Chris Greening, 1944
VE Day Memories
As with most families with a parent away in the Forces, our war had been pretty nomadic, with spells in Sussex, California, Florida (my father had been helping train the US air force in this and that) Sussex again, and Shropshire.
1945 found us (mother, younger brother and self) in a Buckinghamshire farm my grandfather had rented at the outset of the war as a refuge for the family away from London. Like many children, I’d been shielded from the worst aspects of the conflict - in fact, had found some of it rather exciting - especially crossing the Atlantic with the anti-aircraft batteries on the ship being exercised once a day - but even at the age of 6, one picked up on the overwhelming sense of joy and relief when Germany surrendered. My father by this stage was with the Allied headquarters in Brussels, doing I know not what.
The family all packed into an uncle’s car (goodness knows how he’d got hold of the petrol, which was like liquid gold at that time) and went up to London to see the celebrations. We probably parked somewhere up near Marble Arch and walked down to the Mall and towards Buckingham Palace. The memory that sticks is the tremendous sense of celebration - well caught in the newsreels we’ve all seen. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of such a cheerful, friendly crowd unless it was at the coronation of the Queen years later. We fought our way up to the Palace and saw the King on the balcony - and for years afterwards I was convinced that he had thrown me the packet of chewing gum that came flying through the air in my direction (almost certainly a random shot from a US serviceman, but you know what children are…).
I think the original plan had been to have tea at the Cafe Royal in Regent Street, which had acted as a kind of informal rendezvous for family members passing through London on leave, but penetrating the crush with a gaggle of small children probably looked too challenging, so home we went to Hedgerley - exhausted but happy. It would be nice to think that all was downhill after that, but relatives and friends were still serving in the Far East, and it wasn’t till VJ Day that we could really relax.
As everyone knows, the ensuing years were fairly miserable - hard winters, power cuts, rationing and general austerity featuring strongly - but even at the lowest ebb, most people felt that the war had been well worth fighting - and that the joy of VE Day had made up for a lot.