V. E. Day in Solihull, 1945

Tuesday 8th May 1945, Victory in Europe Day, saw much rejoicing as the fighting in Europe officially came to an end and some of the men held as prisoners of war started to return home. At 3pm on Monday 7th May Prime Minister Winston Churchill made the official announcement that the following two days would be public holidays. However, it’s clear from newspaper articles in the Warwick County News that people were very mindful that war with Japan was still ongoing. The newspaper summed up the local celebrations as:

“typical of others throughout the land where people had gathered together to give thanks that the nightmare of the last grey years was over, and, while remembering that men in far distant lands were still in danger of their lives, to enjoy the day that their individual effort had made particularly their own” (Warwick County News, 12th May 1945)

The headline in the newspaper on Saturday 5th May 1945 announced “Victory celebrations in Solihull”, although the paper acknowledged that at the time of going to press “complete Victory over Germany had not been announced”.

The special ‘Victory Edition’ of the newspaper on 12th May reported that Warwickshire villages had celebrated in “a spirit of sober good fellowship”. In Solihull, there was a Civic Dinner, with events centred on Brueton Gardens and the floodlit St Alphege church. Events included bonfires and dancing on the green, together with fireworks “privately provided from goodness knows what carefully-hoarded store”. Crowds thronged the area until the early hours of the morning without incident, except for a young woman’s hair being set alight by a carelessly thrown rocket.

A large illuminated V-sign on the Council House in Poplar Road (now Yates’s) brought passers-by to a standstill. Householders in the district also “exercised their ingenuity with light bulbs” and one particularly large V-sign in Sharman’s Cross Road, flashing on and off, drew quite a crowd.

The newspaper said that ebullience was most evident in little roads where neighbours had co-operated in communal celebration. A typical example was given of the Rectory Estate, where residents of Ladbrook Road, Rectory Road, and Rectory Gardens set up a gaily-decorated table and held children’s sports events in the afternoon with prizes for all, even the losers. In the evening there was a bonfire with a life-sized effigy of Hitler.

V. E. Day Street Party at Witley Road
V. E. Day Street Party at Witley Avenue

Other street parties took place in Witley Avenue, and in Stroud Road, Shirley, where 150 children participated in sports and games before sitting down at 5pm to an excellent tea. Local residents Mrs Gudgeon and Mrs Green sponsored an outdoor tea party for the children of Charles Road and Witherford Croft (off Blossomfield Road), with surplus food being auctioned, which raised £7 10s for the Red Cross.

At Catherine-de-Barnes, “the happy day was made even happier by the return of several local lads lately released from prison camps” and a thousand people danced round a bonfire to the strain of the piano from The Boat public house. The Solihull News of 10th May 1985, marking the 40th anniversary of V. E. Day, interviewed 80-year-old Mrs Ethel Franklin who worked at Lewis’s Bakery in the village in 1945 and helped to organise the party. She recounted how she had been up all night making bunting out of coloured paper and that she had made a giant jelly in her bath!

Hampton-in-Arden residents celebrated with a full peal of bells, plus a social and dance at Fentham Hall on “VE-plus-1”. Bells were also heard in Knowle for “the first time since the outbreak of war” according to extracts from the diary of a local schoolboy in Wartime Knowle published by the Knowle Society in 1985. He also commented on the fact that the church was floodlit for the first time and that, despite the happiness, there was a sense of stupefaction. He noted that most people were still drawing their blinds and putting up black-outs on the night before V. E. Day!

At Shirley, hourly thanksgiving services were held at St James’s Church, with over one thousand people attending during the day. The bell ringers rang a full victory peal and gave an impromptu demonstration of handbell ringing.  In the evening, Mr F. Birkett floodlit the tower of the church and there was a bonfire and celebration in the Vicarage grounds.

Thanksgiving services were also held at St Margaret’s Church, Olton and at Olton Congregational Church. At the church of St John, Baptist, Berkswell, a service was held at 11am and there were fireworks in the village in the evening.

In Meriden, the church bells were rung immediately after the Prime Minister’s statement, and there was a service of thanksgiving and dedication. In the evening, a joint service sponsored by the Free Church was held on the Village Green and conducted by Captain Moore, United States Army Chaplain, assisted by the vicar. We’re told there was also a bonfire on the car park of the Bull’s Head, which was a real treat after the years of wartime blackout.

