VE Day: How the day unfolded in East Anglia
- Credit: Supplied
After almost six years of fighting, bloodshed and loss, the end of the war in Europe and final defeat of the Nazi threat was a moment of great relief and exhilaration. Across our region, it prompted an outpouring of spontaneous public celebrations and street parties, the like of which has never been since. DEREK JAMES reports on how VE Day unfolded.
The early morning buses were crowded with people wanting to know what was going on, and one way of finding out was to go to work.
The Eastern Daily Press and, later in the day, the Eastern Evening News confirmed the news that Nazi Germany had surrendered. This wasn't a day to be at work or school. This was a day to celebrate peace.
Bunting and Union Flags swiftly went up on businesses and homes. In Cromer, the main street was decked out with streamers and traders were busy selling miniature Union Flags. In Diss, the town was 'a blaze of colour', according to the EDP.
In Bungay, the flags of the US and the Soviet Union, were flown next to that of Britain, from St Mary's Church.
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One correspondent in the Evening News later noted that he had only seen one property across all of Norwich at which the flag was being flown upside down.
In Norwich, at 9am a thousand servicemen attended a drumhead service at Britannia Barracks and were then given the rest of the day off while American airmen also left their bases to join in the celebrations. Churches across the country, meanwhile, started to peal their victory message. What a wonderful sound it must have been.
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In her book Norwich at War, first published in 1974, author Joan Banger recalls that in the ruins of St Mary's Chapel in St Mary's Plain, the rubble was swept away and a thanksgiving service, attended by up to 400 people was conducted by Dr Gilbert Lewis.
A thanksgiving service at Beccles Parish Church, which seats more than 1,400, was attended by the largest congregation in living memory. It was relayed by loud speakers to The Walk and New Market, where another 500 people were gathered.
Hundreds also attended a service in Fakenham Parish Church, while a ceremony was also been held at Little Walsingham.
In Norwich and surrounding areas, thousands headed into the city centre. Across the region, many more made their way into their local town centre. Thousands of people came into the city and slowly but surely the Norfolk reserve broke and the fun started. People linked arms and started to sing. British and American airmen – sometimes not the best of buddies – walked arm in arm and the people cheered.
In the centres of King's Lynn, Bungay and other towns, loudspeaker systems broadcast the speeches by Winston Churchill and the King. Dances were also held: in Thetford, at the Guildhall and Market Place, in King's Lynn, at the Corn Hall and the Walks bandstand.
Many people with transport went to a place which had long been out of bounds – the seaside.
The crowds in Lowestoft which thronged the streets and sea fronts were said to be reminiscent of pre-war Bank Holidays. A service for naval men was held at the docks, where craft had been specially dressed for celebrations.
A relaxation of restrictions meant that the public were allowed on the tug pier, and a small fun fair was held at the Oval, followed by a bonfire and dancing.
Other restrictions were also lifted - or were now ignored. Pleasure boating returned to the Broads. Children could once again fly kites.
In neighbourhoods, bonfires were lit, street parties swiftly organised and trestle tables set up.
Mothers could work wonders with meagre rations and the community, people of all ages and all walks of life came together to have a party.
Sheets were boiled and used as tablecloths. Shopkeepers handed out bread and butter, milk, cream and other ingredients to make a feast. And that is just what it was.
The people took over the streets and there were also plenty of bomb sites around which were taken over by the community and especially the children.
Despite an official black-out remaining in place, some of bonfires remained lit into the evening, as impromptu dances continued, including one on the Triangle, in Lowestoft.
As darkness fell American Liberators and RAF Mosquitoes dropped coloured flares over Norwich as search lights lit up the skies. What a sight it must have been.
And no-one wanted to go home.
Joan Banger recalled: 'A young policeman standing on duty by Jarrolds' corner was grabbed by a young girl who entwined him in her arms and raised kisses on his face while her companion danced around them.
'The officer looked somewhat embarrassed at first and then good-heartedly resigned himself to the onslaught, as did his colleagues, and the crowd loved them for it.'
In Diss, residents visited nearby US bases in the evening, to watch fireworks displays, as the celebrations continued long into the night.