At midnight, on the evening of Tuesday 14 August 1945, the British Prime Minister, Mr Clement Attlee, announced that the Japanese Government had finally surrendered, bringing the war in Japan and the surrounding area to a close, thus prompting a two day national holiday and beginning with Wednesday 15 August – Victory in Japan Day, more commonly known as ‘VJ’ Day.
On Friday 17 August 1945 the Lichfield Mercury reported on the celebrations that had occurred on VJ Day as Lichfield, along with the rest of the country, rejoiced to celebrate the ending of the Second World War and which followed on from Victory in Europe Day in May 1945.
On Wednesday 15 August the Mayor of Lichfield, Councillor Thomas Moseley, provided a Royal Proclamation in front of a large crowd on the Market Place. Amongst the crowd were Servicemen and women on leave from former fighting fronts, and in order to get a full view of the proceedings a number of young sailors “climbed the rigging” to get to the top of Dr Samuel Johnson’s statue – something that would have been harder for them to do today now that the original railings around the statue (removed during WW2 to assist the war effort) have been replaced!
Dancing of various types was to be observed, and in Breadmarket Street the crowd were entertained by the amusing antics a number of skilful acrobatic and step dancers. The music inside the Guildhall was supplied by Art Hawksley and his band. The floodlit Cathedral and War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance presented gorgeous pictures, and the floodlit flower beds and dangling electric fairy lamps in the Museum Grounds deservedly received the admiration of citizens and visitors alike. Searchlights provided by the A.R.P. also illuminated the Minster Pool with grand effect, particularly when the Cathedral Glee Singers sang in a gondola, the strains of the harmony floating over the water with delightful effect. Merry peals were rung at intervals on Wednesday and Thursday on the bells of the Cathedral and the City Churches.
On Wednesday evening the streets of Lichfield were ‘thronged with happy and exuberant crowds of citizens, who gave vent in no uncertain manner to their feelings of joy and relief after nearly six years of war’. A military band of American soldiers from Whittington Barracks and a torchlight procession formed in Levetts Fields (where the Fire Station is now) and paraded around St. John Street, Bore Street, Dam Street and the Cathedral Close to the Recreation Grounds in Beacon Park, where a great bonfire was lit, somewhat prematurely, apparently by someone’s firework. Whilst the fire was burning the band played selections and the fireworks were freely exploded amongst the crowd – clearly no Health and Safety regulations applied in 1945! As the bonfire was subsiding there was a terrific rush of people of all ages towards the floodlit hard tennis courts in Beacon Park for the open-air dancing to the strains of loud speaker music. Dancing fans were also catered for by a Victory dance at the Guildhall on Bore Street, but owing to the immense crowd many people were unable to gain admission. The Mayor then called for three cheers for the King and Queen, the Army, Navy, Air Force and’ Mercantile Marines of all the of the British Empire and the Allies.
Citizens of Lichfield, both young and old, celebrated and 250 local residents aged 70 years and over attended a final victory tea party in the Friary School, on the Friary Road, on Wednesday afternoon at the invitation of the Mayor and Mayoress (Councillor and Mrs. Thomas Moseley) and the Sheriff and his Lady (Councillor and Mrs. H. D. Podmore). After a ‘sumptuous tea, which was heartily enjoyed by all present’, the ceremony of drinking the toast of ” The King and Country” and the ancient Lichfield toast of ” Church and King, Weal and Worship,” from the head of one of the ancient Lichfield city, was carried out by the Mayor and Mayoress and the Sheriff and his Lady. The head of the mace was used as a loving-cup, and, full of punch, kindly provided by the Sheriff, it was passed around amongst all of the guests. The oldest citizen present, Mrs. Munn, of Beacon Street, who celebrated her 92nd birthday last January, told the Mercury reporter that she walked from her house to the Cathedral to see the floodlit illuminations.
The Mayor, Councillor Moseley, wondered what ” Mrs. Grundy” would say (Mrs Grundy had been a common name for a prudish woman, and her character appeared as a teacher in a very popular WW2 comic) and ‘what their mothers would say if they were to see the young ladies playing tennis on the public tennis courts in shorts, and when they saw the girls from Birmingham on Sundays cycling through Lichfield in shorter shorts. What would they say when they went through the streets of Lichfield and saw the women in trousers smoking in the streets, the bare legs and abbreviated skirts?’. The Mayor went on to say there ‘never was a time when the young women of this country were so healthy. Their ruby lips were bubbling over with health (laughter)—and their peach and white complexions were the picture of health. (more laughter). One, however, could not help but admire their candour and self-confidence, and they of the older generation could leave the England of the future in their hands, feeling they had left it in safe hands’.
