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Union Jack bunting across an old building

75th  Anniversary of VE Day

VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) was celebrated on the 8 May 1945 when Prime Minister Winston Churchill officially announced the end of WWII in Europe. The unconditional surrender of all German forces was signed on the 7 May 1945 in Reims, formally ending the war in Europe. The war in Asia went on, finishing on August 15 (VJ Day).

HM The Queen will address the nation to mark the 75  anniversary of VE Day at 9 pm on BBC1 on May 8 at the same time her father, King George VI, declared war was over in Europe from a bomb-scarred Buckingham Palace. HM’s message will be recorded from Windsor Castle, followed by a national singalong of Dame Vera Lynn’s “We’ll meet again”. It will be a day of virtual celebration, and thoughts of those lost.

Windsor Castle

HM’s message will be recorded from Windsor Castle

What was it like on the day in 1945 in the Windsor area? Delving into archives, it was a warm Tuesday and a two day holiday had been declared as reported in the Windsor and Slough newspapers. Many went to church and the bells rang out, including those of St George’s Chapel. After the Prime Minister’s broadcast to the nation, crowds gathered from the afternoon and flags and bunting were put up in Windsor, Slough and Eton.

By evening, everyone was out cheering and dancing and rockets lit up the night sky. Bonfires were lit, many with effigies of Hitler and his cronies. A huge bonfire was lit at Bachelors Acre by the Mayor of Windsor which signalled the start of the main celebrations that went on into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

In Slough, the Town Hall was floodlit and Windsor’s riverside had fairy lights. Villages around the district were also celebrating with bonfires and dancing. The sky reflected the glow from multiple bonfires.

There was a large bonfire in Datchet and it kick-started the celebrations there that went on until Wednesday night when there was dancing to the music of the Royal Artillery band from the local Ack-Ack batteries.

Eton College

Eton College, Windsor (Photo by Ruijia Wang on Unsplash)

In Eton, the college boys celebrated with buckets of water and water from the stirrup pumps. Revellers ran up and down Keate’s Lane
and a huge bonfire was lit on Fellows Eyot. When the fire died down, many boys and other revellers made a triumphant march up Eton High Street, over the bridge and onto Castle Hill, where they met other joyous crowds. By the late evening, many pubs had run dry, but the festivities continued as no one wanted to go home!

The only floodlit building in Eton was College Chapel but elsewhere floodlighting and fairy lights were put up. Army searchlights were also used to add to the illuminations.

Informal street parties and celebration teas took place and for the many children, it was the first time they had seen shops lit up. Children at the teas received an orange and 1 shilling.

In Eton Wick, street parties were held and after tea, the children were dancing, racing and had many games laid on for them. The day ended with 3 cheers for the boys still serving overseas and wishes for their safe return.

A Welcome Home party was held the following year in Eton Wick in May for the returning servicemen and women. From Eton Wick, over 100 men and women served in the Armed Forces, of whom 12 died on active service.

The Mall heading towards Buckingham Palace, London

The Mall heading towards Buckingham Palace, London

When HM The Queen addresses the nation on this coming Friday, she will probably think back 75 years to that night when she, then 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her 14-year-old sister Margaret, joined thousands of revellers as they gathered in front of Buckingham Palace. The Princesses danced the conga and the Lambeth Walk and sang with the crowds that night. Elizabeth and Margaret themselves appeared 6 times with their parents throughout the day and evening, one being with the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

It was Princess Margaret’s idea that she and her sister should join the crowds and the King and Queen agreed to it.

The King writing in his diary later about his daughter’s lack of a social life wrote –

“ Poor darlings, they have never had any fun yet”

 

Archive material from Eton Wick History Group and from Mr John Denman

Debbie Keenan is a Blue Badge Guide working in Southern England and specialising in tours of Windsor.

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