Helen Berry's Wartime Diary - Typed version
Helen Berry wrote her account of VE Day when she was 13 years old
and living in Handsworth.
Peace in Europe 1945
Monday May 7th 1945
In the newspapers on Monday May 7th there was the news that "Mr Churchill's statement is very near". Of course, everybody got excited. When I came from school in the afternoon, people were putting flags and decorations out, although peace had not been declared. At nine o'clock it was announced that Mr Churchill would speak at three o'clock, the next day.
Mummy had already prepared our flag-pole, (which was my net ball post, plus a line prop on the end of it), so that we were already to hoist up our large flag, which had come from Looe. We put it in the front garden near the centre of our round-about, but not on it. Mr Crowhurst had decorated his house very well with fairy lights, streamers and flood-lighting. Mr Morgan had a Japanese lantern on top of the bush in his front garden. A lot of people had fairy lights in the shape of a "V" on the front of their houses.
Tuesday May 8th ("VE" day)
The next day, VE day, I did not go to school. At three o'clock, as announced, Mr Churchill declared peace. It had come at last, after five and a half years of suffering and hardship. Earlier on in the day, the indefatigable Messrs. Morgan, Crowhurst and Hill had told the little boys to collect wood, sticks, carpets, - in fact anything they could find for the bonfire in the evening.
For pudding at dinner time, we had our treasured fruit salad, which we very much enjoyed with evaporated milk.
By the time Mr Churchill had spoken there were a great many flags and decorations out. There were quite a lot of pictures of the King and Queen, (relics of the coronation) and pieces of material with "God save the King and Queen" on them.
After Mr Churchill's speech, Mummy, Daddy and I went a cycle tour, to see the decorations. In a lot of the roads we saw they were having parties. For decorations, Newcombe Rd, would have easily won first prize.
At nine o'clock, the King spoke to his peoples all over the world, telling them that they had endured all these years of war, and now they could rightfully enjoy the peace.
At about a quarter to ten, Mr Crowhurst lighted the bonfire, with an image of Hitler sitting very comfortably in the old chair from the Warden's Post with some unwanted A.R.P. orders tucked under his arm. The bonfire was situated about half the way up the road, outside Mrs Parry's House. Gradually a crowd gathered and we started singing, and when the bonfire had quietened down a bit, we danced round the bonfire, only for a little while.
At about half past ten, refreshments started. Someone had bought five shillings worth of chips. These were distributed on pieces of paper, holding about a pennyworth each. In addition to this, there was coffee, sandwiches, cakes etc. Mr White, from the Handsworth Dairies provided a dozen bottles of milk and a huge slab cake. Altogether there were fifteen bottles of milk!
In the middle of all the excitement, Mr Hill, dressed up as a policeman, came marching up the road, shouting, "Put it out", but all the little boys had a fight with him. Then another "policeman" came, but they were both chased away.
Later on when the fire needed stacking up a bit, the little boys got some more wood from behind the Post.
Coming up the road was a very peculiar sight. Daddy and two or three others, with Mr Crowhurst behind, were to be seen carrying the Corporation salvage box very solemnly up the road to the bonfire. It looked just as if they were carrying a coffin with the chief mourner at the back.
Just before twelve o'clock, Daddy, through a megaphone, told the people to put all their front room lights, as he thought it would be very effective - but before that, Mr Morgan who had announced that Daddy was going to speak, told the crowd, which had now collected, that it had been Daddy who had been Head Warden of this Group, through the very boring but very peaceful days and nights from about 1943 or 44 onwards. He then asked them to give three cheers for Daddy!
At twelve o'clock everybody got round the bonfire and sang "Old Lang Syne". Not very long afterwards, Mr Crowhurst and some of the other men put the bonfire out, so that no one could stay and sit round it.
We, that is, Mummy, Daddy, Auntie Gwen, Auntie Mir and myself, then went up to see the Island Road bonfire, where we met Mr Cattell and his wife, and Mr Anstey. There, they had a piano, and the bonfire was still going. Further down Island Road, on the "green", there were people sitting round the fire. There, they had a radio-gram. Next we moved to Cranbrook Road fire, where earlier on in the day, they had had a childrens' party. Here there were only twenty or so people sitting round the gradually-dying bonfire. We just went to see Newcombe Road's, but they had finished up.
We then went home and to bed, having thoroughly enjoyed our selves.
Wednesday May 9th ("VE" + 1)
On VE day plus one, we got up, not too early. All day until about a quarter to ten at night, except for dinner and tea time, we had to endure the nerve-racking row of the little boys, practising on their biscuit tins, ready for the Linchmere Road bonfire.
In the afternoon, Mummy, Auntie Brenda and Janet went into town to see the flags and decorations, while I stayed at home to prepare my fancy dress, which was a Spanish-gipsy dress. The aunties provided a lot of things for me, including a pair of castenets.
At four o'clock, there was a meeting of all the procession to arrange about the evening. Unfortunately I had to come back to some English homework, but that did not take long. Then we dressed Janet up as a little Irish girl, for the Linchmere Road children were having a party, races and games. Janet and I both had a quiet bath and then got dressed.
We went round to Linchmere Road, where Mummy and Daddy had been asked to judge a fancy dress competition.
Next we watched a very good amateur Punch and Judy show. Then I came home for some supper, just a "spam" sandwich and a drink of "Apple juice".
At half past nine, Copthall Road prepared for their procession. In front was Frankie Morgan, who was teacher of the little boys, (who had been practising all day). In the middle of the little boys was Mr Morgan with a huge hat on. The band comprised of the already-mentioned biscuit tins, tin lids, and about one pair of cymbals - in fact anything to make a noise. Then behind came the ladies. Mrs Crowhurst, as a Spanish lady, Mrs Parry as "Lady Copthall", Mrs Lloyd James and others. After them came Mr Hill in his car with Mr Cox and another man each side with a handbell. Then Mr Crowhurst, with a gas rattle, at the end, pulling last but not least, - Hitler on a sledge. We started at the top of the road, and came down, then up Cranbrook Road and down Landgate Road to the Linchmere bonfire, which, I am afraid we rather interrupted, as the solemn action of taking Hitler to the gallows was taking place. Then we threw our Hitler on.
After that there were refreshments and singing and dancing. There was a lady with an accordian, which helped with the singing.
Mr Lock had some air-identification flares, which he shot from a revolver. One or twice I actually saw him point the revolver into the air. When it shot up, it looked like a firework rocket, but when it landed, it bounced along the ground, and then went out.
Amongst the people there was Miss Seagrief, who had come down from Fell Grove.
At twelve o'clock, we had to come home as I had to go to school the next day.So I went to bed, with the happy thought of not having to think "Will the sirens go" or "Will perhaps an extra large rocket come near us?"
We now felt that we could start on beating the Japanese and building up the half demolished world, to the happy one it was before.