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- Joan Styan
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- 17 June 2004
So despite all the adversity and disaster, we conquered over evil and were triumphant in the end and finally the glorious day came when the war was declared over. The incredible release from fear and pain had at last encompassed us and can only be described fully by those who experienced it. There was just sheer unadulterated jubilation with no order whatsoever despite the conspicuous absence of many alcoholic drinks. The masses were more intoxicated with Victory than with alcohol!
VE Day was officially declared on the 8th of May 1945 but the war in Europe was definitely over on that magic night before when London surged into life. My mother said to me: "Let's go to the West End Joan and join in the celebrations." So we jumped on a train from our nearby Clapham Junction station to Victoria and were astounded to see such huge, swirling crowds. We tried desperately to make our way to Buckingham Palace and staggered shoulder to shoulder with the crowds. What an incredible sight. A wave of humanity confronted us. Impassioned emotions would never be as high again. London was aflame with human exhilaration. Bonfires blazed continuously over London and the sky was alight with the glow of victory. No more suffering and hardship; peace had finally descended upon us and everybody was at one with each other regardless of race, creed and status. Survival and freedom were all that mattered. We had waited so very long for this and in our wildest dreams had never envisaged a night like this.
Mum and I finally reached Buckingham Palace with much effort and laughter and joined in the masses converging on the Palace and celebrating outside. Hundreds of people all waving flags were crowding in front of the Palace and drifting in from Piccadilly and Regents Street and thronging down the Mall. They sang their hearts out with many of the war songs particularly the Vera Lynn favourites and London was deafened once again, not from the bombs and artillery fire, but from the depths of human feeling in utter, utter relief that their beloved city of London which had endured so much was free. Dear old London; this was its finest hour. Fireworks streaked through the sky instead of searchlights and bombers. The pent up spirits of the long, weary war burst out and the whole of London was ablaze with celebration.
No more suffering; peace at last; survival and freedom were all that mattered. London was submerged in jubilation and screams of relief from humanity. People climbed on anything they could, statues, buildings, cars, and every lamp-post was scaled. Noisy dustbin lids were banged and the hysterical crowds were totally beyond any order. Nothing mattered, only freedom. The ultimate heights of pent up human emotion were as they had never been and will probably never be again.
I was 15, and, as mentioned earlier, was deeply embedded with my mother in those swirling masses outside the Palace. The royal family together with Sir Winston Churchill came out on to the balcony of Buckingham Palace many times, joining in all the jubilation and joy looking utterly exhilarated and thoroughly overwhelmed as we all were in that incredible atmosphere. Actually this particular scene has been shown on television a number of times but needless to say I could not possibly identify my mother and I from the huge, stifling crowds. Unbeknown to any of the public, the 2 princesses were allowed to come down from the balcony incognito and mingle with the crowds. It seems that they were there for some time but were never recognised. They too were caught up in the magic of this unique night as we all were. Their cherished city of London had survived and would never, ever be the same again. Only recently the Queen was asked on television for her most outstanding memory. She immediately replied that this was the VE night celebration in London on May 8th 1945!
My mother and I, like everyone else, were completely oblivious of time but finally we wrenched ourselves from the celebrations and managed to stagger back and be carried along by the crowds to Victoria station, only to discover that the last train to Clapham Junction had departed. We just laughed and laughed like everyone else did and finally jumped on to the mail train and squeezed into the guard's van with dozens of others. We all thought it a huge joke. However, when the train stopped at Clapham Junction station, we found that the door was locked on the side where we had to alight. I can remember this as though it were yesterday. Despite much searching by the guards, no key was found to unlock it, so they lifted us out through the windows of the train midst shrieks of laughter. We were all quite mad but it was great fun. No one cared a damn for law and order and we all thought it hilarious. Nothing mattered, only that we had survived and lived through it all. No words can ever really describe fully the intense feelings of relief on that night of celebration and jubilation and the experience will be with me for ever.
On VE Day and many weeks after that there were street parties for children all over the country. Rarely had this country seen so much joy and excitement. Victory over Japan was celebrated on VJ Day, August 15th 1945, but it was a very poor shadow of the VE Day celebration. Germany was our real enemy who had forced us down the air raid shelters and made our lives a living hell and threatened us with invasion as they were only 22 miles from our shores. I was in Felixstowe on holiday with my family and Auntie Lily and cousins from Colchester when VJ Day was celebrated and they gave us an exciting children's party. Trestle tables were threaded through the streets as they were in the celebrations of VE Day and this happened in all the towns and villages. Once again, the country was enjoying one massive party. However, long after the war, although all the fear had gone and we were free again, there was still a serious shortage of food. This included bread rationing together with coal, electricity and gas etc.
After 6 long years of fear and sacrifice we were at last totally free. I was so proud of my mother who was at our side the whole time. She always tried to be cheerful in adversity and I can remember her constantly singing while she did her housework. My brother, sister and I were protected by her whenever we could be and she always put us before herself. She endured all the traumas of the air raids and the deprivation of the war, together with the upheaval of leaving our home to be with us during evacuation and having to compromise with the inconvenience and frustration of living in other people's homes. This was a big sacrifice for my mother but as long as we were all together this was the most important thing to her. She was a pillar of strength at all times and without her constantly by our side, we would have felt much more fearful.
Even though I was the eldest and had more responsibility than my brother and sister and had to try to set an example, mum was always there for us. We were her life and she was ours. She was highly disciplined and sometimes strict during our childhood but always very caring. She was a remarkable mother who possessed great fortitude, courage and determination. During World War 1 she was awarded 2 certificates from her school in Ipswich for being the most outstanding pupil in 1916 and 1917. Photocopies of these are deposited in the Suffolk County Council Records Office. She was a big influence on my life which will never be quite the same without her. She sadly died on Christmas Day 1989. My daughter Nicola was also born on a Christmas Day.
I saw much suffering during the war which made me compassionate to others who were less fortunate. I learnt to be appreciative and to be philosophical and to have courage and endurance in adversity. As children, even in peacetime, we were taught always to be grateful and the war certainly highlighted this. So after 6 long weary years of constant pain and suffering day and night, an aura of harmony descended upon us all, together with a peace that passes all understanding. We were finally FREE!
After so much suffering and anguish for nearly 6 long, weary years, with no release from fear, it was like continually living on the edge of a precipice. Many times we reached the zenith of fear when there was hardly a glimmer of light pervading our darkness. No wonder London was aflame with human exhilaration and highly impassioned emotions on that magic night of the 8th May 1945 when the war against Germany was finally declared over and the unbearable heartache had at last ceased.
Britain was unconquerable, despite the fact that Germany had subjected London to an ordeal which no other modern city had ever survived. It had been tested to its limits and brought out the finest virtues that human nature can ever display, which I fully experienced so many times. Almost every man, woman and child were affected on different levels by the havoc and misery of this war on our beleaguered island, and, when all the memories fade and finally disappear, there will only be the records remaining in the history books. The fight for human life and horrific suffering of this senseless and futile war should never ever again be repeated. The human sacrifice cannot be fully described as it may never be completely understood or identified with, but the unforgettable memories of war-torn London will remain with me for ever.
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