We all had visions of socialism then
East London Teenager Boy VE Day was one of the most emotional days in my life. (1) There were Union Jacks out and every one was saying “We want the King!” Everyone was shouting for the King. Men and women. Mind you, they were shouting for Louis 16th a few weeks before they cut his head off. You can’t go on the emotions of… – People were so pent up. There was mass shagging in the streets… – No sort of class distinction. I walked into a posh hotel and everyone was offering me drinks. Everybody. What amazed me was where they got the drink from! No one ever had it. At least, we didn’t, because before this, pubs were closed. People had to walk miles to get a drink. A bloke would say to another bloke “I know a pub that’s got some beer.” The pub would be packed solid until they drunk the beer out. So I don’t know where they got the drink from.
East End Girl On VE Day I watched my Dad dance up and down the street. He was dead drunk, my Dad. He tap danced all up and down our street. My Dad used to have cups for tap dancing. Everybody was out on the street, drunk. We watched from the windows.
Somerset Girl On VE Day they had bonfires on hilltops. They took weeks building up huge bonfires on all the hills – on Street Hill and Wearyall Hill, between Street and Glastonbury, and all the hills around.
Somerset Boy From Ham Hill we could see all the other fires. A sailor at our fire actually threw himself in the middle of the bonfire and they had to haul him off. He was in flames. They had to roll him down the hill to put the flames out. He was drunk. That was Victory night.
2nd Somerset Girl VE day in Winscombe was very dead. We were longing for something. We could have gone to Weston but there wasn’t a late bus to come back. We really felt left out of things. You read about all these marvellous things going on in London – dancing in the streets.
Paratrooper I was in Ireland on VE Day. There’s a bay there called Dundrum Bay and I was sitting on a little bit of grass thinking to myself: “Well, I don’t know, all this bleeding time, all that square bashing, all them manoeuvres, for me to be sitting here when it’s all over. I’m still here. And them poor sods I joined up with, who I was working with before the war, are probably blown to bits, or something like that. And what for?”
The following day we was on a road run. They took us on a road run all round the country lanes, and we were running down this slope in this little lane and an old Irish boy’s walking along, with an old hat and a bloody great knurled stick in his hand, and as we’re running past he said “What the bloody hell are you running for? The war’s over!” We was pissing ourselves laughing.
Liverpool Mother I spent my VE Day in Southdown Hospital. After going right through the war, when all the celebrations were on I took appendicitis and was taken away. I could hear all this singing going on and I was saying to myself: Ooh, I’d love to be out there.
Liverpool Teenage Girl On VE Night there was a gang of us got together. We were still working the railway, this gang. We were on 2 to 11 shift, my mate and I. We got that much drink, we walked up from Central Station and the next thing we remembered doing was sitting in Abercromby Square Gardens about 4 in the morning – singing. Everyone went mad those two days. I don’t think anyone slept.
Teeside Boy Soldier We were stationed in Catterick and a gang of us went to Middlesbrough. There was a lad from Newcastle and he took a box of hand-grenades and a bloody great box of flares. In Middlesbrough he was throwing hand-grenades in park. We finished up in Acland Road. We came across a pile of road chippings and barrels of tar. How we did it I don’t know, but we got about three of these barrels stacked one on top of the other and set fire to bottom one. And we were dancing around them.
Staffs Miner VE Day they gave you extra money to stop in. I was on nights when word came through – day’s pay and home Jeeves, and don’t spare the horses! Extra pint in pub! Extra ale!
Royal Engineer I was in Germany on VE Day. Our division took Bremen and another division took Hamburg. We went into Bremen brewery, me and the engineers. We had to take a lorry and pick up the company’s beer. We all got pissed and nearly drowned because down in the wine vaults of the brewery the maniacs had knocked the pipes off and the sherry ran all over the floor. You was wading with sherry up to your knees. No lights on. We were shining torches. And the stink! You was intoxicated with the smell.
According to the propaganda it was only the Germans who bombed hospitals
RAF Flight Engineer On the 26 of June we took our ground crew over Germany, to show them what they’d helped us do. What we called Cook’s Tours. We went from the flooded areas of Holland to Cologne, from Cologne to Bonn, from Bonn to Mainz, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Wuppertal, Wessel – which was nothing left at all, as far as I remember – Arnhem, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and back to base. What I saw I thought was disgusting.
Cologne was just rubble. The railway station was like Paddington, but all you could see were the arches. The Cathedral was standing right next to it – the spire was still standing. It looked reasonably whole but apart from that you couldn’t see a building that was standing. All the bridges were down, or seemed to be. At Frankfurt I saw a hospital, like a “U” sideways. It had great Red Crosses on the roof. One wing was completely gutted and the other one had bomb holes in it. Obviously you can’t see what you’re bombing at night, but according to our propaganda it was only the Germans who bombed hospitals.
During the 1945 election I was stationed at Hunstanton in Norfolk
Leeds Man The government had agreed that soldiers could take part in the elections but not dressed in army uniform. (2) Any soldier who wanted to take part in elections had merely to inform his Colonel and wear civilian clothing if he was conducting any activity. There was nothing in Hunstanton. I thought “I’ll have to do something here.”
