On the 8 May 1945 the whole nation, and British Empire, celebrated Victory in Europe, more widely known as VE Day, the day when, after six long years, the war in Europe was officially celebrated as being over.
Lichfield, naturally, celebrated along with the rest of the nation with flags flying from every corner and raucous street parties. In later years the anniversaries of VE Day were not always met with such fervour however and, as we today commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VE Day in the strange, uncertain times of the Covid-19 lockdown, it will be interesting to see how future generations will view VE Day 75.
VE Day Planning – Lichfield Mercury, 4 May 1945
Victory Day Celebrations: Civic Plans for Lichfield
The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, will broadcast on “VE” Day the news of the end of the hostilities in Europe, and the King will speak to his people throughout the Empire at 9 o’clock the same evening.
At Lichfield, The Mayor, Corporation and citizens will assemble in the Market Square on ” VE” Day, one hour after the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s announcement, when the Mayor will announce Victory. In the afternoon the Mayor, Corporation and citizens will assemble at 3 p.m. in the Garden of Remembrance for a short service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving, and the Mayor will place a wreath on the War Memorial. The Cathedral Choir (by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter) will lead the hymns.
On both days the City Crier will proclaim Victory in various parts of the City, and make any special announcements. The Church bells will ring a Victory Peal, patriotic music will be relayed from the Guildhall, the Market’ Square and the Recreation Grounds.
On the Sunday following “VE ” Day a Civic Service of Thanksgiving will take place at the Cathedral at 6.30 p.m., at which an address will be given by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.
VE Day Rejoicings in Lichfield – Lichfield Mercury 11 May 1945
Spirits Temporarily Damped: On the morning of VE Day there were early signs of activity in all parts of the city, and flags and bunting appeared as if by magic. The morning broke fine and warm, and a spirit of festivity and gaiety was soon apparent, but alas spirits were damped to no considerable degree when in the region of 11 o’clock a huge deluge of rain began to descend. The streets quickly cleared of people and the flags became limp. Towards two o’clock the sun began to make its appearance through the clouds, and from thence onwards the day was devoted to one of elation and thanksgiving. In the afternoon large crowds were wending their way towards the Market Place, where the official proclamation was delivered by the Mayor.
The Victory Proclamation: Shortly over an hour after the Prime broadcast the proclamation was read by the Mayor (Councillor T. Moseley) from a platform in the Market Square. Accompanying the Mayor on the platform were the Sheriff (Councillor H. D. Podmore) and the Bishop of Lichfield (Rt. Rev. E. S. Woods).
Market Square celebrations: Lichfield celebrated ” VE ” Day in a manner which was apparently general throughout the country and in keeping with the occasion. Although recognised as a memorable day in the history of the world, signalising the total defeat of Germany, everyone remembered that it was only a pause and that the final thanksgiving for peace could not be given until the war in the Far East has been won. The Mayor then called for three cheers for the King and Queen, which were lustily given.
Women’s Wonderful Contribution: Let them remember with thanksgiving the contribution women had made. They owed a debt of gratitude to the Civil Defence, the war workers, the land girls, and all who had worked so hard in civil life to get things going. For the first time in their history women had been conscripted, and they made a wonderful contribution to the national effort, many at great sacrifice of personal comfort.
The Mayor and Corporation then proceeded to the Garden of Remembrance, where a short service of thanksgiving was held. The clergy taking part were the Bishop, the Dean of Lichfield, Rev. Canon Kempson and the Rev. W. Grieves (Methodist Minister). The singing was led by the Cathedral choir.
Popular Sports for Children: There was quite a large gathering in the Recreation-Grounds on Wednesday for the children’s sports. The Town Clerk presented the prizes and each child who came first was given a-shilling, while the runners-up received sixpence. There was quite a lot of laughter when the under-fours’ race was run on hands and knees. Many of the children did not know what it was all about, so they just crawled back to their mothers.
Bonfire and Illuminations: In the evening a Victory bonfire was set alight by the Mayor in the Recreation Grounds, whilst open air dancing took place on the hard tennis courts to the strains of Art Hawksley’s Band. The grounds had been tastefully decorated with an abundance of fairy lights, whilst the Cathedral and other buildings were magnificently illuminated by floodlight. Dancing took place in Bore Street by the aid of music which was relayed from the dance being held in the Guildhall. There were, in addition, many impromptu dances in the city to the accompaniment of radiograms and gramophones, which the residents brought out from their homes and installed in the street.
