Turning the city red, white and blue: a child’s eye view of VE Day in Norwich
PUBLISHED: 14:58 07 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:31 07 May 2020
VE Day, Norwich, 1945: “There were loads of people, men in uniform, women dressed up and there was music, bunting everywhere and people doing the conga down the road. My Mother joined in.”
Just four years old when Victory in Europe was announced, Jacqueline Briggs remembered the huge street party held in Norwich city centre on VE Day.
Her family had lived in a small terrace house on Waterloo Road in the city which had been obliterated during the Baedeker Raids of April 1942.
In a piece Jacqueline, who died in November, wrote for her grandson Cole’s history project in 2010, she recalled what had happened that fateful night: “My mother and I had left the house to visit relatives. It was a good job we did go out, because that night, Hitler unleashed the Baedeker raids on Norwich and our house was reduced to a pile of smoking rubble.
“Everything we had was in ruins. Because I was only two, to me it just looked like a giant bonfire. I was upset that the toys I had were gone, although I hadn’t really had many, and that my cat was missing. We never saw him again.
“In those days, the fire service was voluntary and they were busy fighting the fires around the city. We heard that the Cathedral had been damaged and my mother quickly realised that we needed to find somewhere to stay. All we had was what we were wearing – nothing else. Everything had been destroyed.”
Jacqueline and her mother Stella – her father Alfred was away as part of the war effort, working for the General Post Office – spent six months sleeping on a relative’s floor and were helped by The Red Cross.
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Having lost everything during the bombing raid, they had to rely on help and hand-outs – and their relative made it clear they were overstaying their welcome.
“Luckily for us, one of my father’s soldier friends said his wife lived near Sheringham and she could put us up. My Mum got on really well with Auntie Jean, as I called her, and we had some really good times,” said Jacqueline.
“We moved back to Norwich when we were given a flat on Hassett Close, near Mousehold. One day, my Mum let her friend take me out for a walk in my pushchair on Mousehold Heath. We were walking along when suddenly we heard the whine of aircraft above us and the rat-tat-tat-tat of machine guns.
“I remember my Mum’s friend pushed over the pushchair and then dived into a ditch to avoid the bullets. After the planes had gone, she was really nice to me – I knew she didn’t want me to tell Mum what had happened, because she’d get into trouble for leaving me. I didn’t tell my Mother what had happened until years afterwards and she was right, Mum said she would have killed her if she’d known!
“I remember VE day in Norwich very well. My Mother carted me out in the old pram – it was a re-conditioned Silver Cross pram, very big and comfortable. She also used it to collect coal in and to carry shopping.
“She took me into the city and I remember being excited. There were loads of people, men in uniform, women dressed up and there was music, bunting everywhere and people doing the conga down the road. My Mother joined in.
“I remember it being so packed in the city that all I could see at some points were people – but it was like a huge party and we’d had so long without being able to celebrate anything that it was absolutely lovely.
“They were hard times, especially for mothers. We finally moved into a house on Gilbard Road in North Earlham and it felt like luxury, even though it was unheated and there was often ice on the inside of the windows. Soon after the war, my brother David came along and then my sister Angela. Family life went on as usual.”
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