I went to the local Coop and I asked to see the manager. I was in uniform. I asked him “Are you a member of the Labour Party?” “It so happens I am. Why?” “Where is the Labour Party?” “We haven’t got any Labour Party.” “How about forming one?” “It’s a good idea. Look” he says, “go down the railway station.” The railway station clerk was the stationmaster, signals, porter, clerk, luggage man – he was the whole lot. And he was delighted. I said “Do you know anybody?” “Yes” he said. “I know a bus driver and his wife who are Labour.” And there was also the War Agricultural Officer, the man who looked after the farms. I went to see this lad and I’ve been friends with him ever since.
“What are we going to do?” he says. “We’re going to form a Labour Party.” We called a meeting. We had about a dozen people. None of them were public speakers. I was the only one who could stand up in public. The bus driver had a belly as big as Fatty Arbuckle’s (3). He lent me a pair of trousers and a coat. I used to go to this Agricultural Officer’s house, change into the trousers, sew them up the back to make them fit (he always had to have them back the same night, so I always had to sew them up every time), and I’d go travelling ’round the villages making public speeches. Our candidate was a Major Wise. The headquarters were Kings Lynn – but we won the blessed seat. We won it! Everybody was shattered that we won it.
Conscript I was on a boat going to India when the election results came over on the tannoy. When we heard that Labour had won – now this is a true story – all the soldiers on this troopship, thousands of them – got up and sang the Red Flag. The officers couldn’t stop it. They didn’t try. (4)
Arran Farmer The great highlights of the Second World War were Churchill’s speeches. A remarkable man. When people felt thoroughly down old Churchill would come on the radio and by the time he was finished we were quite sure everything was OK. It was Churchill that won the war. It was him and nobody else that pulled the nation together. It was a terrible reflection on the British people that they could do such a thing to a man who had done so much for them.
Army Mechanic, North African and Italian campaign I believe, in fact I’m bloody sure, that when the war was over and the Labour government got in – not that I’ve got any time for them now – I believe it was because of the fact that at the time the Tories were in power. They felt the Tories were to blame for not seeing the wood for the trees and arming earlier so that they would be in a position to say to Hitler “Pack it up.”
East London Man A lot of people knew unconsciously that Churchill would be a great war leader because he was such an aggressive bastard. Years and years after the war, when Churchill died, they tried to set up a memorial fund for him, and they even had the temerity to put it to Trade Union branches. The war was in 1939. There were men who were adolescents in 1912 when he did the Tonypandy killings. Thirteen years before 1939 Churchill had been very, very active in the ’26 strike. (5)
Churchill was also well known in Stepney for bringing the military into Sydney Street. Even people who knew nothing about politics knew that guardsmen and artillery machines came into Sydney Street, in their area, to destroy a couple of people who were non-existent anyway. (6) In the whole of the East End people detested Conservatives, even without knowing what they were. But Churchill was known to them. Even people with hazy memories knew he was a ratbag, and that he was a Tory. Five years later in 1945 the extent of the people voting for Labour proved this, and the Tories and the Times and the Telegraph and the Observer couldn’t understand it. They were saying “How can they do this to our great war leader?”
At the time of the General Election the Daily Mirror invited youth to write an article, and I wrote an article on saying how I thought Labour would deal with it. I was really proud of seeing me name in print. I showed it to everybody. In those days I thought Labour was the be-all and end-all of everything. We all had visions of socialism then.
Paratrooper, Londoner When the Smithfield porters were out on strike we were detailed to go and work in the Smithfield market. (7) We were supposed to blackleg. We had three ton Bedfords, down at Shorncliffe. (8) I was driving them at the time. They said “Right, make your way to Smithfields.” I was in the second lorry and my mate was driving the first one. There was about twenty to thirty blokes in each lorry, and there were four lorries. I said to my mate “Do you know your way to Smithfield?” I haven’t a fucking clue” he said. “Follow me”, I said, “I’ll take you to Smithfield.”
Know where we ended up? Hastings. We had a great time, mucking about on the beach. I wasn’t going to lead those lorries to Smithfield. All the drivers were put on a charge. I took the responsibility. I said “Look, I thought I knew the way to London, but I must have took the wrong turning.” They couldn’t do nothing about it, but we was confined to camp for five days. I wasn’t going to go up there and do that – break the strike. All the lads were in agreement. We all had a day out, down at the seaside.
1. VE Day – Victory in Europe – was on 8 May, 1945.
2. Whilst the war in the Far East was still on the British wartime coalition government announced that a General Election would take place on 5 July. Campaigning for the election started on 4 June, 1945.
3. Fatty Arbuckle, a well known American Silent Film comedian.
4. The results of the British General Election were announced on 26 July. (Postal votes from troops and personnel overseas were one reason for the gap between the polling day and the announcement of results). The Labour Party had a majority of 145 seats.
5. Churchill, a Conservative, had switched to the Liberal Party before the First World War, and was Home Secretary in November 1910 (not 1912) when he sent in troops to reinforce the police in the Tonypandy area in the South Wales mining area, following riots by locked out miners. Only one person died, allegedly as a consequence of being hit by a police baton. During the 1926 General Strike, in support of miners, Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative Government. With no newspapers being printed the Government produced the anti trade union British Gazette, which Churchill edited.
6. The Siege of Sydney Street, 3 January, 1911. As Home Secretary Churchill sent in troops to Stepney to flush out alleged Latvian anarchist bank robbers.
7. Smithfield Meat Market, London. This strike was during April, 1946, eight months after the Labour Party came to power. Chuter Ede was the Home Secretary.
8. Shorncliffe Army Base, Kent.