Memories of 75-years ago?
The majority of our Members are either to young to have recollections of those times, or were not yet born. However, we do still have a just few amongst us who are old enough to relate their memories of that time.
Our Member Fred Snook was an apprentice marine engineer in Cardiff in the spring of 1945. On that Tuesday he was working in Destroyers in Cardiff’s Dry Docks. He recalls all hands being allowed to finish work early, and barrels of beer being provided for everyone. Instead of celebrating aboard though, he took the opportunity to go home. He shifted out of his overalls, got dressed-up for the occasion, picked up his sweetheart and they joined the throng partying outside a flag-draped Cardiff City Hall. Shortly afterwards Fred was called-up for National Service but although he was qualified for a post as an ERA, and was willing to sign-on for nine-years, the Royal Navy rejected him on medical grounds; Fred is colour-blind. He ended-up as an RASC motor mechanic in the Army, and was sent to serve with the BAOR in Germany. During some of that time he was based in Belsen; a somewhat traumatic experience for a young lad. Belsen was then being used as a camp for displaced persons, of whom there were thousands. Needless to say, Fred eventually left the service, completed his training and had a successful civilian engineering career that took him all around the world.
Our Secretary Alan Bailey’s wife Jackie, a bell-ringer writes: “For me, ringing for special national occasions is quite something. I do remember VE Day, travelling to my grandparents in Manchester. We lived in a village 13 miles away but my mother and I spent most of our time with my grandparents whilst my father was in the army. I remember we had evacuees from London living in our house but am not sure if they came with us. But I can still see the long tables down the street with flags and bunting everywhere. What we had to eat I can’t remember, only that I was told that if I had a plate and mug, I could join in. I also remember the Union Flag hanging out of my parent’s bedroom window at home, attached to an old broom handle.
BUT - please don’t ask me what I did last week!
PS: I feel sad that we are not able to ring for the 75th Anniversary of VE Day.”
Our Member Jeremy Wheeler reports: “All I recall of VE Day was actually not very positive and perhaps even a little joyless. I was 7 years old and in the afternoon of V.E. Day 8th May 1945 I was out wandering in the extensive woods that surrounded our farm at Stowe - as was my wont in those long-lost years. When I came back to the house - a Victorian mansion with 11 bedrooms - it was completely deserted, so I just went in and awaited the arrival of my family, but they never came. Lighting was only from oil lamps with no electricity installed. Around 7 pm there was a violent thunderstorm which alarmed me somewhat being left alone as I was in that large house. I eventually fled to the Cottage in Stowe Ridings about half a mile away getting soaked and taking refuge there with my Aunt Jessica who was fortunately in with her family and had not gone off like the rest of my family to Buckingham to join in the VE Day festivities.
I should add that my family were not in the habit of leaving me alone, but in the general mayhem of the celebration had somehow forgotten about me- or couldn't find me.
That's my personal memory of VE Day. Not really what you were looking for I guess, but it's all I have to offer. The woods and the big old Victorian house at Stowe are still there, much altered and modernized and still home to members of my family.”
Jeremy became a Russian Linguist with the British Army and was a Member of the Intelligence Corps, Royal Signals and Royal Artillery 1956 to 1958
Maybe we should remember that in the more recent past, our then Prime Minister David Cameron once left one of his children behind – or so it was reported. Ed.
Our President, John Russell BEM, referred me to his book “A Country Boy at Heart” (Chapter 3, Page 44) and here’s a précis of that: “There was a great rejoicing in the streets the length and breadth of the land. In Byfield, much to their delight, the children were given two days off school. There were two celebration parties organised for the children of Byfield, one for the ‘Top’ of the village (the east side, which is uphill) and one for the ‘Bottom’ in Westhorpe. The Westhorpe party, which I attended, was held under a long, glass passageway between the main school house and an annexe behind, in what was then known as “Bottomley’s”, named after a past schoolmaster. Today it is Number 6, Westhorpe Lane.
There was a prisoner of war camp just outside the village, and although this was after the war had ended, they began to be friends rather than enemies. The Germans held there had formed a dance-band; local people were invited and indeed encouraged to attend the dances they organised. The Germans also got a football team together, who started to play local village teams. As I was later to become one myself, the player I remember most was their very athletic goalkeeper Joe. Joe had long hair, when the fashion of the time for our team was ‘short back and sides’; Joe kept his in place with a hairnet!”
Our Member Tony Betteridge tells us how his father worked for a local farmer, Mr. Manley in the village of Brailes, near Shipston-on-Stour. He remembers helping him milk cows by hand and how the farmer was a strict Methodist, with a loud booming voice that vibrated the walls of the chapel. All his workers without exception were expected to attend church on Sundays, which was almost a condition of employment. He remembers the children of the village being given time-off from school and Mr. Manley hosting a big party in his barn. He also remembers there being live music there and, although he doesn’t recall exactly, he’s sure there was dancing after a bun-fight.
Our Members Les Jones and Brian Kirk were both teenagers who worked on the Great Central Railway that ran through Byfield until the Beeching years of the ‘60s but neither can remember VE Day itself. Les was a steam-engine's fireman, later to become an engine driver and, as many of our Membership, they remember their times in the forces doing National Service. They all have tales to tell of their being home and abroad then - but that was afterwards.
As for your scribe Terry Hoyle, "I wasn't quite two and Dad was still in Graz, Austria. Dad was a tank 'commander' (well, he was a Sergeant, and used to ride in the turret) but they were no longer needed, so he left his "Churchill" there, was transferred from the Royal Tank Regiment to the 11th Hussars (they had horses, with which Dad found he was not compatible); he later became a Provost Marshall at Werl prison near Dortmund in Germany. I think my earliest memory is of when I was out in our back garden somewhere, with two guys standing over me. Looking-up, they seemed ten feet tall, both with blonde hair shining in the sun. I distinctly remember one ruffling my hair (I had plenty then, and it was blonde too), and then they both walked away. They were German Prisoners of War who had been digging our vegetable plot. I’ve no idea what year that was but as they didn’t seem to be guarded, I guess the war was over. I do also remember when Dad was demobbed he went to work on a local farm and used to bring a big old Fordson tractor home; he used to let me 'drive' it up the lane, by sitting on his lap with my hands on the steering wheel. I can't check any of this of course because sadly he and Mum are long since departed. The images below are of Dad & Mum at their wedding in 1942, and Dad in his later years.