The Coventry Standard of 12th May 1945 noted that collections were taken at both of the services at Meriden in aid of funds for assisting the work of restoration of Christian churches in Europe. 45 children from Fillongley Road also attended a tea party at the home of Mrs Barlow, after which they were entertained with games. The newspaper reported “a wonderful feast” and particularly noted the contribution by Mrs Trimnell of 100 jam tarts.

A Drumhead Service was held in Malvern Park, Solihull on Sunday 13th May, attracting a muster of more than 1,400 personnel, including representatives from the British Red Cross, Sea Cadets, the Junior Training Corps, the Army Cadet Force, the Air Training Corps, the Girls’ Training Corps, the Police, the National Fire Service, Civil Defence Wardens, the Women’s Voluntary Service, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides and the Boy’s Brigade. The streets were lined with onlookers, and the salute was taken outside the Council House by the Chairman of the Council, Councillor J. N. Woollaston, and the Clerk to the Council, Mr N. P. Lester.

The Warwick County News reported that Solihull Fire Station, appropriately decorated and flood lit, had a quiet day, although there was a report of a bonfire at Heaton Road getting out of control.

Brook House Maternity Home in Solihull saw two new V. E. Day arrivals – Mrs Graham of Welford Road, Shirley gave birth to a son barely an hour into the day, whilst Mrs Freeth of Rumbush Lane, Earlswood also gave birth to a son there at 4am.

The Solihull in Wartime booklet was published by Solihull Libraries twenty years ago and is now available free of charge as a PDF so you can read more about people’s experiences of the war. For the 75th anniversary of V. E. Day, we’ve also made the publication available as an eBook, so Solihull Library members may borrow it free of charge from our eBook collection.

The Coventry Standard of Saturday 12 May 1945 reported that Balsall Common had no officially organised celebrations for Victory Day and the general feeling was one of thankfulness, expressed mainly in quiet rejoicing. Flags, bunting and illuminations all featured in residents’ celebrations, and there was a Victory Dance at Balsall Institute, to the music of Mr Pearce’s Rex Players.

On the afternoon of Wednesday 9th May, Messrs Price and Horne organised a parade of horse-drawn vehicles, decorated with flags and bunting and ridden horses, many of which were ridden by children, some of whom were in fancy dress. The procession started from the station and toured Balsall and Berkswell.

Clara Emily Milburn lived in Balsall Common and kept a diary during the war, documenting the daily struggles to keep the household going, and concern for her son, Alan, captured at Dunkirk. Her diaries, published after her death as Mrs Milburn’s Diaries: an Englishwoman’s day-to-day reflections 1939-45, describe the day of listening to “thrilling broadcasts” on the wireless, as well as hearing a weather forecast broadcast for the first time in over five years. She makes no mention of the V. E. Day events in Balsall Common, other than noting at 11.20pm that the fireworks had finished and “the dancers gone from the rooms across the way.”

“My first thought was ‘bread’, and so I went out early and brought back two piping-hot loaves on my bicycle… I had only just got back when rain began to fall, and then there was a terrific thunderstorm.”

On V.E.-plus-1, 9th May, Mrs Milburn received a telephone call at 9.15am where the operator read out a telegram from her son: “Arrived safely. Coming soon. Alan”. He finally arrived at Leamington Spa station late at night on Wednesday 9th May, being driven back to Balsall Common in the early hours of Thursday morning by his mother and promptly eating two boiled eggs with bread and butter before getting to bed about 2.30am. She ended her diary on 12th May, reflecting:

“I walk about in a half-dream and the long, bad years of war begin to fade a little as Alan’s voice is heard… and the house is once more a real home.

The intense relief at the ending of the European war is felt everywhere. No longer do we live under the strain of it, though we shall have it at the back of our mind, and its scars before our eyes, all our lives.”

If you have any memories or family stories of V. E. Day in places now in the Solihull borough, please let us know.

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

© Solihull Council, 2020.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

 

The photo at the top of this page shows a V. E. Day party at Damson Lane and has been automatically colourised from the original black & white image, so colours may not be accurate.

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