Roamer: Memories of the celebrations after Winston Churchill’s VE Day broadcast

Christopher Wilson
Christopher Wilson

Whilst our politicians reflect apprehensively on the size of their parties today they might have a moment to cast a wistful eye back on Britain’s biggest every party - when the nation celebrated VE Day 70 years ago on the streets of our towns and cities.

Whilst our politicians reflect apprehensively on the size of their parties today they might have a moment to cast a wistful eye back on Britain’s biggest every party - when the nation celebrated VE Day 70 years ago on the streets of our towns and cities.

Rita Hamilton

Rita Hamilton

They might also pause to ponder one of history’s most curious coalitions.

During the last WWII battle fought in Europe, early in May 1945, a Germany Army unit fought alongside an American Army division - against the SS - to save an Austrian Castle in the Tyrol!

The strange Tyrolean skirmish will probably be forgotten today, but the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe - VE Day - is being marked here and around world, colourfully confirmed on an official map on the web.

Vivid green and blue markers, representing beacons and other events being held tonight and throughout the weekend, are being added to the map constantly.

In some parts of the UK the coloured symbols are spread so thickly that the map is barely visible!

Northern Ireland’s markers are also burgeoning!

Visit and you’ll easily find a beacon or an event on the map somewhere near you.

The televised Remembrance services and other special events, programmes and newspaper articles over the weekend will reflect a cloud of sadness over the land whilst those who fell in WWII are commemorated.

In contrast, there’ll be hosts of happy reminiscences too.

And the words of Winston Churchill on the radio and to a crowded Whitehall seven decades ago will echo above the beacons.

“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing,” he said on his historic radio broadcast, “but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.”

Ninety-year-old Rita Hamilton, a WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) driver at Castle Archdale sea-plane base during WWII remembers Churchill’s broadcast, and will be commemorating tonight beside Lough Erne, at the Enniskillen anniversary.

“We were so happy that everything was over,” she reminisced on this page last week.

Christopher Wilson was six years old in 1945. “We, the residents of a terrace of four houses on the Shore Road, Greenisland, were looking forward in April and during the first days of May 1945, with the rest of the world, for Winston Churchill’s announcement,” Christopher recounted in a letter to Roamer.

Rita Hamilton and her friend and colleague WAAF driver Francis Hornby joined up with nine or 10 other women drivers and celebrated Churchill’s glad tidings on a RAF motorboat on Lough Erne.

Two young RAF boatmen ferried the girls who were “all very excited at the news,” Rita remembers.

It was an unforgettable trip, even though Rita’s routine WAAF journeys included chauffeuring two of Northern Ireland’s RAF Air Commodores around the country in a Humber Snipe!

“We drove everybody everywhere. We went to the officers’ mess with supplies of beer or groceries, we delivered depth charges to the seaplanes in trucks, we drove ambulances,” Rita recalls.

Christopher Wilson’s memories of celebrating VE Day on the Shore Road at Greenisland are of a different nature, though similarly evocative.

The terrace of seafront houses where he lived had been preparing in advance for Churchill’s announcement and all the local mothers had dyed sheets and clothing red, white and blue.

“They carefully cut the cloth into triangles and strung the home made bunting, with the dads’ help, from the roof gutters to the garden hedges.

“But alas, they had overestimated the distance from roof to hedge. But victory was in the air and celebrate in full they would, with an overabundance of bunting!

“The next day the extra bunting appeared. But there was a slight problem. Even coloured in the British colours and cut into individual triangles, everyone could guess what foundation garments the ladies of the terrace had sacrificed for King and country!

“On VE night the folk living on Greenisland’s Shore Road and Station Road decided to have a bonfire in a field now gone as part of an estate of houses.

“Everyone helped to build the bonfire of sticks and cardboard - no air polluting tyres in those far off days. A serious problem arose. Where could we find an effigy of Hitler?

“Members of all denominations gratefully accepted an effigy being kept for a bonfire in July. Hitler, even with a hastily painted-on black moustache, resembled a certain Italian cleric! Up went the flames and all present sang God Save the King.

“Suddenly there was a piercing scream. A fine looking young lady screamed loudly that her new nylons had been destroyed! A spark from the fire had made a tiny hole in one nylon. The respectable matrons showed no sympathy.

“We children heard them say, ‘Serve her right. She does things for the Americans.’ Well, of course, we were perplexed, so we asked our mothers what she did for the Americans. All the mothers replied, almost in chorus, ‘Never mind. Enjoy the bonfire.’

“Tea in mugs and home-baked buns finished the evening and we children were dragged home to bed. But the next day would be a new day and perhaps our question would be answered. It was not!

“Today a new dual carriageway is being swathed through the site of our VE Day bonfire and where we often played. I am seldom back on the Station Road but, when I am, I can still hear that scream ‘Oh, my nylons!’”