8th May 1945 by Wendy Duff
Reading Rev. Clive Jenkin’s letter in the April Ad Vincula magazine about the V.E. celebrations, jogged my memory of my own experiences in 1945. I was 18 at the time and travelling daily to London as a student. I was exempt from the National Services call-up because Occupational Therapy was treated as a reserved occupation.
That first week of May was quite exciting for we followed the news avidly as the allied armies raced towards Berlin and we knew that the end of the war was near. We heard the grand announcement on the 6 o’clock news on the Tuesday evening, plus the news that the following two days were to be a general holiday. “Oh, we must have a party!” said my mother and we sat down, there and then, to make a list of family and friends. Few people had telephones in those days (we were the only ones in our village) and only half a dozen of distant friends had them – so mother’s job was to sit by the phone, send telegrams, and wait for replies (from public call boxes).
My father’s job was to unearth the large Union Jack, stored away somewhere, that we had for George Vth’s silver jubilee and George VIth’s coronation celebrations and hang it up in the front of the house (right way up – no distress signals needed!) He also had to go off round the village on his bike to round up all the old bellringers, who were all a bit rusty after 6 years silence and to organise a team for the peal.
My job was to deliver verbal invitations to local friends – lovely to get on my bicycle, knowing the gas mask and ARP helmet were unnecessary. Everyone was thrilled with the idea of a party. “Here’s a tin of spam I’ve been keeping for a special occasion.” “I can let you have 3 eggs.” (the ration was 1 egg per person per week!). I eventually cycled home with a basket full of goodies!
The next morning was spent creating a feast for the evening. I remember making savoury croquettes – a basin full of breadcrumbs (not rationed), onions from the garden, homemade chutney, a lump of grated cheese (2 weeks ration), flour, binding the mixture together with one of the precious eggs, rolling into marble sized balls and finally, frying in the fat that was daily skimmed off the top of the everlasting stock pot.
We also assembled a huge fruit salad – plentiful bottled apples, pears and blackberries from the garden, preserved in Kilner jars, a handful of sultanas, the prized tin of pineapple, each chunk carefully cut into quarters and then we whipped up a sort of mock cream with dried milk powder, custard powder and margarine!
One of my friends had recently had a food parcel from her American school pen-friend, and she donated a jar of peanut butter; a complete rare novelty to us and never seen before. Most people were quite nervous of this, but after the first bite of the sandwich, soon came back for more. As for the tinned spam, the secret was to have a really sharp knife, so that you could slice it into as many wafer thin slices as possible.
We were well off for liquid refreshment, as one of my uncles still ran the family cider press in Kent and we had recently taken delivery of a small cask. This stood in the kitchen balanced on the cross struts of an old folding canvas garden chair. (From the age of 6 I was taught how to tap the bung into correct pressure – just one of my many skills!) Soon the bunting was up and around the garden and we were all dressed in whatever red, white and blue garments we could find and people started arriving after their 20 minute mile long walk from the station.
I don’t remember very much about the party itself. I know we had organised a very complicated treasure hunt and we had dragged the piano to the garden door. My father played while we all danced on the lawn – ‘Strip the Willow’, The Gay Gordons, The Valeta and finishing up, as all our parties always did, with ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’.
Several long distance friends stayed the night and I remember the juggling that went on to accommodate everyone. Four boys had 2 campbeds and cushions on the floor in the sitting room, my sister had a friend in her room, my parents squashed into my bed and 3 friends and I had their double, which we turned against the wall and slept sideways – when one turned we all turned, with lots of giggling – mother, stood in the doorway, “Now then girls, we really must get some sleep – no more bombs to worry about now.” Twelve people in a small 3 bedroomed, semi-detached bungalow and only 1 bathroom. The mind boggles! But that’s how it was!