Page last updated at 23:43 GMT, Thursday, 6 May 2010 00:43 UK

VE Day memories 65 years on: 'Electricity in the air'

VE Day celebrations

By Vanessa Barford
BBC News

King and Queen and Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the balcony of Buckingham Palace

Sixty-five years ago VE - Victory in Europe - Day marked the formal end of Hitler's war.

After six years of misery, on 8 May 1945, millions of Britons took to the streets in celebrations - waving flags, singing war songs and dancing until dawn - while those still abroad breathed a sigh of relief.

Here, some people who were there remember the day's events.


When VE Day was announced, the captain of destroyer ship HMS Meynell, which was docked in Chatham, in Kent, gave all his men 24-hours' leave to join in the celebrations.

For 22-year-old George Broomhead, who had joined the Navy at 18, there was only one place to go.

"All the lads went different ways, but I knew what London had been through, how much horrendous bombing there had been," he said.

George Broomhead
The picture of George Broomhead in Trafalgar Square went round the world

What the sailor did not anticipate was sitting on top of lion in Trafalgar Square.

"I got there at noon, and crowds of people were already celebrating.

"Somehow I got on the lion's back, then its head. When someone passed me a Union Jack, an American flag and a Russian flag, I ended up trying to conduct all the singing.

"It was absolutely fantastic, unforgettable, I'd never seen so much jubilation - it went on for hours," he said.

Little did he know it was to last even longer.

"When I got back to the ship, all the lads said 'I know where you were last night' and I realised a photo of me had got on the front of Picture Post [magazine]. My photo went all around the world."

But Mr Broomhead, now 87, said although everyone let themselves go, celebrations were tainted by thoughts of those in the Far East.

"We knew the war was not altogether over. And there were many that had not made it. Although I was injured when my first destroyer was torpedoed in 1942, I was very lucky, I managed to survive."


Sapper Norman Bowie, now 89, from Newcastle, had been a prisoner of war for more than two years when VE Day finally arrived.

He had enlisted in the Royal Engineers at 18 and spent the first part of the war laying and blowing up mines.

Norman Bowie
Norman Bowie spent over two years as a prisoner of war in WW2

But after being transferred to the Middle East, then North Africa, he was captured by the Germans in 1942, just before the Battle of El Alamein.

Mr Bowie spent most of the next few years in prisoner camp in Poland, but on VE Day he recalls being forced to work in a paper mill in Germany under armed guard.

"After that, the German guards simply disappeared. At first we were unsure what had happened, but then we came across some Americans who told us about the German surrender.

"We broke into small groups and made our way way to Czechoslovakia, where Russian troops helped us secure gain passage back to England.

"It took several weeks, but there was a euphoric, party atmosphere amongst the group - we all shared cigarettes - but many couldn't quite believe they were free and feared re-capture," he said.

When he finally got back to England in August 1945, Mr Bowie weighed only eight and a half stone (55kg) and was prescribed double rations.

His daughter Helen Crooks said attending the 65th anniversary celebrations in London meant a lot to the family: "He completely missed the celebrations the first time round."


Jean Proctor checking that the seed spouts are running and not blocked on the farm
Jean Proctor stopped her nurse training to work on a farm during the war

For Jean Proctor, now 91, it was just another day working in the fields when a passing farmer shouted: "It's over, it's over."

Like many in the Woman's Land Army, she had spent most of the war carrying out manual labour jobs on farms - milking cows, digging ditches, loading up railway trucks, sowing seeds, laying hedges and harvesting crops - to help alleviate food shortages.

Ms Proctor, then 25, said even after the news, 8 May 1945 was much like any other day - it started at 0500 and finished at about 2000.

"We didn't get any time off, we couldn't down our tools... milking had to be done, animals needed to be fed, dairy had to be washed up."

28 April: Mussolini is executed
30 April: Hitler commits suicide during Battle of Berlin
7 May: Germany's unconditional surrender is signed at General Eisenhower's headquarters in Rheims at 0241
8 May: Prime Minister Winston Churchill announces that the war is over
15 August: Japan surrenders after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki

But she said the evening was "wonderful".

