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VJ Day and its celebration

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Moma P started an interesting thread in the W2 Photo Roll Call subforum under the title “VJ Day Celebration”. This posting is really a continuation of that but as it contains no images it's probably more appropriate to place it in this subforum as a completely new thread. Added to which it isn’t about a Birmingham street celebration anyway but rather its equivalent in deepest Devonshire. The only excuse I have for posting it at all is that it’s about a VJ Day celebration which was enjoyed and remembered by a young, near-enough-Brummie………..


As soon as VE Day had come and gone my parents started to plan a summer holiday, a return to the South Hams area in South Devon which they had visited for several years in the 1930s up until the outbreak of war. To them, and I suppose to many other Birmingham people perhaps even to this very day, that part of the West Country represented an idyll, as far removed from the noise and frenetic activity of a then grimy city as it is possible to get.

The road journey in 1945 was an adventure: some eight or nine hours crammed in a little black Ford Prefect which had seen better days, following the old A38, each town centre having to be patiently threaded through – Birmingham itself, then Bromsgrove, Droitwich, Worcester, Tewkesbury, Gloucester, Bristol, Bridgwater, Taunton, Exeter (by-passed but still solid with traffic), Newton Abbott, Totnes and Kingsbridge. And then down ever narrowing lanes, finally to draw up, switch off and let out a sigh of relief in the stillness of a tiny village called Beeson, basking in the late afternoon sun. Just a gaggle of cottages, a couple of farms and a shop and post office in someone’s front room. We could look forward to two whole glorious weeks of sunshine, fresh air and wonderful farmhouse food, the like of which we had not seen for six years. Far over the distant horizon was the prospect of the long trail north, back to our home city, to the rationing, the grime of the buildings and the pallor of the complexions; but all that seemed a lifetime away as we carried our suitcases down the lane and sought out our hostess.

It was in our lodgings in Beeson that I was told by my father about the terrible new weapon, equivalent to the bomb load of hundreds of Lancasters, which had been used on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th and, three days later, on Nagasaki. I had never heard of these places before but after that I would never forget them. Then on August 14th came the surrender of Japan and with it the end of a war which when we left home had seemed likely to last for months or even years. At last all the conflict which had seemed to a nine-year-old to have always been part of our lives was over. I remembered well the end of the war in Europe and the Home Guard’s VE Day bonfire at home in May. Now in August there was the prospect of further jollification, but this time in different surroundings.

In the corner of a lush, sloping pasture on the edge of the village, a pile of combustible material quickly and mysteriously appeared. I and several of my new-found friends decided that this must be the community’s VJ Day bonfire. We checked on it assiduously, every few hours, to ensure its continuing presence and well-being. But in the late afternoon it seemed that disaster had struck. The bonfire was decidedly wet.

“The cows have piddled all over it!” said one of my companions, in a tone of inconsolable despair.

But another boy, a local lad, was made of sterner stuff. He wiped a finger over a piece of glistening wood, held it to his nose and drawing on all his experience as a countryman pronounced: “Cow’s piddle, my *rse! That be paraffin”.

I believe I never found out whether it was paraffin. Nor even whether this pile of sodden wood and vegetation was definitely one of Beeson’s ways of marking the arrival of peace. For that modest celebration - if I attended it - has been washed out of my memory by images of a simultaneous and much more elaborate affair in Beesands, a little crab fishing village about a mile away to which we regularly walked, down a steep and twisting lane bordered by towering hedges of alder and ivy, hawthorn, hazel and honeysuckle.

The Beesands bonfire had been set up on a deserted stretch of foreshore slightly to the east of the string of fishermen’s cottages edging the shingle beach and constituting the entire village. The latter had probably changed little since the 19th century with its litter of open boats, crab pots, ropes, nets, wooden boxes and all the other paraphernalia of fishermen spread along the beach directly in front the owners’ homes. But there was one difference from those earlier, sleepy times: a gap next door to the pub where two cottages had stood two or three years earlier before a lone Luftwaffe intruder had wiped them from the face of the earth. And the war had come to the area in other ways too. Beyond the bonfire, not a great distance further along the shore and around a small headland, there stood the next village of Torcross and beyond it, the long stretch of Slapton Sands and a large area of peaceful Devonshire countryside containing a number of farming villages. This vast tract of land and all its villages and farmsteads had been taken over about 18 months previously by the US Army to practise the Utah Beach landings in Normandy and had witnessed mayhem and considerable tragedy. But now it was peaceful: “Exercise Tiger” had long since been concluded and most of the local people had returned to their battered homes and fields of red Devonshire earth and were busily rebuilding their lives.

The Beesands fireworks must have been tame compared with the Allied pyrotechnics of the previous year only a few miles away, out over Start Bay; but nevertheless were memorable to those like me who had but the dimmest memories of pre-war Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels and rockets. The precursor to the lighting of the bonfire was a torchlight parade along the foreshore. This deeply impressed my father, who, no doubt putting to one side memories of ominous newsreel shots of Hitler’s Brownshirts performing similar antics in the 1930s, ensured that one of the participants revealed to him precisely how these effective devices had been made – a roll of paper soaked in paraffin wax. Attempts to emulate them at succeeding Bonfire Night events at home were however never quite as successful.