One of the first V. J. parties to take place in Lichfield was held in Church Street, Greenhill, on Thursday, 16th August. The organisers were Mesdames Elson, Hickman, William*, Bucknal and Whitehouse. The Mayor and Sheriff kindly attended, and so did the Rector of St. Michael’s, Prebendary P. Howard. Two of Greenhill’s oldest inhabitants, Grannie Ashley and Grannie Maycock, attended the tea and celebrations. The celebrations lasted for many hours, and during that time over 500 people gathered on “The Nob” (I have never heard of that description) to join in the dancing and community singing. At dusk there was a fireworks display and a huge bonfire was lit.
For the younger generation there were children’s parties held around the city including one on Lower Sandford Street, on the Saturday following VJ Day. The organiser was Mrs. K. Sawyer, and the neighbours proved themselves true Britishers by all pulling together to make it a success. The celebrations were opened by a procession of children marching down Sandford Street, all singing ‘We are the Old San Nibs’ (clearly a popular local song). After tea children’s races were run in the Recreation Grounds, for which there were money prizes, and then everyone went back to Sandford Street for some mystery games, the prizes being given by Mrs. Neville and family.
One of the big attractions of the day was when Mr. J. Wolfe gave the children of the street rides on his motor bike for 2d a time (again, presumably, there were no major concerns for Health and Safety!), the proceeds of which he gave towards the party expenses.
Another party took place on the Curborough Road, organised by Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Bush and Mrs. and Miss Jones. The venue of the party was the Airman’s dining hall (by kind permission of Wing Commander Palmer), and the opening ceremony was performed by Councillor F. Williams, supported by Councillor J. Haworth. About 45 to 50 children sat down to a tea which included the usual children’s favourites of jelly, trifles, blancmanges, fruit, with meat, paste and tomato sandwiches, along with white and brown bread and butter, fancy cakes and tarts; also one iced Victory cake, all provided and cooked by the organisers, with the help of everyone’s points.
Over 130 Stowe Street (the street of that time was demolished in the 1960s and replaced with more modern housing, as seen now) children and mothers sat down to an excellent tea provided by Messrs. Garratt (of Garratt Bakeries on Bore Street and Market Street) in the W.I. Hall on Thursday 16 August to celebrate the victory over Japan. Organised by ‘Mesdames Fitch and Last’, who received the full co-operation of neighbours and friends, the party was a great success, and enjoyed by everyone. The elderly and infirm and others who were unable to attend because of sickness did not miss the appetising tea however, as Mrs. Fitch took them all a share of the food, which they ‘enjoyed immensely’. Councillor and Mrs. W. F. L. Salloway (of Salloways Jewellers, formerly of Bore Street, now City Jewellers of Lichfield) kindly came along to present the prizes won by the children in the sports races.
Meanwhile the adults sat down to a good supper, consisting of spam, tongue, salad, bread and butter and rolls, cream crackers, and cheese and celery, with liquid refreshments, and a large iced Victory cake. The children then enjoyed ice cream, lemonade and a bar of chocolate, the latter being made possible by each and everyone providing sweet points. By this time dancing was well under way, under the capable direction of Mr. Roberts (drums), Mr. Taylor and Ms. Smith (piano). A most enjoyable evening was brought to a close with three cheers for the organisers and the National Anthem.
The celebrations of ‘VJ Day’ carried out in Lichfield in August 1945 do have an ‘old-world’ charm to them – jelly, ice-cream, children’s races in Beacon Park, hanging lanterns, a sing-song round the piano, dancing at the Guildhall, fireworks, singing the National Anthem and then home before midnight. There does not seem, or if there was it was not reported, any violence or the celebrations getting out of hand it appears that everything was carried out as a ‘jolly old knees-up’. Perhaps after six years of war, and the more loudly celebrated celebrations for VE Day just a few months before, they were all tired, weary and just keen to get on with what you might call ‘everyday’ life. I cannot help but wonder what the celebrations would have been carried out in the streets of Lichfield in 2020? Would the lanterns have been thrown in to Minster Pool? Would the food have been stolen from the children’s party tables? Would the all-nighter dance at the Guildhall ended up with a midnight punch-up on Bore Street? We will never know the answer to that of course but this rather genteel, quintessentially under-played ‘British’ celebrations in August 1945 brought the curtain down, very gently, on one of the most savage, and devasting, conflicts in world history. Hopefully we will never have the opportunity to see how the current generation of Lichfield citizens would celebrate the end of a World War…let us hope that Peace will prevail…
Lest We Forget
15 August 2020
Sources: The British Newspaper Archive. Photograph copyright The Trinity Mirror Group, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.