As May 8 VE (Victory in Europe) Day 75 approaches marlborough.news has been speaking to people who have childhood memories of VE Day 1945 in Marlborough.
Garth Pearce, who was seven years old in 1945 and living in Alexandra Terrace, remembers hearing the announcement on the radio on the evening of May 7 1945 which declared that the war in Europe was over. “People went out of their houses into the street, clapping and cheering and waving union jacks.”
May 8 was declared a public holiday and the celebrations began. In London thousands of people thronged the streets and watched King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. In Marlborough there was a procession in the High Street and many areas of the town held different celebrations despite the fact that rationing was still in place.
David Chandler remembers being a pupil at St Mary’s Infant School, situated in Herd Street. “On VE day (or very soon after) we made hats coloured red, white and blue and were marched round the town singing ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’ which puzzled me a bit at the time as to its relevance!”
Tony Gray also remembers constructing the hats and marching. “We marched down the High Street and on to a big field at Nash’s Farm, which was at the end of Elcot Lane, beyond the tile factory. Games and races were held.”
Living over Duck’s Toyshop (now Susie Watson Designs) he had a great view of proceedings in the High Street. “The mayor at the time was Jimmy Duck, a distant relative of mine, and there was a big party in the Town Hall.”
There were many street parties in the town. Garth remembers, “Blowhorn Street had a street party – all lemonade and jam sandwiches.
They also held a Sports Day in Shewrey’s Meadow in Coldharbour Lane. I won the under 8 year olds 80 yard dash. The first prize was 5 shillings, a small fortune for a small boy, and about a quarter of a man’s weekly wages! My mother said she had never seen anyone more determined in her life!
In the evening there was a giant bonfire in Southview where effigies of Hitler and the German High Command were burned.”
The Home Office had declared, “Bonfires will be allowed, but the government trusts that only material with no salvage value will be used.”
It sounds as if the VE celebrations went on for a number of weeks. Pat Keen remembers going to a children’s VE party in Marlborough College Gym when she was 6 years old. “It must have been close to May 8. I think the Americans from the Ailesbury Arms Hotel were involved. I ate doughnuts for the first time but I was too shy to get involved in the games. My mother didn’t explain much to me and she told me it was my sixth birthday party!”
Garth writes in his memoirs, “Marlborough Common was turned into hutted barracks, occupied by the Third US Army XX Corps, later converted to the US 347th Station Hospital. My mother was in charge of the construction site canteen, the site organization being under the direction of a Mr. Collins of Collins Caravans near Newbury. This was to be a hospital for injuries sustained in what would become the D Day landings. The whole of the area to the left of the Rockley Road became a vehicle park for the U.S. Army.”
All the people marlborough.news spoke to have vivid memories of the Americans visiting St Mary’s Infant School. David commented, “The Americans came into school with packs of candy for us children and cream jugs for our mothers. Our jug is now a treasured family heirloom.”
While Garth remembers, “The Americans gave us a baseball bat and ball as well as candy and a tiny white cream jug. I’ve got mine still.”
Marlborough in the war years not only hosted the Americans but many evacuees. The City of London Boys School was evacuated to Marlborough College with the boys billeted around the town. David Chandler’s family in George Lane had two boys living with them.
Garth Pearce and his mother, his father was away in the army, shared their house in Alexandra Terrace with many different evacuee families.
“With the East End of London being blitzed an influx of evacuees came to Marlborough with little in the way of possessions. We usually had two families billeted with us. My mother and I had one bedroom, a sitting room and kitchen, but the kitchen was shared by the other families. A gas stove was installed in our front living room and the upstairs bathroom and toilet were shared by all.
The families changed from time to time as circumstances changed, some were very pleasant people, others were not, but we can now understand how everyone was under a great deal of stress. One particular family stole all of my Christening silverware presents, but another family from Austria, the Eino’s, were very pleasant and were appreciative, as being Jewish they had escaped from Hitler. They were a father, mother, two children and a granny and spoke little English.”
There was also an Italian prisoner of war camp situated off Elcot Lane where Barrow Close is now. David Chandler remembers the Italians were given the job of demolishing the derelict remains of the George Inn which stood on the site of the present Catholic Church.
The derelict remains of the inn were a tempting but forbidden playground for David and his pals. ‘No 10 Downing Street’ was the graffiti daubed on the front door of the inn. The famous radio announcements of the time often began with ‘I am speaking to you from No 10 Downing Street.’
“I know where that is,” six year-old David told his mother!
At 3 pm on VE Day Churchill addressed the nation by radio broadcast. “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” He knew that Japan still had to be defeated.
Churchill’s speech, which may have resonances with the current Covid-19 battle, will be broadcast on May 8 2020 on the BBC at 2.45pm.