- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Patricia Pegg
- Location of story:
- Sheffield, Yorkshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Roger Marsh of the ‘Action Desk — Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Patricia Pegg, and has been added to the site with the author’s permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
The End of the War
The air of excitement and expectation invaded the senses of young and old alike living on tenterhooks, just waiting to hear verification that the war had finally ended. Everyone knew it was due to be announced and finally, at the height of anticipation, the voice of Sir Winston Churchill came across the airways telling us in a voice, tinged with suppressed emotion, that we were at peace. The date was 8th of May 1945. The jubilation was stupendous. Bells rang out in every town and village, virtual strangers hugged and kissed in the streets, groups of people young and old danced together in their happiness and relief that at last, loved ones would soon be home for good. Of course there were some who would never see a husband or sweetheart again, but their sadness was hidden by smiles for the ones who had been fortunate enough to survive the horrors of fighting the enemy.
Miraculously, tables and chairs appeared in the streets straight down the middle of the road. They were placed ready for the parties that were planned later in the day. These were going to be parties that would be remembered for years to come, surpassing any party that had ever been planned before. Flags flew from windows, bunting and streamers festooned the streets in a medley of riotous colour from top to bottom. Effigies of England & arch enemy Hitler, were soon created by youths out of old clothes and lifelike masks to burn on the bonfires that were being erected ready for lighting that night.
My brothers, sister and friends were told to go with me to collect wood ready for the fire. We hopped onto a bus, too excited at the prospect of chopping down trees to worry about spending our few pennies on bus fare. Being very clever because I was the eldest there, I dropped off the bus before it had stopped. I was too clever; my favourite dress which was mustard coloured, trimmed with brown velvet, was covered with mud and slush as I fell backwards into a large puddle. It wasn't very comfortable having to walk about in a wet dress, people would think I had weed myself so I was very embarrassed.
We held hands as we crept through the darkness of the trees looking for branches that had fallen. There wasn't many because it was spring and everything was in bud, but we were too young to realise that. We proceeded diligently to chop and saw at the trees with our blunt hatchet, while the smaller children picked up as many large twigs as they could. So intent were we at our allotted tasks we never heard the keeper or his dogs. Of course we could hear the undergrowth rustling, imagining the noise to be coming from small animals looking for food. We did hear however, the panting of the two large, fierce Alsatians as they broke through the undergrowth, snarling and growling at us while we stood petrified, rooted to the spot.
"Oi," a very belligerent voice shouted, breaking the silence that now enveloped the wood and us, "just what do you lot think you're doing?" The voice belonged to a tall man wearing a peaked cap from under which baleful red rimed eyes glared at us. "Come on, hand it over," he shouted holding out his hand for the hatchet, and as I approached him, he grabbed it out of my hand, wrenching my arm nearly out of its socket. I let go so suddenly, he fell over catching his heel on one of the branches we had collected. He lay on the ground, spluttering and choking while his dogs licked his face in sympathy. We howled with glee as he stumbled to his feet only to be brought down again by the dogs fussing round him.
When he finally had his dogs under control, he turned his face contorted with suppressed rage and told us in no uncertain terms to, "Hop it, you bunch of bloody hooligans." We came to the conclusion that he didn't know that the war was ended or more likely, he was too miserable to care. Disconsolately, we followed the keeper at a distance keeping well away from the dogs. He entered the hut where he had his meals and did various odd jobs he'd found to do in the woods. When all was quiet from inside, we sat on the ground to discuss what action to take in order to retrieve our hatchet, feeling for all the world like the Indians we were pretending to be having a pow-wow. I was the chief, so they told me, so therefore I was the bravest and should negotiate with the big white father for the return of our hatchet. Bucking up my courage and not feeling at all like a brave Indian chief, I called out in a quivering voice, "Mister, can we have our hatchet back?" "No you can't," he answered, his mouth full of food. We could see him through the small window eating his lunch. We hadn't had anything since breakfast, we had been so eager to join in the celebrations, we had forgotten to eat. Our mouths were watering and our stomachs grumbling as we watched him devouring sandwiches as thick as doorstops. Not one or two but four sandwiches entered the voracious mouth of the keeper. We couldn't believe our eyes, two each were the limit in our family.
My younger brother Bill, his eyes avidly watching the sandwiches from under his basin cut fringe, could watch no more. He gave me a nudge. "Go on say something," he implored me. “What shall I say?” I asked, "Anything," he answered,"just stop him eating." I opened my mouth and in a high squeaky voice, I told him, "Well our dad is a policeman and if you don't give it to us he will come and arrest you, because we will tell him you pinched it off us and you will go to prison." "Clear off," he shouted, "or I will set the dogs on you all, you bloody bunch of vandals." He didn't give us time to clear off, as soon as be had finished speaking the door was opened and the dogs came bounding out.
