Saturday 17 January 2015

Wartime memories - V.E. Day in Eton Wick and Eton

Tuesday 8th May 1945 marked the end of the war in Europe. After six long years of the second world war the Germans had surrendered unconditionally, and although fighting continued in the Far East until 15th August (V.J. Day), for many people Victory in Europe day was the beginning of peace. V.E. Day was celebrated across the land, and in this article John Denham describes what took place in Eton and Eton Wick.

Local celebration of the Victory in Europe had a quiet start. Many people went to church that morning to give thanks that hostilities in Europe had ended. Church bells rang out from Saint George’s Chapel and from all the parish churches around. It was a beautiful warm day with the temperature much higher than the average for the time of year.

After the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, had broadcast to the nation that all hostilities in Europe were at an end, the crowds began to gather during the early afternoon. Flags and bunting appeared in Windsor and Slough giving the streets a look of carnival. By evening, the gathering of people onto the streets had become a merry throng cheering and dancing. Bonfires were lit at many places, with the Mayor of Windsor lighting a huge bonfire on Batchelors Acre, Windsor, this being the signal for the start of celebrations that went on into the early hours on Wednesday.

When the news of the surrender was heard Eton College boys commenced their celebration of victory with the use of buckets of water and stirrup pumps, which did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of revellers who had to run the gauntlet along the long wall and Keate’s lane. A huge bonfire lit in the evening on Fellows Eyot engendered a scene of merriment as people danced around the fire enthused with the excitement of the occasion. As the fire died away many boys linked arms to make a triumphant march up Eton High Street over Windsor Bridge to Castle Hill to carry on their celebrations, meeting another joyous crowd coming from Windsor crossing the bridge making their way to Slough as rockets exploded in the sky. By late evening many of the pubs had run dry, but the festivities continued and no-one wanted to go home. The only floodlit building in Eton was the College Chapel, but elsewhere floodlighting and fairy lights appeared. Army searchlights added to the illuminations.

Somerville Road V.E. Party

For many children this was the first time to see lights in shop windows and such an outburst of gaiety. Informal street parties and celebration teas for the children took place with tables and chairs and often a piano being brought from the houses. Street parties at Brocas Street and Tangier Lane were arranged for the children who in addition to the tea were given an orange and one shilling.

Mr Addaway, driver of the Blue Bus, Windsor to Eton Wick service, had a very excited passenger on V.E. Day. Streaming two strong wartime toilet rolls and showing the joyfulness of the day, Mrs Downs of Eton Wick rode on the bonnet of the bus from Windsor to the village!

Alma Road Victory Party

Celebration parties at Eton Wick were quickly organized at Northfield Road, the Village Hall and on the common adjacent to the Greyhound public house. Precious tin food that had been purchased on points and stored for this day came from the cupboard. The Victory street party in Northfield Road, organized by Mrs Harman and friends, entertained about twenty children and the same number of adults to a celebration tea with fruit salad from the Azores and a special iced cake in the shape of a victory "V". Private Mills, who was home on leave after three years overseas service, was guest of honour. After tea the children had dancing, races and games ending the day with three cheers for the boys still overseas and wishing them a speedy return.

A ‘Welcome Home’ party was held at the Church hall Eton in May 1946 for the returning service men and women. Over one hundred men and women from Eton Wick served in the armed forces of whom twelve died on active service.

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