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What Really Happened In Guildford When The War In Europe Ended 75 Years Ago

Published on: 6 May, 2020
Updated on: 6 May, 2020

Events planned this Friday (May 8) to bring people together to commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe have of course been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis. But we can look back at the real events in Guildford and the issues it was facing at the time, as David Rose writes…

On Monday, May 7, 1945, the Second World War in Europe came to an end with the unconditional surrender by the German Supreme Command at Rheims in France.

The news of the surrender was broadcast on the wireless to people in Britain at lunchtime, with the government announcing that the following two days would be public holidays.

As noted in the book Guildford The War Years 1939-45, co-written by Graham Collyer and myself (published by Breedon Books in 1999), “Guildfordians wasted no time in preparing for the celebrations. By the next morning homes and business premises were awash with red, white and blue decorations fluttering in the damp air.”

As well as the book being a basis for this feature, I have returned to the notes, people’s memories and so on, that Graham and I gathered for it. I have now discovered additional details within copies we made of local newspaper reports that didn’t make it into the book. Most likely, few people will have seen these since they were first published.

On May 12, 1945, the Surrey Advertiser reported that after six years prominent buildings were once again floodlit and bonfires burned after dark. Loudspeakers installed at the Guildhall in High Street and the police station in North Street broadcast the prime minister’s statement on the afternoon of May 8 and George VI’s speech that same evening at 9pm.

The Surrey Advertiser also reported that the behaviour of the large crowds “was exemplary”, adding at night “some of the scenes were boisterous, but everyone was in the best of tempers”.

VE Day party at Tilehouse Estate, Stoughton.

From the photographs I have collected over many years, and kindly given permission to show, it appears that many of the street parties were held for the benefit of children, the adults having their fun later each day.

I have not seen any photos of parties that took place during the evening or at night.

The daytime parties took place not just on the public holidays of VE Day (Victory in Europe) itself, May 8, or May 9, but during the two weeks that followed.

The local press reported on some of these, for example, noting that: “Over 40 children in Baden Road, Stoughton, were entertained by an alfresco tea by parents, neighbours and friends. With a table set in the centre of the street, music provided by an amplifier and piano.”

VE Day party for children on a bomb site in Rydes Avenue, Guildford.

While at Rydes Avenue, in Rydes Hill, on the site where a bomb had dropped in 1940 killing three people: “The children, each with a paper hat and trumpet, sat down to a tea of jellies, cakes and other delightful things provided by the parents.”

Three hundred children from the Guildford Park area were “entertained to a victory tea party in Onslow Village Hall”.

Red, white and blue washing hung out at Tilehouse Estate, Stoughton.

As noted, in roads in Stoughton people “hung their washing on the ‘Siegfried Line’ when they held their street party on Saturday. A full line of red, white and blue garments was hung across the road above the gaily decorated tea tables”.

It was generally known during the previous weeks that the war in Europe was coming to an end. Preparations were well advanced as can be seen from a report in the Surrey Advertiser of Saturday, May 5, 1945. It stated that on the previous Wednesday (May 2) the Mayor of Guildford, Cllr Wykeham Price, had made a broadcast from a van parked outside the Guildhall.

It was repeated in various parts of the borough the same day, with the borough treasurer, Mr E. A. Lane, as the announcer.

The Mayor of Guildford’s message ahead of VE Day itself was published in the Surrey Advertiser.

The Surrey Advertiser printed the mayor’s message: “On VE Day and the following evening a number of buildings will be floodlit, but there will be no change in street lighting.

“There will be no town bonfires, as almost all material is required for salvage, but private bonfires will be welcomed, providing the fuel used is not required for salvage.

“There will be an extension of the permitted hours of opening for public houses in the borough up to 11pm, on the evening of VE Day only. There will be no extension of hours for public houses on the day following VE Day. The licensing justices have come to this decision in view of the advice given to them as regards supplies.

“All cinemas will remain open on VE Day and the following day during the usual hours. Permission has been sought to keep dance halls open until a later hour, and, if obtained, will be communicated direct to the proprietors of dance halls.

“All shops will be open on VE Day for two hours after the prime minister’s announcement, and will be closed the following day. But if VE Day falls on a Friday, the food shops will be open all day on Saturday and closed all day on the following Monday. All British Restaurants will close at 2.30pm, i.e, after the midday meal, on VE Day, and will be closed all day on the following day.

“It is the wish of His Majesty The King that the Sunday following VE Day shall be observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer. Each place of worship in the borough will make its own arrangements, but the Mayor and Corporation will attend in state at the 11am service to be held at Holy Trinity Church.

“On ‘cease fire’ day public counters will remain open for one hour after the signal has been given, or until the usual time, whichever is the earlier. No further deliveries of letters or parcels will commence after the signal. If the final collection of the day has not been made letter boxes will be finally cleared for the day shortly after the signal.

