Joan Reichardt and husband John

LETTER: Memories of VE Day

Reader Joan Reichardt gives us a compelling personal account of her life at the end of WW2.

Remember when we knew the war in Europe was nearly over? When we knew our troops were advancing, now in Germany, and the end was in sight?

Remember when, on May 7, the announcement was made that May 8 was to be VE Day, and a public holiday? Wasn’t that amazing?

In Richmond, my home town, a benefit dance was being held at the Castle Barn, to help returning prisoners of war, now coming home in increasing numbers. I had a ticket, so when it was also VE Day, of course, off I went.

My Canadian boyfriend was in camp in Borden, so I did not expect to see him. That was one joyful dance! Everyone was so happy and excited that, for us, the war was over! I was young and foolish (some would say stupid) so when I won a bottle of gin, in the middle of a dance, I gave it to a sailor to hold! Guess what? I never saw the sailor or the bottle of gin again!

At some point later in the evening, my Canadian boyfriend appeared and joined in the celebrations. When the dance ended we carried on out in the streets, linking arms and singing Rule Britannia etc at the tops of our voices. As we headed for home, we passed a street party still in full swing, and when they spotted the Canada flash, they shouted “Come over here, Canada” and off went my shy Canadian to find himself doing Knees up Mother Brown, with a little (about 4 foot 8 inches) lady, with more enthusiasm than skill!

I should mention here that my boyfriend was 6 feet, 6 inches tall! Truly a night to remember. The next day was unreal. We knew the war in Europe was over, although we still had to deal with the Japanese, but for us, it was total euphoria!

I was working in London, on Farringdon Street, and the V1 doodle bugs and the V2 rockets kept coming until the end of March, so we were still not feeling safe. Towards the end of March a V2 Rocket hit Smithfield Market, very close to where I worked. My boss may have saved my life that day! There was a stall in the market that sold sausages that were a bit better than what we usually got from the butcher.

Remember how those sausages would sometimes explode when being cooked? And the joke was they had so much bread in them you weren’t sure whether to put mustard or jam on them?

Anyway, back to the story. People in the office — and there were quite a lot — would order sausages and one of us young ones would be sent to queue up for them. It was my turn, but my boss had work that I had to finish, so someone else went in my place. That poor girl was killed, along with about 130 others!

I remember the Saturday after VE day, I could take you to the exact spot, I was walking home having done the shopping , when it hit me! No more bombs, no more air raid shelters, no more doodle bugs and rockets, no more death, raining from the sky, no more fear of invasion, no more fear of “secret weapons.” We had beaten the Germans, and survived to tell the tale! We could make plans, we could look forward to a life ahead, for those of us planning to marry our Canadian sweethearts, we could look at a future far from war ravaged England. I remember how proud I was of being a Brit!

Joan Reichardt

Nelson

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