A Victory Ball: A ball held in the Guildhall on Wednesday evening brought a fitting climax to the city’s celebrations, and for this function there was a large attendance who spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening dancing to the strains of Art Hawksley’s Band. Many of the dancers wore gaily decorated attire, and a striking novelty in red, white and blue proudly exhibited by a member of the fair sex received especial commendation.
OYEZ! OYEZ!! Members of- the American Forces were obviously entertained by Lichfield’s old custom of using the Town Crier during ” VE” Days for making public announcements.
Sunday’s Thanksgiving Service: At 6.30 p.m. on Sunday next there will be a Civic Thanksgiving Service at the Cathedral, to be attended by the Mayor and Corporation in civic state.
First Anniversary – 1946
A Languid Observance of VE Day 1946 – Lichfield Mercury, 14 June 1946
In June 1946 Mr Charles J. Neville wrote to the Letters page of the Lichfield Mercury and was clearly unimpressed with the celebrations laid out by the city.
“While the rest of Great Britain acclaimed Victory Day in pageantry never to be forgotten, Lichfield citizens celebrated in very sober fashion. To many the day set aside by the Government was a very common-place day indeed. Many sat at home by their radio sets listening to how the rest of the country showed its appreciation to the men who saved the world in its darkest hour. Local sons, home from distant parts of the world, walked around the quiet streets of our city; gazed with polite interest at the flags which bedecked our principal streets, and, in many cases, wondered whether this was all the city had to offer as its contribution towards the national rejoicing. Many rather bitterly remarked on the simple truth that we unfortunate British, after over a year of peace in Europe, have very little cause to celebrate anything. This has been the viewpoint of many other citizens, and was, undoubtedly, the viewpoint of our City Council when they decided against any official celebrations for Victory Day. It was a day when we should have remembered the greatness of our people during the hour of peril; when we should have recalled, ceremoniously the resoluteness of Lichfield’s fighting men in the battles of the Continent, Africa, Burma and throughout the world. Lichfield, whose sons and daughters played no small part in this crusade for freedom, was languid and insensible to the true meaning of Victory Day”.
Starvation in Europe – Staffordshire Advertiser, 11 May 1946
Just a year after VE Day 1945, the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr. Edward Sydney Woods, was very concerned regarding the levels of starvation in Europe and especially in Germany, saying that:
“it is increasingly evident that the situation is very serious indeed, and this nation and commonwealth will surely find ourselves arraigned at the bar of history unless we resolutely do all in our power to bring food to the starving. This country has a general responsibility for other parts of Europe, let alone the desperate need in India, and has to shoulder a very particular responsibility for our own zone in occupied Germany. According to official statements the ration in the British zone in Germany had been reduced to 1,014 calories. By means of a cut of only 100 calories of our own average consumption, that is from 2,850 to 2,750 calories, it is suggested that German nations could be restored to 1,500 calories. I cannot doubt that our people would willingly accept such a cut, whether by means of bread rationing or in some other way. Obviously no Christian could hesitate for a moment in sharing what he has with needy neighbours all over the world; but to argue the matter on a lower level it quite clear that a starving Europe means a chaotic Europe, which could not fail to be a breeding ground for future war”.
40th Anniversary – 1985
VE Celebrations – Lichfield Mercury, 17 May 1985
In May 1985, at the 40th anniversary, the Mercury reported that the celebrations ‘must have evoked memories for the hundreds of local people who served in the forces’. Pubs, social clubs, hospitals and nursing homes all took part in the celebrations and two very successful VE events were held at Enots Social Club on Eastern Avenue.
50th Anniversary – 1995
Poor Show in 1995 – Lichfield Mercury, 18 May 1995
In May 1995, on the 50th anniversary, Mrs Kilbride of Scott Close wrote to the Letters page of the Mercury complaining that Lichfield had put on a very poor show:
“I feel I must write and complain about the lack of interest Lichfield has shown in VE Day. As Lichfield is a garrison city, with barracks at Whittington and during the war an airfield at Fradley. surely more interest should have been taken. To my knowledge only one small parade took place. The shops and town itself was very poorly decorated which was brought to my attention, more so when I visited another town on Sunday which was greatly decorated. Surely to show our appreciation for fifty years of peace to all those involved in the war, more effort could have been made by Lichfield on such an important day”.
Who knows how we look back at the 75th Anniversary of VE Day in Lichfield, or how it will be reported in the press in the future, but it wil remain one of the most significant, and emotional, days in Britian’s history.
We Salute You All…
8 May 2020
*Newspaper articles courtesy of The British Newspaper Archive. Image copyright The Trinity Mirror Group and courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.
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