VE Day 75: How did East Ham and West Ham boroughs celebrate war’s end on this day in 1945?
- Credit: Archant
“As at the wave of a magic wand West Ham and its neighbouring boroughs cast off their sombre wartime mien.”
That is how Victory in Europe Day was welcomed in the news pages on May 11, 1945, three days after prime minister Winston Churchill declared hostilities on the continent at an end.
“The prime minister’s historic message was received with devout thankfulness throughout the civilized world, but nowhere was it more welcome than in east London and its environs, which have suffered so much for so long,” the Stratford Express reported.
And for Nazi Germany the docks were a “continual target” although no “vital installation” was put out of action, according to the Express.
On the night of the first attack “miles of fires” were fought as wharves, warehouses and factories burned.
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“But always the work of the Port went on,” the Gazette stated.
At the outbreak of The Blitz in September 1940, West Ham saw the first bomb dropped. Before the bombing campaign was over the tidal basin area of West Ham was virtually wiped out.
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In February 1941, a memorial service was held at East London Cemetery in Plaistow for the 122 victims of the September raid.
However, “the worse incident” was the bombing of Hallsville School in Canning Town when hundreds of people taking shelter were killed.
It comes as no surprise therefore that the “predominant feeling” on VE Day 1945 was of “devout thankfulness for the tremendous relief after the strain of nearly six unprecedented years of horror”.
Crowds thronged town centres, flags flew everywhere, there was singing and dancing in the streets as well as windows filled with pictures of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth that day.
Fireworks were let off, but “not well received”.
And bonfires “ready for the fall of darkness” could be found on nearly every street while children “danced with glee” underneath effigies of Adolf Hitler hung from lampposts.
And outside East Ham Town Hall, mayor, Alderman F. Welch JP addressed the crowds, saying: “I will ask you to remember the valiant deeds of our Navy, Army, Air Force, Merchant Navy and the Civil Defence Service, and all those who worked to bring about this happy day.”