On this special 75th anniversary of VE Day, I would like to share the short passage from Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016), written directly from Joe’s memories of that time, spent in Bramley near Basingstoke, serving with the Ordnance Corps and where he met his wife to be Jean Skitmore. I remember sitting in Joe’s living room hearing his wartime stories, simply feeling grateful that a training injury meant he was unable to go to Europe and fight.
“On 1 May 1945 the BBC announced Hitler’s suicide. The finish-line was in sight. The following evening radio programmes were interrupted with the news that the German Army had surrendered in Italy. Two days later troops capitulated in Denmark. For two days no one knew what was happening. By Monday 7 May expectant crowds were gathering outside Buckingham Palace but still the news did not come. In fact, the British were waiting for Russian and American confirmation of the Nazi defeat. At 7 p.m. Winston Churchill broadcast on the BBC, declaring that the following day would be ‘Victory in Europe Day’. The Nation could allow itself a ‘brief period of rejoicing’, but should remember that Britain was still at war with Japan. After five years people were ready to party. The morning papers led with photographs of vast crowds, many dressed in red, white and blue, celebrating in London the previous evening. That morning the same crowds cheered and sang as King George, Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses Elizabeth and Margaret alongside Churchill, waved enthusiastically from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Bramley barracks held a celebration parade. The Commanding Officer made a speech, thanking everyone for his or her valuable contribution to the victory, even if they hadn’t been involved at the front line. That afternoon Joe joined a group of comrades on the train to nearby Basingstoke where they danced in the street and invaded the public houses, the overjoyed landlords honouring the servicemen with a free first drink. It took some time to walk the six miles back to base late that evening, the men having either missed the last bus or more likely having spent every last penny on best beer. Jean and her friends stayed on base holding their own celebration. Young ladies didn’t frequent pubs.”
Images show Jean (centre) celebrating with her colleagues at Bramley camp & Joe and Jean on their wedding day in 1946.