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How Guildford Marked VJ Day When The Second World War Came To An End

Published on: 10 Aug, 2020
Updated on: 11 Aug, 2020

By David Rose

This Saturday (August 15, 2020) marks the 75th anniversary of VJ Day (Victory over Japan) when in 1945 the Second World War finally ended.

It was on August 2, 1945 that the president of the USA, Harry Truman, authorised the use of atomic bombs to bring the war in the East to a close. Four days later the USAAF B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan, killing more than 70,000 people. The target of the second bomb was Nagasaki on August 9.

Although Japan laid down its weapons on August 14, the expected announcement did not come through until midnight in Britain. Therefore the UK marks VJ Day on August 15. And September 2, 1945 is when Japan formally signed its surrender document.

In Britain 75 years ago Wednesday the 15th and Thursday the 16th of August were public holidays, and by 8am on the first day queues were forming outside food shops in Guildford.

How the Surrey Advertiser of August 18, 1945, reported the VJ Day celebration in Guildford. It, nor the Surrey Times, published pictures of the joyful celebrations that took place in Guildford town centre. Click on images to enlarge in a new window.

Details of the town’s celebrations were published in the local press at the time and some of the stories were retold in the book Guildford The War Years 1939-45, by Graham Collyer and myself, published by Breedon Books in 1999.

Some of those included the following…

The Surrey Times of August 18, 1945, reported that it was a ‘far from victory’ smile on the faces of most of the people in the queues, and that the drizzling rain did not brighten spirits.

Brewers’ vans and drays have been out late on Tuesday delivering beer to meet the anticipated increased consumption. Before 8am on Wednesday there were more urgent calls to the Friary Brewery for additional supplies for the military and licensed premises.

The licensing justices had granted an extension to midnight on VJ Day, but there was hardly a pub left open by then.

Guildford’s Electricity Department had started to fix floodlights to the main thoroughfares on the Sunday morning. Official messages were relayed by loudspeakers from the Guildhall in the High Street, telling people of the arrangements, the music for dancing, the King’s speech, news bulletins and other radio features.

The Mayor of Guildford, in 1945, Wyckham Price.

The Mayor of Guildford in 1945, Wyckham Price.

At about 10am on VJ Day, the mayor, Wykeham Price, who had cut short a holiday in Somerset, announced the programme.

He said the floodlighting that had been a success on VE Day had been considerably extended. There would be some 30 additional floodlights on the new cathedral and an interesting lighting experiment on St Catherine’s and its approaches.

Large crowds thronged the main streets of the town centre during the evening of VJ Day, by which time the drizzle had stopped.

The news reports noted that women predominated among the dancers and the uniforms of all the services were in evidence. Land girls frolicked with guardsmen, sailors proved their agility at the Scottish reels or leading ‘crocodiles’ of young people wending their way through the crowds.

However, towards 11pm proceedings became boisterous. Fireworks were thrown into the midst of the dancers by some irresponsible people.

A small fire was started in Tunsgate and the National Fire Service was called. Youths clambered over the fire engine and were only persuaded to dismount, and let the vehicle continue, following appeals over the loudspeakers.

A civic beacon was lit on The Mount. It was 25ft high and 12ft square at its base. Old stakes from tank traps installed in 1940, along with a number of old tar barrels, were the main ingredients.

More than 2,000 watched the mayor light the beacon and fireworks were let off. The beacon burned for two hours.

Some photographs do exist of street parties that took place in Guildford to celebrate VJ Day and the end of the Second World War. This one from Shepherds Hill, Stoughton.

Most open or semi-open spaces in and around Guildford had a ceremonious burning of a guy. Youngsters lit a bonfire in the grounds behind the Royal Grammar School, adjacent to Sydenham Road. However, the National Fire Service was called and quickly put out the fire much to the annoyance of customers in the Robin Hood pub!

Other events during the two-day holiday included a cricket match between Guildford and Farncombe at the sports ground in Woodbridge Road, which Farncombe won by four wickets.

The main thanksgiving service was held at Holy Trinity Church on the following Sunday evening. Its bells and those of St Nicolas Church had been rung on VJ Day to celebrate the peace.

Residents of Tilehouse Estate in Stoughton pose for a photograph at their VJ Day party.

Like VE Day, there were numerous street parties during the following week or so to celebrate the end of the war.

