Although my nan and grandad knew each other, they had not yet got together at the time of VE Day in 1945. My nan was in London, whilst my grandad was travelling back from where he had been stationed in Burma, via South Africa. Nan doesn’t say a huge amount about VE Day in her memoirs but she does report that:
‘1945 was quite an eventful year, one way or another. VE Day came first.
I was studying at Birbeck College in Holborn for my Honours BSc in Geography and Chemistry part-time, along with a full-time job at Anglo-American Oil – it was bloody hard work. As I was dealing with hydrocarbon fuels at work in conjunction with aircraft fuels, it fitted quite well. I liked Geography for its own sake.
During the course, it was easy to form a relationship with Richard, whom I partnered with in Chemistry practical. It became very steamy, eventually spending an unforgettable VE Day, and night in St James’s Park, along with thousands of others – not a night to be modest! It was not surprising I failed my Chemistry exam!’
Throughout the war, nan and grandad wrote to each other as friends, and through these letters I can piece together some of what my grandad’s experiences leading up to VE Day were.
‘In his letters, he mentions that in May 1944, Vera Lynn went to the front line for three days – the only artist to venture so near the fighting. And also during this period, he was responsible for fitting up a broadcasting system at the camp, which seemed to be a larger affair than all the Mobile Signal Units that he had been part of hitherto (about half a dozen blokes in all). They broadcast music, BBC news, quizzes and their own programmes over the system. It became quite sophisticated, but the Asian Broadcasting Service had to be abandoned after the end of the war in Europe as there was a rapid personnel movement when the Japanese were removed from large chunks of South East Asia.
On 16th April 1945, he sent an air letter to say he was on his way home to take his 28-day leave, which he had won in a sweepstake, a scheme the RAF had started at the start of the year. However, he had to come by sea, therefore it was going to be some time before he arrived in the UK.’
This meant my grandad spent VE Day travelling, only to have to go back to the Far East in the summer as the war there was not yet over. What a strange time it must have been, with all the celebrations going on in the UK, but many still continuing the war thousands of miles away. By the time my grandad returned home in January 1946, he had been in Burma for 5 long years.
So amongst the pomp and pageantry of today, 75 years later, remember the people who were there, for it is their experiences and memories that really matter. Here’s thinking of you, nan and grandad.