We held a surprise anniversary party for My Nan and Grandad when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. My Grandad was the straight man, my Nan the funny one in an unsurpassed comedy duo. Her sister called out while Grandad did the thank you spiel, “just like your wedding night, eh Carrie?!”
As spontaneously as the wit of the cockney comes my Nan replied, “no, there were bombs on my wedding night!” In an age where we’d go ballistic if a drop of rain appears on our special day, it’s a sentiment I’ll never forget, and I find myself wondering, how on earth do you joke about a thing like that?! Makes you ponder the spirit of the time, people coping through making light of the atrocity of the blitz, and that we would never fully appreciate what they had to endure.
Through my grandad on the other side’s photos and keepsakes I hold dear, I became quite fascinated by the era and therefore honoured to be asked to design not one, but two posters celebrating the 75th Anniversary of VE-Day. Firstly, Wayne Cherry and team helps Rowde mark the occasion on the small playing field on the afternoon of Friday 8th May, as I’m sure our other villages will do similar. We also have the Market Place being closed off in Devizes, as Jeanette Von Berg heads the organising of celebrations there.
I begun the journey to designing these as usual, on the book of face, enquiring if there were any photos of VE Day in Rowde or Devizes. This request remained unanswered, and with time pushing on I decided to use some national images of VE Day to incorporate in the design. Still, I think it came out rather special and I have to confess I’m rather chuffed with it!
But for Devizes I was determine to discover something more local, and thanks goes to Jane and the archives staff at the wonderful Wiltshire Museum for hunting for some amazing images and references. I’ve included some here I didn’t use for the poster.
It was here some years ago, when they held an exhibit of war memorabilia, I dragged my son along with the convenient timing that he was doing a school history project on the wold wars. He was particularly interested with the mock Anderson shelter they had, but I had to correct them when they claimed “everyone had an air raid shelter.” For my family in the poorest parts of the East End of London, gardens were hard to come by, and my Nan fondly recalled the songs and banter echoing through the underground station. We were never told of the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster of 1943, as we were never told of any hardships they faced daily.
I also came to realisation then, while untold dangers and misfortunes were wrought everywhere, there are subtle differences here in urban Wiltshire than the stories passed down to me from my London family, thus opening up a whole new avenue to explore. I knew of the bomb-holes in Savernake Forest, for example, always contemplated the worth of Nazis bombing a forest, but a helper at the exhibit, who was a police officer during the war, answered when I held to question a photo of the large gatehouse at the entrance to Grand Avenue. Ah, I see now, it was a bomb disposal area. He continued for some time, informing me about the prisoner of war camp on Horton Road, and how he had to round them up and chase them back in!
The concern I guess, is that relaying these stories second-hand doesn’t carry the same impact as coming from the horse’s mouth. So, I accept while these events may be geared towards the older generations, I think we owe it to attend if we can, as those who were alive then thin with every year, we have a duty not to forget the sacrifices they made. But the celebrations of VE Day must have been one great explosion of relief, you’d have thought. Yet a book found in the museum told, amazingly, that the Devizes Town Council were criticised for failing to organise anything to mark the occasion; and you thought they’re rather frumpy now!
Here then is the only photo found of VE Day in Devizes, but its slow aperture has blurred the image and therefore it wasn’t suitable to use in the design. The picture I did use was from a parade in 1944. For while the Council did nought, sporadic parties held by the pubs and hotels burst out into the Market Place. Today, The Devizes Lions have agreed to assist closing the road off for the event, and, at this stage, it’s unclear exactly what help the Town Council will offer. I’m quite chocked by this, having thought on this particular occasion, we all could unite to help however we can. Yet you can bet your bottom dollar Devizine’s upfront attitude will send a rocket up their butts to do something to help mark this monumental occasion; so, watch this space!
For now, though, I’m flattered to have been asked to contribute, by doing what I love, and look forward to seeing these posters around, and in attending. I’ll try swish between the two, eager to pick up some stories we can publish here, that’d be nice, wouldn’t it?
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