This is Your Victory: Weston celebrates VE Day

Revellers danced in the streets as fireworks exploded overhead, while music, laughter and joy filled Weston’s streets as the whole country celebrated on May 8, 1945.

This was the day Nazi Germany surrendered, the first Victory In Europe (VE) day, when the guns fell silent across the continent, and the beginning of the end of the Second World War.

Tomorrow (Friday) marks the 75th anniversary of this momentous occasion, and the Mercury has dived into the archives to recall how the day was celebrated.

Troops begin to return home

In the weeks leading up to May 8, there was a feeling the conflict was coming to an end

For the people of Weston, stories of soldiers injured, missing, captured or killed in battle were all too common throughout the war.

But in those closing weeks, these tales were replaced by stories of men returning to the town after years of fighting, or held as a prisoner of war in German and Italian camps.

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Life at home was slowly returning to something close to normal.

Weston Rugby Club’s committee recommended re-starting the season in 1946, and men had begun to return to their families.

One of whom was 20-year-old Paratrooper Henry Pope.

He had vanished six months previously, with no word of what had happened to him.

Then ‘quite unexpectedly’, he walked in on his parents and gave them ‘the biggest surprises of their lives’.

He had been held at a German Prisoner of War (POW) camp.

But among the reports of those returning from POW camps, were the scores of telegrams announcing fathers, brothers, uncles and sons who would not be returning.

The paper detailed those who were still missing, and those who were injured.

VE Day plans

Following the fall of the Nazi regime, plans were afoot to celebrate the ending of the war which had claimed millions of lives across Europe, and the world.

The Mercury announced plans for VE Day events in its May 5 edition, stating: “Although not on a pretentious scale, they are designed to cater for the wishes of the townspeople’s celebrations and reverent thanks.”

Dancing licences were extended until 1am, and Weston received notice the ‘dim out’, which had prohibited the use of outdoor lights at night to cloak the town in darkness hiding it from German bombers, was to end.

The celebrations begin

A report in the Mercury said Weston had never known such a week of music.

It said: “The song of victory has gone up from thousands of throats, and the instrumentalists ranged from the Weston Orchestra to the accordionist in the back streets.”

In Moorland Road, children were treated to tea in the streets, a bonfire and community singing.

Pubs ran out of beer, and spontaneous sing-a-longs of Land Of Hope And Glory and There’ll Always Be An England were heard echoing throughout the town.

Effigies of Adolf Hilter were set ablaze on numerous bonfires throughout the town, while soldiers from America, Australia, Canada, and Poland who were still stationed in Weston joined in with the celebrations at the Winter Gardens.

The Mercury reported: “We have passed through great eventful days, vast armies have surrendered, despots have died and free people of the world have rejoiced in the triumph of their armies.

“The battle of the past ages, Thermopylae, Agincourt, Crecy, Blenheim, Waterloo, pale in insignificance compared to the gigantic fights that have brought the Nazi tyrants crushing to their doom and saved Europe from something worse than a return to the dark ages.

“Nowhere were the jollifications more spontaneous than on the Bournville estate, Weston’s bomb alley as it has sometimes been called.

“That district, which has seen so much death and destruction in this war, probably led the town in patriotic fervour.”

Remembrance

A week after the celebrations, members of the Armed Forces gathered at the war memorial in Grove Park for a service.

It was a sombre occasion, which honoured not only those who had fought, and those still fighting in Asia, but those who had to rebuild their lives, and homes once it ended.

The Mercury said: “From the gaiety, dancing parties, fireworks, and the victory parade, the mood had changed to one of reverent humility, of thought and prayer, for those who fought on against the Japanese and remembering all those for whom the end of the war is not the end of suffering.”

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