Using three editions of The Bury Times newspaper published just after VE day in 1945 we discover how the town celebrated this momentous occasion in history. Be inspired by archives.
Out of the darkness…
…there was light. Both literal and metaphorical: people turned their faces from years and years of rooms without views to welcome in the day’s light. It was contagious, so much so that after the new spring light had dimmed towards the end of the day night lights were lit, some by the Channel Island Evacuees, to decorate window sills in rainbow coloured jars; little miracle pots of light which burned all night. For passers-by looking in, the display of warmth and glow would have been a stark contrast to the blacked-out windows which had punctuated their streets for so long:
There are spears of light in the grim darkness.
The night is ending, and dawn, sweet and serene
(Bury Times, Saturday May 12th, 1945, Pg 4)
What to do with all this dark material that had served our town so well? Members of the Women’s Voluntary Service, experienced in distributing clothes for those in need, now turned their thoughts to dressing servicemen stationed on the Norfolk coast. We can’t have our Lancashire Fusiliers dilly-dallying through the waves without a pair of decent-fitting trunks! Duly and dutifully they shaped those blackout-blinds into soldiers’ bathing costumes. Parcelled for the attention of Major R Trevor Roper, 6th Infantry Holding Battalion, Hunstanton, Norfolk.
On Infant Street in Prestwich and Ivy Road in Elton, householders reached into their linen cupboard to air their best spot-clean tablecloths, spreading them over the trestles outside their front doors. The swathes of white reflecting the sun lit up the faces of children as they took in what was before them: Never before had they seen such food! A reporter shook his head and noted down, “some households will be on short rations for a few days”.
After the children had finished their taste of partying the night promised more. Parents were eager for their boys and girls to be lost in “the thrill of fireworks” where “the crack of rip-raps” and “exploding rockets” may have made some folk wonder upon the notion of peace. Bonfires were lit, some alight by the side of air-raid shelters where once they’d gathered, gas-masks in hand, to share a mix of hopes and fears.
For grown-ups, the public houses were granted an hour’s extension. The dance halls, including the Palais and Derby Hall, allowed music and dancing to carry on past midnight. Well into the night people “waltzed from war into peace”. In the Market Place a farandole was performed around the tram stop, while others chose the Peel Monument to be their dancing partner.
Sunday 12th May marked the official thanksgiving day for the whole nation. Every church in Bury and the surrounding townships welcomed in a congregation ready to share their gratitude. The two services at Bury’s parish church gave thanks firstly to the military, secondly to the townspeople with a special mention for workers and the part they played in wartime services.
Above the singing congregation, the walls of the church reflected ‘battle honours’ from past wars; for most of them this would not have been the first time they were assembled together offering praise and thanks for a conflict’s end. The rector gave them hope:
It is for us to embody, to bring to its maturity,
and display in all its glory, the idea of unity in diversity;
to make it plain to the world that such a way of life
not only works, but works better than anything else;
to show that it is both possible and uplifting for people
to do different things, follow different traditions and hold
and propagate different views without impairing the underlying unity.
(Canon Hornby’s address to the congregation, Bury Times, Wednesday May 16th, 1945, pg 1)
A list of criticisms came from this quarter aimed at the Town Council. Why hadn’t they opened up the coffers and splashed out on something flash to decorate the town! The Derby Hall had nowt, one paltry Union Jack bedecked the electricity showrooms and a few ‘dirty flags’ hung miserably from the transport offices! Not good enough, an utter disgrace! What about all that bunting used for the Royal Visit? Why couldn’t Bury be like Whitefield? This neighbouring township was easily the best in show with masses of bunting, clean flags AND coloured lights!
The Town Council had their reasons and may have taken to heart Winston Churchill’s acknowledgement, in his VE day announcement, that there was still work to be done: “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” Yes there were those throughout the town who still had loved ones in the Far East: “hundreds of families with men-folk fighting in the East will not really celebrate until those boys are home”.
The Italians love their children too
At Warth Mill Camp a hundred or so German prisoners would not believe their country had been beat; amidst the firing rockets and searchlights they kept close, “their faith in the fallen Wehrmacht”. Hang on a minute! Another reporter has more enlightened news: some of these same prisoners turned their floodlights towards the neighbouring Bolam Housing Estate, reflecting the help they’d given during the day to prepare victory parties.
Imprisoned in a mill at Burrs, Italian POWs sought comfort in the knowledge they would soon be home with their children. Memories spoke to them warmly from the cold brick walls.
The other day’s news
There was a reward for the safe return of a grey and black tabby kitten, a family mourned its loss at 38 Union Street.
A nest of chicks toppled from a gas lamp on Ainsworth Road, despite Bury Corporation Gas Department’s best efforts the baby birds did not survive.
Ainsworth Bill argued with Ainsworth Joe over the next ‘V’ Day celebrations. There should be a special thanksgiving for the reinstatement of the Cockey Moor bus stop: says Bill, “wey’n bin feightin’ for’t bus stop o’ this while” – why should our little war finish because, “nowt’s bin said about it on’t wireless”.
Inspiration for this piece is taken from:
Reports in The Bury Times, Wednesday May 9th 1945, Saturday May 12th 1945 and Wednesday May 16th 1945.
Churchill, Winston (8th May, 1945) “End of the war in Europe” International Churchill Society, available at: https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1941-1945-war-leader/end-of-the-war-in-europe/ accessed May 7th 2020