Friday 8 May 2020 sees the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe, VE, Day and would have been celebrated both locally and nationally if these were normal times – it was to be one of the themes of the 2020 Hither Green Festival – maybe this will be re-visited later in the year. We’ll look at what happened that day in 1945 with a local perspective.
After Berlin was surrounded by Allied forces and Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945, the end of the war was quite rapid. A week later, on 7 May 1945 Germany accepted an unconditional surrender of German Forces in most of the areas that they still occupied in the Netherlands and northwest Germany and the surrender came into effect the following day. A further surrender document was signed with the Russians on 8 May.
Running Past has covered many of the areas of the Home Front in recent months (for the 70th anniversary of war breaking out); the winding down of the Home Front was rapid in early May – public air raid shelters were closed down, as was the air raid warning system and plans were made for the return of evacuee children and mothers by the end of May (1).
Over a million people took to the streets on 8 May in celebration throughout Great Britain to mark the end of the European part of the war. Many massed in central London, particularly in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace as featured in the video footage (the sound levels are a bit variable, so beware!)
Many celebrated locally though; South Park Crescent (above and below) had been built as part of the Verdant Lane estate in the early 1930s and was the scene of a large party. No doubt the celebrations were tempered there though by memories of 5 children from there and neighbouring streets who were amongst 38 children and 5 teachers who died at Sandhurst Road School. There had also been a V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of South Park and Further Green Road less than a year before at 16:48 on 12 July 1944 which injured 15 (3) – several houses were destroyed and lots damaged – perhaps including the roofs of those pictured below).
In and around Hither Green, there were several other street parties including ones in The Woodlands and neighbouring Blashford Street.
Lee too saw several street parties, mainly in the working class streets. Taunton Road had seen a lot of damage in the Blitz with several lives lost. There was a posed picture probably taken close to the park entrance, the road in the background is Wantage Road.
Just around the corner in Brightfield Road (below) there was another street party in the part of the street that was built by John Pound and had originally been called Robertson Street. As can be seen from the photograph, the party wasn’t held there until early June 1945.
Brightfield Road had seen some damage from the V-1 flying bomb that hit the junction of Lenham and Lampmead Roads. In addition, there was Blitz damage to houses close to the bridge over the Quaggy, with several destroyed and several seriously damaged; along with three houses on the southern side of the bend which were damaged beyond repair (3). The houses destroyed in Brightfield Road were never rebuilt, a new entrance to Manor House Gardens was created in their stead and those damaged beyond repair suffered a similar fate – they were to become an entrance to, what became after the war, Northbrook School and is now Holy Trinity
The street scene is now markedly different – the attractive bank buildings at the end of the street were lost after the war either to Penfold’s or Sainsbury’s expansion – more on the building another day, as there is an interesting story behind it.
While there were dozens of parties, as Lewis Blake noted, ‘for all the public display, it may be assumed that a majority of people stayed quietly at home.’ (4)
In addition to the celebration of the end of hostilities, there will have been a relief that bombing and rocket attacks were over – roads like Springbank, Taunton and Aislibie Roads had been badly affected by the Blitz, with V-1s hitting lots of local streets – including Nightingale Grove, (pictured below) Fernbrook Road, between Springbank and Wellmeadow Roads along with Leahurst Road, and as we’ve mentioned the Lenham/Lampmead junction.
A couple of days after VE Day, Lewisham was visited by the King and Queen who stopped in a packed town centre to survey the damage caused by the V-1 flying bomb from 10 months before (it’s at about 4:10 into the film, which is sadly silent).
Other than the rebuilding which was to continue for the best part of 20 years, the other element of wartime privations that was to linger on for almost another decade was rationing, which didn’t officially end for meat until 1954.
If you have personal or family local VE Day memories, please do post them either in the Facebook thread you reached this post from or in the comments below, if you haven’t commented here before, it may take a few hours for your comment to be approved. I will hopefully add some of the comments into the main post.
In early May 2020 we don’t have the potential for street parties, but oddly, despite the lock down, we are probably contacting and seeing more of our neighbours than any of the generations since the end of World War Two. Every Thursday evening with the #ClapforCareWorkers most of our small street come out to clap and bang pots and pans; if we are typical, people often stay out in the street to chat, keeping social distancing, of course. Neighbours are checking in with each other by phone with shopping bought for those having to stay at home. Perhaps, for now at least, this is the World War Two type spirit we should embrace and celebrate, the parties will have to wait.
- Lewis Blake (1995) How We Went To War – Deptford & Lewisham 1939 -1945 p62
- From ARP Logs held at Lewisham Archives
- Laurence Ward (2015) The London County Council Bomb Damage Maps 1939-1945 p119
- Blake, op cit p66
Credits and Thanks
- Thank you to Andy Wakeman and Clive Andrews for allowing the use of their family photographs of the South Park Road party – the photographs remain their families’ copyright;
- The photgrpahs of Brightfield Road and Taunton Road are part of the collection of the Lewisham Archives, they are used with their permission and remain their copyright;
- The photograph of the destruction on Nightingale Grove is from the collection of the Imperial War Museum – it is used here on a Non-Commercial Licence