Soon the fire blazed and the fireworks started to hiss and bang. There were very few rockets and the setting off of each of them was the source of much attention and excitement. As the first one was prepared my father pushed me to the front of the excited crowd and said, slightly too loudly, far too injudiciously and in an accent which was clearly not that of Devonshire:

“Now just watch this, Christopher”

“Now just watch this, Christopher”, mimicked a couple of older local lads nearby upon whose goodwill towards me I would most certainly not have relied. But I was close to my dad, safe from any malign intent on the part of the local fishermen’s sons and I could still enjoy the whoosh of the wonderful rocket as it soared far above and exploded in a cascade of coloured fire against the night sky.

And so it was that a tiny Devonshire village, still mourning its casualties, marked the return of peace with a celebration of fire and explosion. Eventually the last firework fizzled out and the bonfire was reduced to a pile of burning embers. A Birmingham family turned its back on the dispersing crowd and re-entered a tunnel of dense, dark hedges studded with the dim light of glow-worms. As we plodded back up the hill the gentle hiss of sea on shingle gradually receded into the distance and soon all that interrupted the silence was the hard clicking of crickets deep in the undergrowth.

In our own, even smaller and quieter hamlet of Beeson another memorable event was being organised: a children’s party, just like the ones in so many Birmingham streets but this one held on a sunny afternoon under the apple trees of an orchard, in front of a row of ancient thatched cottages which can rarely have witnessed such excitement. The trestle tables where we children were bidden to sit were laden with cucumber sandwiches and newly baked cake and clotted Devonshire cream and jam tarts overflowing with home-made raspberry jam. There we sat and munched under the boughs of the old trees until we could eat no more; finally it was time for games and we bequeathed ownership of the depleted tables to the local wasps.

The games were many and varied, with small prizes awarded to the winners. I remember just one. We had to run to a furthermost boundary of the orchard and then return to the finishing line. But the catch was that before setting off the competitor had to eat and completely swallow a dry cream cracker. At the starting line I chewed and gulped until I felt that I had adequately addressed the letter and spirit of the rules – for I was a strangely honest and not overly competitive little boy – and then set off for the distant hedge before returning and tearing across the finish, a clear winner. Roars of applause. Just one dissenting voice from an aggrieved and keen-eyed competitor:

“He’s still chewing!!”

I was affronted; but perhaps, in the deepest recesses of my conscience, not entirely comfortable as I reflected upon the continuing movement of my jaw and the survival of incriminating flakes inside my mouth. Affront was changing to sheepishness. It was just as well that in his search for justice the youthful accuser demonstrated not only a lack of grace and nobility in the disappointment of defeat but also an appalling failure of judgement. The supervising adult whom he selected to hear his complaint was the one most adjacent to us both. My dad.

All 62 years ago this week. Days of innocence and hope.


Chris
 

jennyann

master brummie
Staff member
An excellent story Chris...thanks for telling it. Our family took the A38 old route before motorways down to the West Country in the l950's, certainly a completely different world from Birmingham. I knew the main stopping places on the way by heart. In fact four years ago my brother and I took
that same route again and it was wonderful to see those places again.

I always remember coming back via the A38 in days gone by and seeing the
the buses in Bromsgrove ( a different livery to the B'Ham city buses if I remember correctly) knowing that we were not that far from home after a very long journey.
 

oldplumber

master brummie
img021.jpg

This is a photo of our VJ party at the top of Holmesfield Rd/Edale Rd on the Beeches Estate,my little brother Leonard Harding is in one of those prams in the top of the photo,memories !!!
Brian Harding
 

norfolk brummie

gone but not forgotten
006.jpgI came across this photograph of the Ladies in Anderton Road, Sparkbrook, taken on VJ Day. My mother is first left, middle row. I do have the details of most of the other ladies if anyone wishes to know. Eddie
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
One of our family photos of a VJ party in Cavandale Avenue. How we liked 'fancy dress' back in those days, the war was over and the weather was nice.
VJ_Party.jpg
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Today is the 72nd anniversary of that momentous day of which many are now understandably ignorant; and amongst those of us who DO remember the event, most, like me, need a reminder of the anniversary!

I wrote a memoir of my own experience of it recalling, as one of the more fortunate of Birmingham children, being treated to his first post-war summer holiday in the depths of South Devon. And was about to post it today. But then remembered the golden advice - use the Search function first! And yes, I had already posted it ten years ago. Just the timing has changed. Now it is another decade further away, and fast disappearing from the collective memory. But the memories are the same for me and if anyone wants to wade through them (yawn, yawn), it's the first post in this thread.
 
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oldbrit

OldBrit in Exile
How could any of us that went through that could ever NOT remember those days? We danced in the streets in joy
 

maypolebaz

master brummie
Great picture.
This isn't the first wartime Brum street scene where I've noticed an American serviceman in the crowd, (this time there's a PFC, almost dead centre, talking to a young woman).
Was there an American army unit in the city during the war ?
 

maypolebaz

master brummie
There was the large Pheasey Base from which G.I.s were seen all over Kingstanding and Great Barr but I think most of them had gone before VJ day.
see U.S. Base Pheasey Estate https://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?threads/us-base-pheasey-estate.4180/
Thanks for the info oldMohawk.
Just to get back on thread. I remember my Dad taking me up to the Maypole terminus to see a single decker bus, covered in fairy lights. I can still see the driver, sitting smiling in his cab. Dad told me the decorations were for the VJ celebrations, which meant nothing to 3 year old me but I'll never forget it.
 

Edifi

master brummie
Remember the Bonfires in Inkerman St on VE & VJ nights and Mom playing the piano on the footpath.Good times.
 
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