- Contributed by
- Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies HALS
- People in story:
- Deryn Bourne
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 February 2005
In early 1945, the British 2nd Tactical Air Force has established its HQ near Ghent, in Belgium, with an airfield, and an Operations room fitted into the chapel of a chateau, just south of the city.
'A' Watch were on duty during the night of May 7th/8th when the news came through that Germany had surrendered unconditionally. At first there was a stunned silence as we assimilated the fact that the war was over. It’s over! It’s over! We laughed and hugged one another. Then leaving a skeleton crew to man the silent lines, we dashed over to the airfield to join the pilots and aircrews on the runway in letting off Verey lights, green, red, amber, now only signalling relief, joy and wild jubilation.
Our vehicle then drove us all into Ghent to join joyful citizens dancing in the streets and squares. We were feted with flowers and plied with drinks, which had waited over five years for just such a celebration. Everyone was singing 'It’s a long way to Tipperary' or 'Do the Hokey Cokey' as they seemed to think they were our National Anthems.
The Cathedral, Castle, Town Hall, Opera House, and many other fine old buildings were floodlit and draped with Allied flags; many assorted vehicles had now joined our cavalcade, led by a yellow jeep with a siren and a fire engine.
Dawn had broken by the time we reached the Convent of St. Peter, where, hoarse and exhausted, we fell into bed to snatch some sleep. All too soon, we were woken to take part in a rehearsal for the next day’s victory parade.
May 9th was called VE + 1, when we marched three miles round Ghent with Canadian, American and British troops and in step with a military band. Although we WAAFs brought up in the rear, we were wildly cheered with 'Vive les Waafs' and sprayed with confetti.
A mixed service group of us had organised a jeep convoy to Brussels to take part in the capital’s celebrations. Abandoning the jeeps in the care of the Redcaps at the station, we threw ourselves into the singing, seething mass of all nationalities in the Grand Place. A rather drunk U.S. Colonel offered to get me a flag from the façade of the Hotel de Ville; lacking a Welsh dragon, I opted for a Russian hammer and sickle. 'You shall have it, Lady' promised my new friend and promptly started climbing with amazing skill. I had thought he was joking but no, and I used that huge red bunting as a bedspread for years.
Next morning, we were soberly back in Brussels wearing our 'Best blues', and lined up at the Arc de Cinquantenaire as part of an international, inter Service Victory Parade. We all kept in step to a Canadian Pipe band and a Belgian band from somewhere. Almost the whole populace of Brussels seemed to have turned out to cheer us. It needed unbearable self-control to look straight ahead and not to smile at the crowds, nor to hold onto the bunches of flowers they thrust at us. It was truly a historic occasion for a girl who had enlisted straight from boarding school, and was now enjoying 'the time of my life'.
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