Home Front Stories is an exhibition that was to be presented at Westbury Manor Museum and Eastleigh Museum in the run up to the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Museum volunteer, Peter Downton, initially put forward the idea of a VE Day exhibition. He then went on to research, carry out interviews and develop the exhibition content. As the museum is currently closed during the lockdown, Home Front Stories has been serialised into three parts for publication online in the lead up to VE Day 75.
Let the celebrations begin!
Joan was on a Provincial bus between Gosport and Fareham “when two buses suddenly stopped, and an animated conversation took place between the drivers. The gist of this was that one driver had been told that a holiday for VE Day had been declared and that everybody was to get back to the depot as soon as possible in order that celebrations could commence.”
Let’s hit the town
Licensing hours were extended. Peter Downton, a shipwright in Portsmouth Dockyard at the time, recalled that on hearing the news he immediately met up with friends and hit the town. His fiancée was less than amused when she realised that she had not been included in the revelry.
It’s no wonder people wanted to celebrate
“You have got to think that during the course of that war you could never go to bed at night because of the bloody sirens, you was running round to the shelter you could hear the bombs in the distance. If it was a bit too close that’s when you got worried. It wasn’t just night time it was daytime and all, air raids going on all the time and all of a sudden everything stops.
"You can see what everyone would celebrate for.”
Celebrating VE Day – A personal reminiscence, Betty Wright
“I was very involved with the Missions to Seamen Club in Fareham as a voluntary helper and my fondest memory of the VE day rejoicings is when another friend I had made at the club came dashing up on her bicycle. Can you possibly come down to the club this evening because they are putting on a party, and Collingwood was absolutely packed with trainees. They used to come up to Missions for Seamen for their relaxation. They wanted as many girls as possible to dance with the boys of course.
"My friend said will you be able to come? I will call for you. So she called for me and it was a case of putting on the best possible dress we could manage. Chemists in those days used to mix up a concoction of calamine lotion with a colouring in it and we use to paint it on our legs. I stood up on the table and my friend drew a seam and off we went. And when we got down to Missions to Seamans club, where they got them from I will never know, but they had baskets and baskets of roses. There were two very nicely turned out sailors on the door pinning a rose on every girl.
"Can you imagine how we felt after wartime? We had never been feted like that at our age. And I can remember the excitement of the girls as they arrived, and these two sailors went forward and pinned a rose on them. We had just a whale of a party.”
Not all street parties were on VE Day itself. Parties needed organising with people coming together and pooling their resources and ration books. It is difficult to do that instantly and with everything in short supply and people competing for those supplies, getting it up and running will have been difficult. Joan Hill, for example, recalled that their party was held just after VE Day. However, it seems everybody pitched in. The furniture came out onto the street.
Street Party Hinchcliffe Road, Gosport
“I expect there was a lot of baking. Homemade jam tarts, blancmange etc. But it was the community spirit and the knowledge that something wonderful had happened for most people.
"What amuses me when I look at the VE Day pictures that appear in the paper is the variety of chairs that are brought out”.
“I was 9 at the time. It was just a big party day really. All the mums got together and made the cakes and all the men got together and made the tables up. And somebody hired all the chairs and it was one the jobs of Mr Paul, (he had a smallholding at the end of the road and had a cart), to go and collect them all and take them all back again. They hired them from somewhere or other. I remember all that part.
"Most streets had street parties. I remember our street party because I lived in that street, but you also knew that down the road you’d go down there and have a sneaky preview. I always remember ours because it was such a big large one. Everybody in the street was there.”
“The road we lived in was owned by the Railway and was divided into three sections (top, middle and bottom) according to what job you did. We lived in the bottom section where the people who made and assembled the steam engines lived. On VE Day there was a party in each of the three sections. Everyone had the day off work, we all wore hats and there was music in the street. I remember the local greengrocers ran stagecoach rides for all the children”.
Roy Pigeon Extract from memories, WW2 People’s War (BBC)
For more VE Day celebrations across Hampshire, visit our VE Day Street Party Gallery on 6 May.
The story of a VE Day baby - Victor Edward Knight
“My dad was a submariner, part of his duties was Malta so he used to visit Malta quite often.
"My mum was Greek, and in the Greek and Turkish uprising a lot of the Greeks fled the country. My mum fled the country with her sister and ended up in Malta where my dad met her, or she met my dad, and after several meets he then brought her back to England. He then married her in Portsmouth.
"My mum had married previously. Her husband then as missing presumed dead in the Greek war so they had to wait a nine year period before they could marry, my mum who already had a daughter.
"They then had five children, five boys, myself being the youngest; and I was born on VE Day.
“The midwife in them days was a nurse Fisher who was very well known in Gosport. Nurse Fisher had apparently brought hundreds and hundreds of children into the world around the Gosport area. She said to my mum because I was born on VE Day that I had to be named VE Knight my surname being Knight so hence the name that I've got, Victor Edward Knight, is really due to Nurse Fisher.”
The party continues
Following the main celebrations, further events continued to be held around the country. In Eastleigh, a ‘Victory Walk’ and athletics events took place in September 1945 and the following year parades were held in June to commemorate the service of the Commonwealth forces.
Video footage of the walk can be viewed here courtesy of Wessex Film & Sound Archive.
Part 3 will be published on 7 May.
If you have enjoyed Culture on Call and you are able to make a donation, any support you can give will help us keep people connected.