“On the public holiday following ‘cease fire’ day only main post offices will open from 9am to 12noon. The larger country sub-post offices will be open from 9am to 10.30am. All classes of business will be transacted and, exceptionally, pensions and allowances may be presented for payment at any post office, which is open irrespective of the normal office of payment. There will be no deliveries or collections.

“The telephone service will be available as usual, but with a reduced staff, and the public are asked to avoid using the telephone or telegraph services during the celebration period except for really urgent matters. The cheap rate for telephone calls made in the evening will be suspended on ‘cease fire’ day, and will not be resumed until the evening of the next working day, that is after the end of the ‘cease fire’ holiday period.”

The war in Far East did not end until Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, respectively.

Further celebrations and street parties were held on or around VJ Day (Victory in Japan), August 15.

In between VE and VJ Days, Guildford’s local newspapers reported on how life, services and events were starting to shape the then near future.

In its edition of June 6, 1945, the Surrey Advertiser, under a heading ‘NOT BACK TO LATE SHOPPING’ reported: “Guildford Chamber of Trade agreed on Monday to tell the Early Closing Association that they are in favour of their suggestion that shops should close after the war at 6pm, with one late night at 7pm.”

It quoted a Mr L. White, who said: “The public confronted with all the wartime difficulties had still found time to do their shopping. I am perfectly certain that we shall fail to get a good supply of labour if we contemplate working these people long hours.”

“Representatives of teachers” who had come to Guildford with their evacuated pupils and were still here in May 1945 were invited to tea with the mayor before they finally returned home.

There were still evacuated children and their teachers from schools in London, but plans were in place for them all to go home. A farewell tea party, hosted by the mayor, was held at the council’s municipal offices, to which about 50 “representatives of teachers” attended.

Service personnel were being demobbed, not least at Stoughton Barracks, the depot of the Queen’s Regiment.

Report on servicemen and women being demobbed from Stoughton Barracks.

On June 23, 1945, under the heading ‘LAST STAGE BEFORE “CIVVY” STREET’, the Surrey Advertiser stated: “Men demobilised at the Guildford centre, which officially opened at Stoughton on Monday, completed the documentary side of their discharge at the rate of one a minute.”

In July 1945, the problems of queues of people at shops were a major issue. In its edition of July 21, the Surrey Advertiser published a statement issued by the council’s food committee.

The committee had met with shop owners to discuss the issues and came to three conclusions as to the “evil of queueing” – shortage of supply, irregularity of supply and shortage of trained shop assistants. It was concluded that there was no hope of doing away with queues until the three factors noted had ceased to exist.

There were no shortage of workers to bring in the harvest that year, according to the Surrey War Agricultural Committee in August 1945, with a thousand volunteers and another thousand prisoners of war to do the work.

There was no shortage of workers to bring home the harvest in 1945.

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Responses to What Really Happened In Guildford When The War In Europe Ended 75 Years Ago

  1. Julie Howarth Reply

    May 6, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    Great article, and timely tips on “making do” as we work out how to acquire and make bunting. Thank you.

    The mind boggles at the thought of red, white and blue washing across our streets!

    A good one for a follow-up article.

  2. Jan Messinger Reply

    May 7, 2020 at 1:49 pm

    A really fantastic historical piece, as always David. An entry from a Worplesdon resident’s memoir reads: “The year 1945 was chiefly remembered for its peace celebrations. There was VE day on May 8th when bonfires were lighted and the church was ‘floodlit’.

    VJ day was celebrated in August by parties in various parts of the Parish to entertain the children.

    Let’s hope VJ day celebrations for 75 years past can bring everyone together physically rather than virtually.

  3. John Redpath Reply

    May 7, 2020 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks David Rose. Great article, really brings it home.

  4. Peter McGowan Reply

    May 8, 2020 at 9:50 am

    I was four-years-old at the time of VE Day and lived in Dennisville. This was an estate inhabited by the workers of the Dennis Bros commercial vehicle factory. Our street party was held at the junction of Raymond Crescent and Downing Avenue and this was followed by a huge bonfire in the waste ground by St Johns Road. Unfortunately, my recollections of this time have faded with age.

  5. Geoffrey Sizzey Reply

    May 9, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    I was four, my fifth birthday was in August after VE day. I can remember sitting on my mother’s lap at our street party by the triangle at the junction of Thorn Bank and Curling Vale in Onslow Village.

    Organised by friendly neighbours, it was a group of mothers and children maybe two dozen or so who all lived close by. Most menfolk father included were still away, mainly overseas.

    It most have been shortly before VE day that I saw a V1 (doodlebug) when I looked out of the window of 2 Thorn Bank.

    Myself, two sisters, mother and father later moved to number 15. Amusingly in Thorn Bank we had families named Duck, Drake and Peacock. Quite a flock!

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