One such party that included Eagle, Onslow, Park and Stoke Roads featured an 18-gallon barrel of beer and a cask of cider. Revellers enjoyed oxtail and Spam sandwiches and cakes.

Two photos of the VJ Day celebrations in Recreation Road, Guildford.

Under the heading ‘Victoryettes’ the Surrey Times on August 18, wrote: “Vs in electric lights from a house in Warwick’s Bench were seen across the valley.

“Height of fashion: The girl who paraded in the High Street with a red, white and blue dress. The exception: the girl in the High Street who did not tie her hair with patriotic colours.

“Pressure on telephones on the morning of VJ Day was among the heaviest on record. Requests were made to certain public offices not to telephone.

“Soldiers who missed the last conveyance back to camp after High Street festivities on Wednesday and Thursday slept in doorways and air-raid shelters.

“Unprecedented was the traffic by rail from Guildford to London on Wednesday to witness the opening of Parliament and other sights.

“Morning-after debris in the High Street following VJ dances included countless heels from women’s shoes unable to withstand the cobbled dancefloor.

“Some 800 people had a dip in the Lido on Saturday.

“Victim of a fruit throwing episode during mafficking in the High Street on Wednesday was Mr E. A. Lane, borough treasurer. A putrid apple hit his shoulder, narrowly missing his neck.”

Some end of war parties and celebrations continued to take place into September 1945, as seen here in Station Road, Shalford.

Guildford’s commemorations this weekend to mark the 75th anniversary of VJ Day

Unfortunately, the coronavirus restrictions means that many public events that were planned have been cancelled. However, in Guildford on Saturday, August 15, there will be a memorial service in the Castle Grounds. The rector of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s Churches, Canon Robert Cotton, will say a few words to commemorate those that lost their lives.

The Union Flag on the bowling green will be lowered to half-mast. Last Post and Reveille will be played by a lone bugler as part of the nationwide two-minute silence at 11am, after which the flag will be raised on Guildford Castle.

This will be followed by a performance of ‘Cry For Peace Around the World’ by David Peters, Guildford’s town crier.

The event is not open to the public in order to keep to government guidance but it will be filmed and shared on Guildford Borough Council’s Facebook page later in the day.

The lone bugler will return to the Castle Grounds on Saturday evening to play at sunset to mark the end of the commemorations which will also be available to view on Facebook.

The council is encouraging people to raise a glass with the words “To those who gave so much, we thank you.”

The Union Flag will fly over Guildford Castle, the Guildhall and council offices at Millmead. The Castle and Guildhall will also be lit up in red, white and blue.

Other events taking place in Guildford include an online service to commemorate VJ Day from Guildford Cathedral at 9.45am on Sunday, August 16, which will be broadcast live via the cathedral’s social media channels.

The recently refurbished Guildford Museum is currently showing the “Commemoration and Celebration – memories and legacies of the Second World War”. A selection of the exhibition also can be seen on the council’s website.

The Mayor of Guildford, Richard Billington, said: “This is likely to be the last time that we can say our collective, special ‘thank you’ to the surviving brave veterans of this terrible conflict, many of whom have felt they are the ‘forgotten army’ during important anniversary commemorations over the last 75 years.

“That is why it is more important than ever that we show they will never be forgotten by joining together in the national commemorations planned.

“At 11am, I will be pausing with the rest of the nation to observe the two-minute silence. As I do, I will reflect on the sacrifices that were made by the many thousands of brave souls that were still engaged in the Asia-Pacific region 75 years ago, and of course will be giving thanks to the surviving veterans, who will never forget the friends they left behind.”

Details of national VJ Day commemoration are listed on the government’s website.

Click here for recent VE Day story on The Guildford Dragon NEWS.

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Responses to How Guildford Marked VJ Day When The Second World War Came To An End

  1. Jan Messinger Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    We must also remember the charities that support so many must be suffering because of the non-events commemorating VE and VJ day this year. We must dig deep to support them as they support our veterans.

    Very interesting piece, as always, remembering the past and telling us what’s going on in the town in the present day for VJ day.

  2. Moira MacQuaide Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    It is sad that there don’t seem to be many photos of the celebrations at the end of the war. When I was researching the history of Burpham I only came across one photo, of a street party on Merrow Lane, but we weren’t sure if it was VE or VJ day.

    It would be fascinating to find more photographic history of the area.

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