- Contributed by
- Bill Barrett
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- 11 January 2004
Repeatriated POWs are returning and the War is virtually over in Europe. 9 May 1945 is declared VE-Day. There is a street party outside our house, one of thousands all over the country. My parents sit in the front garden just in front of the porch, chairs having been carried out. Food appears from somewhere and there is an atmosphere of, what, ad hoc abandon.
My friend Lionel and I look in from time to time but float around. (He taught me to play chess and draughts and we saw a good deal of each other.) Events becoem a trifle confused. I'll just put down the various things I recall. We wandered around our neighbourhood and did things like tossing thunderflashes (dunno where they came from -Home Guard maybe?)at groups of people round bonfires. We went into the gunsite mentioned earlier and joined in hokey cokey dances, chatted up ATS girls and just soaked in the atmosphere.
We went off to the West End at some stage. It was very like the scenes following Princess Diana's death. Huge crowds everywhere doing nothing in particular. Going to Buck House. Chanting "We want the King" and he appeared. Giant conga lines forming up and then breaking up. Enormous crowd on Westminster Bridge and road totally blockedd with people. Learnt later that my father went up on an impoulse (hadn't occurred to us that he'd want to), got stuck in one of these huge immobile crowds and a bar of chocolate in his pocket was squashed flat. Saw a large cloud of smoke in St James' Park and hurried over to see what it was - just people smoking (different world then!).
So the war in Europe ended. To us it was the end of the war. There continuing war in the Far East was, it has to be said, of little concern. VJ-Day was nothing special that I can recall. In fact, some friends who had heard about the junketing on the gunsite went along there and found nothing. They poked around, looked into a hut and found a soldier changing. He asked what the so and so they thought they were doing, this is Govrnment property etc etc.
I'd like to go back to the subject of humour before ending my story. I referred to the importance of ITMA in keeping up morale. Humour generally helped. There were jokes around. I referred to one about the doodlebugs earlier. Another I remember concerned Hitler and the Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels (who at the end committed suicide with his family). The joke was "What happened round the table when Goebbels took off his shoes?" Answer "Hitler could smell defeat".
Did the Germans have a sense of humour? we wondered. Were we the only people to have one? I still think about this subject in 2004. Is humour subversie? I think about.
There was Aussie humour. At Tobruk time (it reamined when we retreated past it along the N African coast), the story was that some Italian soldiers (we derided them unfairly) waited their moment and then rushed to our lines to surrender. Suddenly they reappeared and the Germans said something like "What the devil? we thought you were deserting. "We were" the Eyeties replied "but we didn't know they were Italians there". (Years later when I was in the post-war army someone asked a senior NCO about the behaviour of Austraians and New Zealanders during the War. "I wish you hadn't asked me that" he replied.
There was an outrageous joke about Hitler which I came across originating from German Swiss who had a to us weird sense of humour - well, they had one, contrary to some people's belief. Hitler was allegedly suffering from constipation and his doctors decided that enema ws the only answer. He won't dream of it, said the SS valet. Eventually they decide to do it while he was asleep and proceed. Suddenly Hitler speaks and they spring back. One doctor bends close to Hitler's mouth and listens. "What's he saying?" they all ask. He's saying "Ah, Benito" he replies.
Another Aussie story. A wounded soldier is taken to a fieled dressing station and is on a stretcher. A nurse passes and he reaches out and grips her wrist like a vice. "Nurse" he asks "did they bring me here to die?" "Nao" the Aussie nurse replies "it was yesterdie".
Near the end of the story now. One more entry and I should be there.
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