"I dumped my bicycle and went to a little local square, in Romley, Cheshire. All the lights were on, there was music and dancing and everybody was jumping around in the middle of the road.

"Of course there weren't many men, but there were lots of 16-year-old Scouts to dance with. Drinks were still rationed - when we ran dry that was it - but the party kept going as long as anybody could.

"We still had to get up at 5am the next day. But it was a wonderful feeling to know it was over. Even though we weren't in the line of fire, we had been doing horrible back-bending stuff."


Francis Harris and his wife Jean, both 77, were children when the war ended.

Francis and Jean Harris
Everybody was singing Vera Lynn songs, or 'When The Lights Go On Again'
Jean Harris

Mr Harris lived in London throughout the war and remembers being taken to Crystal Palace football ground, aged 13, on VE Day.

"I was with my sister, who was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), and her fiance, who was a GI in the American Army.

"Thousands of people gathered on the pitch to dance and celebrate. Everybody was very excited.

"It seemed very unreal. At that age I didn't understand the war's terrible seriousness, but the Blitz had been horrendous - an incessant scream of bombs and nights in the shelter.

"That night, everybody hoped it would never happen again."

For his wife, Jean, who was 12 at the time, VE day marked the end of constant evacuations which saw her attend eight different schools after incendiaries destroyed the family's Wandsworth home.

Buckingham Palace on 8 May 1945
Millions of people poured onto the streets outside Buckingham Palace

"In the morning, we went to the Palace to see the King and Queen and Mr Churchill on the balcony - they were great examples, and it was wonderful to be in the midst of everybody.

"When we got home, there was dancing in the streets. Everybody was singing Vera Lynn songs, or When The Lights Go On Again. For the first time in my life I won a running race - a big beautiful boat.

"My mother had five brothers and two sisters in the forces, we were very thankful they all came home. We thanked God we had survived a really bad time."


Royal Marine Stan Blacker, now 85, was on the Andes troopship, heading to Australia to fight for islands held by the Japanese, when he heard that victory in Europe had been achieved.

Stan Blacker aged 18
Stan Blacker was 18 when he joined the Royal Marines

"We felt elated, we were happy for those in Europe, but most of us knew it was different in the Far East. They reckoned it would take eight years to capture the islands, at a loss of over two million men.

"It wasn't until August that I could breathe a sigh of relief. We had got to Casino - a village in Australia between Sydney and Brisbane - and were getting kit together, when troops burst off a troop train and said: 'It's all over chaps'. That was when the atomic bomb had hit.

Everyone went mad - there was a chap doing "Knees up Mother Brown", with every verse he took off something and finally ended up with two Union Jacks!
Pamela Goss

"I'd already seen D-Day - we lost 900 out of our 4200 small craft in one day. For 93 days we ferried troops and supplies off shore onto the beaches, I thought we'd never get in there alive, it seemed like the whole coast was on fire, I lost four of my closest friends.

"Victory in Japan Day was marvellous, we thought 'lives will be saved'," he said.


Clive Cunningham, 77, was 12 at the time, but remembers VE Day in Hull vividly.

1200: Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will lead a service of commemoration at the Cenotaph, Whitehall
Government representatives, service chiefs and about 2,000 WWII veterans are due to attend
After the Last Post is played, there will be a one-minute silence before wreaths are laid
1245: Reception on the Horse Guards' Parade, hosted by the Royal British Legion

He said thousands of people gathered to see the coloured fountain in Queens Garden switched on after five years. A big street party followed, with sandwiches, cakes and Union Jacks all over the place.

"There was great excitement everywhere, especially when the neon lights went on in the city centre. They'd not been seen since 1939.

"There was electricity in the air. Strangers were dancing and kissing each other, especially soldiers who were on leave.

"Later we lit a bonfire in the middle of the street. It burned for most of the night until the fire brigade came and put it out. It left a hole in the middle of the road," he said.

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