the end of the War and what a relief that was for I had never really understood what it was all about. To me it was just the ‘normal’ state of things: I was six years old at the time (born 1938) very much alive and living in Somercotes, Derbyshire, while the great world outside was “at war”. I have since seen on film the great scenes of jubilation in London but in Somercotes things were much more low key. More to the point, I was unable to appreciate anything much at the time since at the point of victory I was struck down with Scarlet Fever in a way which I shall never forget.
My lasting memory is seeing my parents looking desperately anxious outside No. 25, an illuminated ‘V’ for victory sign improvised from Christmas lights shining in the front window, as the ambulance doors closed and off I went for what turned out to be six weeks quarantine in a wholly new and altogether strange environment. For me, ‘VE Day’ had definitely been deferred!
What a homecoming I had after those six long weeks in hospital! Looking back, for me it was certainly ‘VE Day deferred’. I was led in at the front door which opened straight into the front room – always, reserved for special ‘family events’. Everyone who mattered was there, and I clearly remember the tears in my grandma’s eyes as they all fussed around. I felt like a king but above all, just overjoyed and grateful in my six year old way to be home again. There were drinks and cakes and gifts, in fact everything you would expect from a loving family and I revelled in it all; well, who wouldn’t?
By the way, don’t let anyone persuade you that the ‘Forties’ were ‘drab’!
These are just a small selection of the memories that you’ve shared with us – thank you to all who took the time to send them in. We plan to share more so be sure to revisit the page for more VE Day memories from Radio Times readers.
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