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VE Day 75: How did Redbridge celebrate Victory in Europe Day in 1945?

PUBLISHED: 10:30 08 May 2020

An historic day celebrated outside Ilford Town Hall on May 8, 1945 when victory was declared in Europe. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

An historic day celebrated outside Ilford Town Hall on May 8, 1945 when victory was declared in Europe. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

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Using unique archives, newspapers, photographs, oral histories and film, Gerard Greene of Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre explores the victory celebrations 75 years ago.

Neighbours celebrate VE Day in Dudley Road, Ilford, in 1945. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage CentreNeighbours celebrate VE Day in Dudley Road, Ilford, in 1945. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

Victory in Europe – VE Day – was declared on May 8, 1945, a day after Germany surrendered.

At 3pm the prime minister (and MP for Woodford) Winston Churchill gave a BBC radio broadcast to the nation announcing the German surrender.

He said: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing. But let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead.”

At 4pm the Mayor of Ilford read out Churchill’s speech to a packed crowd outside Ilford Town Hall which was decorated with flags and bunting.

To celebrate, street parties were held all over Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford.

Ilford held 113 street parties while Wanstead and Woodford (with its smaller population) held 43, most of them designed with children in mind.

The Royal family visits Ilford on May 9, 1945. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage CentreThe Royal family visits Ilford on May 9, 1945. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

Large tables lined the streets with banners and Union Jack flags. There were games, singing and dancing.

Interviewed by Redbridge Museum in 2004, one Mrs Cotton remembered her VE Day party in Birkbeck Road, Newbury Park: “A party of any kind was exciting, the fact that all the street was involved...

“Everyone chipped in with a little bit of food from their rationing. If my mum didn’t cook, then she made some of the sandwiches.

“The fact we had jelly and ice cream was the most important thing because you just didn’t have jelly and ice cream during the war.

“Afterwards when the tables were cleared and the games were over then the parents were out for all of the evening dancing in the street.”

In Ilford, people celebrated on the street as in Meads Lane, Seven Kings, where music by the White Lyrics dance was played.

VE Day celebrations in Woodlands Road, Ilford. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage CentreVE Day celebrations in Woodlands Road, Ilford. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

Everyone lit their homes with no curtains drawn to show that the “Black-out” was over.

On May 9, the Royal Family visited Ilford on a tour of the most bombed areas of London. This was in recognition of the terrible conditions that east London had endured.

On their walkabout, King George VI, the Queen, Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen) and Princess Margaret were shown Ley Street next to the bombed-out Super Cinema.

The Woodford Times newspaper of May 11, 1945 reported on the VE Day celebrations describing “[s]pectacular VE-Day [s]cenes”.

One notable feature of the celebrations was the striking contrast to the gloom of the black-out of the past years when windows of houses were flung open to let rays of bright light stream out across the roadway.

In many cases the strains of dance music from radio, gramophone or piano added to the memorable scene.

VE Day 1945 in Meads Lane, Seven Kings. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage CentreVE Day 1945 in Meads Lane, Seven Kings. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

There was a huge bonfire on a bombed site in Sylvan Road, Wanstead, and spectacular fireworks attracted huge crowds.

The “V” sign for Victory in lights was a feature of many house decorations and, of course, the flags of the United Nations were everywhere prominently displayed.

Two hours after Mr Churchill’s historic broadcast, people in Wanstead and Woodford were listening to a proclamation by the Mayor, Alderman Sir James Hawkey, J.P., outside the Municipal Offices in High Road, South Woodford.

Sir James said: “It is a time for devout thanksgiving not for riotous celebrations. The cost of the long struggle against the most hideous and brutal tyranny known to humanity has been so great and had closely touched everyone.

“This borough has a proud record. The prime minister has said to me that we have been in the front. We have been subjected to the venomous attacks of a malignant foe.

“It has been my duty and high privilege to be present at all the incidents and I have marvelled at the courage and heroism on every occasion, however exacting the conditions.”’

Then aged six, Mrs Cotton (third from right, front row) at VE Day celebrations in Birkbeck Road, Newbury Park. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage CentreThen aged six, Mrs Cotton (third from right, front row) at VE Day celebrations in Birkbeck Road, Newbury Park. Picture: Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre

Despite the celebrations, the war continued against Japan and some British servicemen felt this was forgotten. Eventually, after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered.

In Britain, August 15, 1945, was declared Victory over Japan Day – VJ Day.

Bonfires were lit in Clayhall Park and Goodmayes Park, dance bands played in Barkingside Recreation Ground and Loxford Park while there was a concert and funfair in Valentines Park.

The Mayor of Ilford in a speech said: “We must all be profoundly thankful that the terrible bloodshed of war has come to an end although I fear that the suffering inseparable from the aftermath of the world war must long remain.

“The sufferings of mankind will, however, be lessened if people can learn to work together in peace as they have done in war.”

Local clergy also sounded a note of caution for the future after the terrible destruction caused by the dropping of atomic bombs.

The bombs, which led to the surrender of Japan, killed up to 226,000 people. The vicar of Ilford said: “The announcement of the discovery of the atomic bomb sent a shiver of fear and apprehension down my back”.

In a more optimistic mood, the Borough of Wanstead and Woodford held their official celebrations the following year from May 30 to June 3, 1946. A Gala Fair on Woodford Green was opened by Winston Churchill.

He had been Britain’s wartime leader but his Conservative Party had lost power to the Labour Party in the July 1945 general election.

Despite the celebrations, it was also a time of sadness for the many people who had lost loved ones.

A total of 538 Ilford residents are recorded as being killed while serving in the Armed Forces

Another 552 Ilford residents were killed in air raids. Another 250 Wanstead and Woodford residents were killed in raids. An unknown number were killed while serving in the Armed Forces

In total 300,000 British and Empire armed forces were killed.

Plaques to commemorate the dead of the Second World War were added to the First World War memorials in Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford

Ilford compiled a Book of Remembrance for the military and civilian dead. This was unveiled on April 27, 1949, in Ilford Library. It is now displayed in Redbridge Heritage Centre.

VE Day dawns on Friday 8 May, which marks 75 years since the guns fell silent at the end of the war in Europe. To commemorate and celebrate this historic moment, Vision’s Culture Teams have lots of activities and events planned so you can join in the celebrations safely from home.

Redbridge Museum and Heritage Centre will share ideas on how to host the perfect stay at home, 1945 themed street party – from baking the perfect Victoria sponge, making bunting, and joining the national sing-a-long to Dame Vera Lynn at 9pm on Friday, 8 May. It will be a perfect knees-up and just what the nation needs right now.

To reflect on the enormous sacrifice, courage and determination of people from all walks of life who saw us through this dark and terrifying period, Redbridge Museum has produced a film exploring the impacts of the Second World War on Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford including themes of evacuation, rationing, the Home Front, the war effort, air raid damage and victory celebrations.

Redbridge Drama Centre will also be presenting a number of play readings.

Find out more by visiting whatsonredbridge.org or redbridge.gov.uk/museum or visionrcl.org.uk

Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre, Redbridge Central Library, has a unique collection of original archives, photographs, newspapers, oral history and film about the Second World War in Ilford, Wanstead and Woodford. Visit redbridge.gov.uk/museum


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