Never before seen footage of VE Day 50th Anniversary parade released in documentaries
- Credit: Joe Dzenowagis
Joe Dzenowagis had planned on travelling to Norwich from his home in Okemos, Michigan, to be present at the city’s VE Day 75th anniversary celebrations.
But like those of so many others, his plans to visit a city so important to his family were dashed by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
His father First Lieutenant Joseph Dzenowagis was an American airman, part of the Second Air Division stationed at RAF Rackheath during the Second World War.
Lt Dzenowagis flew a B-24 Liberator bomber in some of the most difficult missions at the end of the war, including some over Berlin.
A navigator on Captain McFarland’s crew, he had the honour of completing at least five missions on the plane named ‘Witchcraft’, famed for flying the most missions of any Second Air Division aircraft – 130 – during the war without having to abort or being shot down.
His family have been back to Norfolk numerous times since to attend parades and visit old friends.
One of these trips was in 1995, when a group including Lt Dzenowagis, who died four years ago, wife Helen, son Joe and daughter Joan came to Norwich to record the VE Day 50th anniversary parade.
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Now, 25 years later, son Joe has digitised the tapes and released two 56-minute documentaries containing brand new footage of the parade and its many spectators.
He said: “This is one-of-a-kind stuff. I don’t know if footage of a full 50th-year parade exists quite like this, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to digitise it.
“Only a handful of people will have seen a lot of the film, and some of the archive footage that we acquired probably hasn’t been seen by anybody. People may be able to see themselves or others they know, and that would be really great.”
Mr Dzenowagis remembers the day fondly, describing it as both “beautiful” and also “a physical challenge”.
Armed with huge cameras and several batteries, they shot the parade from City Hall and Millennium Plain, in the space between St Peter Mancroft Church and where the Forum stands today, on the site of the old Norwich Library.
“We were down on the ground amid the crowd and all the security, and my sister Joan was up on the balcony at City Hall. It was beautiful – there was brilliant sunshine, and we were trying to get good shots and cover every single human being who was there on that day, in that moment.
“When the parade began, we wanted to capture every single veteran and everyone else in the parade. We knew we would use that in its entirety at some point and we’ve finally got round to it.
“It was hot out and we were carrying some seriously heavy gear. It’s not like today where you shoot with a phone or a little camera, we had these giant Betacam cameras and looked like a news crew. The big block batteries are huge and only last around an hour, so you’re carrying them in your pockets, your vest, bags and then the camera as well.
“It was a physical challenge and we were sweating the whole time, but it was so important to get it.”
One of the stand-out moments for him came just before the VE Day service at Norwich Cathedral.
“We raced ahead of everybody to record them getting to the Cathedral Close area. We got the Norfolk Regiment coming through – some of those guys were at Dunkirk and other battles too – a lot of them had their colours, their flags, and they all lined up outside the cathedral. That was pretty impressive.”
Mr Dzenowagis has a number of mementoes from his many trips to Norwich, and one takes pride of place on the living room wall in his parents’ old home near the Michigan state capital Lansing – an A3 photograph of the 1995 service inside the cathedral.
He and sister Joan, who holds a senior position at the World Health Organisation in Switzerland working on proposals related to funding possible Covid-19 vaccines, were planning on visiting Norfolk for this year’s VE Day 75th anniversary, but travel restrictions saw this become impossible.
Instead, he hopes to visit later this year if possible to add to the dozen trips he has already made from the US to Nelson’s County since 1987.
“I’m on a board of governors so I’ll be coming over for a meeting in November if it goes ahead, and then hopefully there will be a Second Air Division reunion next year so I’ll be over in Norwich again.”