THE PARTY TO END THEM ALL

They held street parties, danced and cried. But Britons felt less triumph than huge relief at the ending of the War. Fifty years on, six who were photographed on VE Day told ROSIE MILLARD what it meant to them
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Indy Lifestyle Online
JJ Farquarson

Now lives in Kensington, and after the War worked for the railways. He was 25 in May 1944.

Our regiment were all in Holland, and us officers were celebrating VE Day on a farm near Arnhem. I appear to be holding a cigar; I had found a box in a deserted Dutch house, so I was smoking one. It was a glorious spring day. Someone had found some champagne and we just spent the day drinking steadily. The whole day got more frivolous as it went on. The next day, we had to sort out the German troops in Holland, which was a bit embarrassing. No one had told us how to deal with a defeated army. But the day after the photo was taken, my two fellow officers - the one in white and the chap behind him, looking over his shoulder - were in a jeep visiting men in their posts, and they drove into a German minefield. They realised they were in it, and tried to reverse back over their tracks, but the jeep hit a mine and they were both killed - the day after the War ended. Up till then, we'd lost one man out of our regiment. So my VE day memories are somewhat mixed. But we simply had to sort out their funerals and get on with our work. That was what you did . You just got on and tried to do a good job, whatever.

Alice Stone

Alice (standing fourth from right) lives in Leeds; at the time of the photo, she was 23. After the War she worked as a shop assistant.

We had been bombed out of our home in Hull, so I went to live with my mother-in-law in Leeds. This photo is of us in Leeds with the customers of my mother-in-law's pub, the Highfield Hotel. We knew VE Day was coming, we just didn't know when. We saved for months for this party - months and months, so we could give the children cream cakes. Some of the kiddies there had never seen cream cakes. We all pulled in together, saving our one egg a week and our rations of sugar. We were only allowed one pound of sugar a month. My emotions were rather awful on that day, really. My mother had been killed when our house in Hull was bombed for the second time. She was only 48. I remember standing there on VE Day just wishing she was with us. She never saw the end of the War, she never knew about my three kids. It was a sad day for me. For years after that, I would jump if a car backfired. The memory of being bombed never goes away, never.

Harold Hewitt

Lives in Devizes. He was 27 when the photo was taken. After the War, he became a motor technician.

I was in REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers), based in Moscow. We had been sent there to help the Russians work on their equipment. On VE Day, I decided to go into Red Square. I had done a fair bit of photography, so I took the RAF camera along with me. But because I was a British soldier in uniform, the crowds just picked me up and threw me in the air. They were all so overjoyed. My first thought was, Crikey! I'll lose the camera, and I'll be court-marshalled for it! So I opened up a couple of buttons in my tunic and just pushed it through. Looking back on it now, though, I don't think anyone would have stolen it, everyone was so happy. As I was being thrown up in the air, apart from worrying about the camera, I was just full of relief that this was at last the day we were all looking for, all the killing would be at an end and we could get on with our lives. During the War, I spent a good deal of time in a PoW camp, but I managed to escape. I dressed up as a German soldier and got away, even though I couldn't speak any German. I just gave the Heil Hitler salute. Since Gorby made travel to Russia a bit easier, I've been going back every VE anniversary. I'll be going to St Petersburg this year with my Navy mates. I won't shed a tear, but I'll have a good few drinks.

Frank and Nora Thurston

Frank and Nora live in Stockport. Frank was 23 and Nora 25 when this photo was taken of their wedding on VE Day.

Nora: We didn't know it was going to be VE Day. We just decided to get married on 8 May. We'd met at the RAF base in Northluffenham in 1944 and fallen in love. We found it was VE Day on the morning of the wedding; all the flags were flying, and the bells were ringing. We had two cakes, one from my parents-in-law, and one from my mother who had brought it up on the train from Guildford. It was nice having two cakes; with Frank being in the Forces, we could take lots back to the base for people who didn't come. In his speech, Frank said, "Hitler's finished his war and we've started ours," which I thought was very funny. Frank always had a lovely sense of humour. On our 50th wedding anniversary we're having a church blessing and a big party. We're still very much in love. After 50 years together I wouldn't change him for all the world, not even for a gold clock.

Mollie Whiteside

Mollie lives in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. A journalist after the War, she was 22 in 1945.

I was very small and very shy, and my family had only just moved to Ireland from Saskatchewan. But I was working in London for Fighter Command, as an Operations Telephone Operator, and I wanted to be in the centre of town on VE Day. So I went up to London the night before; everyone knew VE was about to be announced, all the streets were lit up and people were dancing around. I stayed overnight in a hostel, and the next day we dressed up and went to Trafalgar Square. Street traders were selling bugles and rattles and hats and we thought, what was the ultimate thing we could do to show we were free? So we took off our official hats, and put on these party hats. I'm standing with a friend of mine, the one in civvy clothes, and her husband, and another girl called Terry Trace, who is holding a Stars and Stripes because she was a GI bride. Everyone was so happy: we couldn't believe it was true. My heart was broken when the War began. One of my brothers was shot down, he was only 22. The relief that all the grief would be over was tremendous. I think VE Day was one of the greatest moments in the history of the world. On the way back to Stanmore I got a copy of the Star evening paper; and our photo was on the front page. I couldn't believe it. To be allowed to symbolise the joy of a nation; I'm not really over it yet.

Frank Gillard

A retired broadcaster, living in Somerset. He was 36 and a war correspondent in 1945.

I covered the 8th Army in Africa, the Mediterranean campaign, the Normandy Landings, the Dieppe Raid, the fall of Cologne and the link-up between the Allies in Torgau; Americans and British from the West, Russians from the East. That was the climax of my career in the War. On VE Day, I was with General Bradley at his headquarters in Germany. I heard the BBC taking microphones out into every town for the cheering and the jubilation, all over Britain; and I decided to do a dispatch on what it was like that day in the heart of a German city. So I got a van and an engineer and we drove 50 miles back into the Ruhr heartland, to the city of Kassel. There it was: a moonscape of desolation. There weren't any buildings, or German civilians. The only life was from two bedraggled columns of dispossessed people passing through: Belgians and French refugees going West, and Poles and Russians going East. All were pushing their belongings in pushchairs and carts. You can see that I had pressed my trousers, and I'm wearing a pair of decent shoes, for VE Day. Well, you had to do something to celebrate, didn't you? The recording still exists.

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