V. J. Day in Solihull, 1945

V. J. Day, 15th August 1945, marked the day when the Second World War effectively came to an end as Japan surrendered and all hostilities ceased.

The Warwick County News, 18th August 1945, summarised local events with the headline “Neighbourly co-operation was the keynote of Solihull’s VJ-Day celebrations” and the observation that the day was marked by a “mood of quiet thanksgiving or in the exuberant relief of pent-up feelings according to age or nature.”

The primary focus of celebrations was events for the children. Neighbours organised street parties and, according to the Warwick County News, 18th August 1945

at night mammoth bonfires, most of them with fearsome effigies of [Japan’s Foreign Minister] Togo atop, reddened the sky for miles. Neighbours danced round them and sang, or stood in quiet content watching the flames of peace where not so long ago they watched awe-struck together while the city burned

The Evening Despatch, Wednesday 15th August 1945, reported that roads on the outskirts of Solihull were thronged with excited groups of people but the main centres remained dark and quiet though the sky was red with the reflection of many bonfires. Loudspeaker music was relayed from floodlit Brueton Gardens and one percussion band toured the Solihull Road area until after 3am. The Warwick County News of 18th August 1945 said of the percussion band: “its Impromptu in a Very Flat for handbell, kettle and kitchen bowl was a memorable performance!”

Some of the roads known to have had their own parties were:

  • Hawthorn Road, Castle Bromwich
  • Longdon Road, Knowle
  • Cheshire Avenue, Shirley
  • Welford Road, Shirley
  • Stanway Road, Shirley
  • Cropthorne Road, Shirley
  • Yoxall Road, Shirley
  • Hazeloak Road, Shirley
  • Stroud Road (upper section), Shirley
  • Lyndon Road, Olton
  • Meadow Grove, Olton (held in the Congregational Church)
  • Ulleries Road, Olton (pictured above – photo automatically colourised from black and white original)

It was noted that the party at Stroud Road surpassed that of V. E. Day. Events in the road included a children’s fancy dress parade and sports. Tea was served to approximately 150 children and 100 adults, and more competitions followed. There was then an impromptu concert given by the children, after which the children were entertained by a Punch & Judy show whilst the adults participated in sports. Prizes were presented at 9:45pm and there was dancing and a huge bonfire.

Alston Road, Elmdon Heath celebrated with a bonfire in the field behind the houses, as well as a display of fireworks and free refreshments for everyone, including chips as an extra treat for the children. A loudspeaker van provided music for dancing and the whole area was floodlit. A Maypole was specially erected for the occasion, which the children enjoyed dancing around. The night ended with community singing round the fire, to the accompaniment of two accordions. Poignantly, the area had been hit by a bomb around 6am on 27th July 1942 and four people from Alston Road, as well as a family of six from nearby Cornyx Lane, were killed.

In Solihull in Wartime, Mary Walker remembers:

There was a huge bonfire on the corner of Streetsbrook Road and Miall Park Road. The soldiers from the Army depot brought thunder flashes and the noise of those exploding was deafening but very exciting for us children.

At Cheshire Avenue, Shirley, the party lasted for three days. On Wednesday 15th August, everyone sat down to tea among decorations of bunting and flowers and there were then sports for the children “with the occasional race for ladies.” In the evening a bonfire was lit that burnt into the early hours. Men, women and children all joined in the dancing. On Thursday 16th August – V-J+1 – there was more dancing as well as sports for the adults in the evening. Friday saw everyone back at work after the two-day holiday, but another party sprang up on the Saturday, and saw the return of a local sailor, Peter Roulage, who had been away for more than two years.

The churches were also floodlit and all day long people went in and out of the churches to give thanks and to remember those who would never come home again. At Knowle, a crowd stood watching at the parish church, late into the night.

There was also a Victory Party at Knowle Youth Centre, which began with a thanksgiving service, followed by tea and a concert, with the rest of the evening being spent in dancing and games. From 10-10:45pm the young people joined in community singing of hymns led by the choir. The evening ended with a Farewell Quickstep, a Last Waltz and the National Anthem.

In Elmdon Heath, a planned presentation to each child of a commemorative mug had to be abandoned as a national shortage of household china meant that the organisers found it impossible to source the gifts.

In Hockley Heath there were family celebrations and an enormous bonfire on the Wednesday. The following afternoon saw sports on the Recreation Ground, a Baby Show, tea for the children and a fancy dress parade. Each child was sent home with a gift of fruit, sweets and a shilling. In the evening there was a Whist Drive and a dance at the Institute. Surplus funds of £18 14s were given to Hockley Heath Forces Fund.

A VJ Party was given to children within the vicinity of Catchem’s Corner, Berkswell on VJ plus one day. 73 children were invited and after tea they took part in races and other entertainments. Before the party broke up each child was given 2s.

Betty Lynas (née Hill), a former ATS recruit from Middlesborough, reminisces about hearing the news of Japan’s surrender and hitchhiking from her posting in North Wales to Birmingham to dance the night away at Castle Bromwich aerodrome.

The relief felt by those who had lived through six long years of war can only be imagined by us 75 years later. The Warwick County News 18th August 1945 brings this home, as well as sounding a note of optimism for the future:

VJ, even more than VE, with its neigbourly good fellowship beginning at long last, constructive instead of destructive effort, and ending the nagging, ceaseless anxiety felt constantly, even by those few people without a direct link with the battle fronts, brought the best gift of all – something to look forward to.

If you have any further information about V. J. Day events 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

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