We ran. Through the woods, slipping and sliding on the wet leaves and moss, falling over fallen branches and tearing our clothes as we fell in our headlong dash to get away from the dogs. Everyone made the bad mistake of following me instead of separating to avoid being caught. I suddenly felt myself tumbling down a steep embankment, my feet slithered and slipped in the wet sludge as I struggled to gain a safe foothold. Arms, legs, feet and bodies hampered me as everyone came slipping and sliding past, some landing on top of me. Finally we cane to rest at the bottom of the embankment. A motley crew of wet, dirty, sludged up children, while at the top the woodsman laughed and laughed. The dogs, held back by their leashes, suddenly found themselves free and attempted to reach us. They did, slithering and sliding just as we had done, they fell among us screaming, frightened children, all of us trying to escape both from the dogs and the sludge. Of course through being so wet and laying in the bottom of a river bed, we all looked like something from Flash Gordon and the Cavemen. We scrambled and pushed at each other in our vain attempts to reach terra firma, each time we made progress and nearly reached the top, we would slide and slip back down and land back amongst the snarling, barking dogs.
Eventually we managed to escape, we ran out of the woods and up the hill. At the top, we turned to look back, only to see the dreaded hounds gaining on us once more. Our feet were so clogged up with sludge, we couldn't run very fast; we slipped and fell to the pavement every few steps. My sister Maureen ran up a path and hid behind the privet hedge, hoping the dogs would miss her, they didn't. Bill and Frank the youngest, were shouting that the dogs had caught our Maureen and she couldn't get out. Above their shouts and her screams, I was shouting at them to, "Shurrup and keep running," all the while dragging them by their coat sleeves. Frank started crying because I was pulling him too fast, Bill was shouting to Maureen to get out as fast as she could, she was screaming and above this cacophony of noise, the bells of St. Leonard’s were ringing out their chimes of peace.
Maureen arrived home much later than we did, tears had made rivulets down her dirty cheeks, showing her many freckles which covered her face. She kept wiping the tears away with her coat sleeve, at the same time she wiped her nose which was running continually, leaving a silver streak round the cuff. Mam was regaled with the tale of how we had abandoned her, she snivelled and cried, looking so pathetic while she laid the blame on me, as usual. The grip which was supposed to hold back her red hair had slipped out and she hid the sneaky grin behind her hair as Mam gave me a good telling off, finishing with a smack across the back of my head.
It was party time, the tables were laden with whatever goodies our parents could manage. Sandwiches, which were spread with Echo margarine on one slice and potted meat on the other slice, were placed within easy reach of eager hands, they had never tasted so good. Jellies made from gelatine and flavoured with whatever was at hand, held pride of place down the middle of the table flanked by jugs of lemonade made with crystals. Our eyes devoured the feast set before us, some of the younger ones had never seen Jellies and lemonade in their lives. Someone had contrived, by collecting spare butter and sugar coupons to make fairy cakes, what luxuries were placed before us that day. We all set to eating with ravenous glee, no one knew exactly where to start and the plates were filled with every concoction you could imagine. Frank didn't like potted meat sandwiches covered in jelly, so Bill ate it for him. Our Bill would eat anything, no matter how obnoxious. Mothers had curlers in their hair covered by turbans, just like Carmen Miranda, ready for the celebrations that night. First they supervised the party, each one making sure that their offsprings didn't miss a morsel of food
Later that night when everyone had had their fill of food and drink, adults and children joined together in the one common cause for celebration. The burning of the hated enemy Hitler. Every house had curtains and doors wide open, it was like the Christmas's we used to have before the war. It was bright as day with the lights from every house lighting up the bunting and flags, the whole city was a huge Christmas tree. The smaller children stood with eyes wide in amazement, taking in the wonderment of a world which was suddenly alien to anything they had ever known. They had been used to walking in the dark at night and the sound of sirens instead of singing and jollity. We all joined hands and danced round the roaring bonfire, watching the effigy of Hitler toppling from his towering height on top of the wood until the last vestige dropped into the bright dancing flames of hell. As it did, a deafening cheer rose from our throats. It was so loud we were convinced it could be heard as far away as the countries of our enemies.
People from one street to another joined the chain dancing the Conga so that every street was lined from top to bottom with dancers. At intervals some would break away and make a ring for the Hokey Cokey or a line across the road to dance the Palais G1ide. I was in my element, I loved dancing and had sneaked off to the shilling hop as often as I could. Although I never had a shilling entrance fee, my great Uncle Sam would let me in free at half time. There I stayed as long as I could, until my mother found I was missing and came to fetch me home, she always knew where to find me on Wednesday nights. As I joined in with the happy throng of dancers on that momentous day, I thought I would never be as happy again in my whole life. Sometimes I could hear my mother calling me to look after my brothers and sister, but I just joined onto another group if I thought she was coming together, although I knew I would probably get a smack for not answering her.
As younger children gradually fell asleep, parents carried them home to bed, some protesting and mumbling that they were not tired yet even though their eyes were closed. Other older people carried on dancing and singing and I determinedly refused to give in to sleep. I kept awake as long as I could, taking everything into my memory, hugging it to me as something precious to remember. I was also very nosy and inquisitive and so didn't want to miss one single moment of the celebrations. Eventually I had to concede to tiredness, not as many people were dancing now and the bonfire had burnt down to smouldering embers. Adults said weary but happy goodnights and wandered to their respective homes, knowing that it would be a very goodnight indeed. No more sirens or bombs to wake our weary heads from sleep ever again, we were once again safe and at Peace.
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