Yeovil Celebrates VE Day

1945 VE Day celebrations

How Yeovil celebrated the end of the Second World War

 

Victory in Europe Day, generally known as VE Day, was the public holiday celebrated on 8 May 1945 to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender of its armed forces. It thus marked the end of World War II in Europe. Throughout the United Kingdom, more than one million people celebrated in the streets to mark the end of the European part of the war. In London, crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, accompanied by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, appeared on the balcony of the palace before the cheering crowds.

In Yeovil, as elsewhere, the end of the war had been anticipated and preparations for the celebrations were already in hand. The BBC announced during the evening of Monday 7 May 1945 that the Prime Minister Winston Churchill would speak to the nation on the radio the following day which would be known as Victory in Europe Day. The end of the war was officially announced to the nation by Churchill at 3pm on 8 May. Both Tuesday 8 May and Wednesday 9 May were declared a public holiday.

Crowds danced in the streets of Yeovil and the Borough was packed with crowds. All churches in the town held thanksgiving services and the Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade, headed by their band, marched through the streets. At 4pm the Mayor of Yeovil, William Vosper, addressed the crowds in the Borough from a makeshift platform on the emergency water tank that had been erected on the site of the Medical Hall that had been bombed in April 1941.

There was also a civic welcome home for those returning from the services, each person receiving a leather wallet or note case bearing the town crest.

The Western Gazette reported "The scenes at Yeovil on the night of VE Day were unequalled on any occasion within memory. The mood of the crowd was one of unrestrained jubilation. Hundreds whirled around in fantastic dances, jitterbugging, laughing, singing and shouting. Music was played by Bill Kelly and his Band and relayed through amplifiers on a National Fire Service van. Scores linked arms and marched vociferously through the streets. When dusk fell the lights in the streets blazed in the Borough, while in Sidney Gardens and Bide's Gardens, high powered lamps strung among the trees gave theatrical beauty to the foliage and flower beds. In the centre of town St John's grey walls that had withstood bombs in 1941, although some of the windows were damaged, were floodlit. Crowds gathered there, seeking the sense of quietude and peace that were to be found only a stone's throw from the joyous shouts and whirling thousands in the Borough. Tired momentarily with dancing and hoarse from shouting, they lay at ease on the floodlit grass.

A cheer rent the air as the floodlights were turned on, then the revelry was renewed. The noise of fireworks and thunder flashes mingled with the music and the songs. Hour by hour the crowd thickened. The V.A.D. Somerset / 19 members patrolled the town, and several girls who had danced in rings until they were giddy and fainted were revived - only to begin again.
On and on the band played, on and on the dancers danced. Midnight struck. The band had played non-stop since the early evening. They played until they could play no more. The crowd gave them a ringing cheer as they laid down their instruments after the singing of 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'God Save the King'.

The band went home but the crowd didn't. From nowhere appeared accordions and hundreds at a time gathered round the single minstrel. Outside the Westminster Bank a large crowd gathered and dancing went on for nearly two hours. Cheering people marched through the streets right up to 3.30am. It was a night to remember!"

At 10.15 in the morning of VE Day plus one, 9 May, crowds lined the streets and cheered the mile-long parade of over a thousand men and women of the three fighting services, Civil Defence, and the United States Army, as led by three bands, they marched from Sherborne Road to the Huish Football Ground for the Public Thanksgiving Service. Many thousands of townspeople gathered in and around the Huish Ground, and there was cheering and warm applause as the US Army contingent marched in led by Sergeant CW Whittaker, proudly carrying the Stars and Stripes.

During the afternoon, crowds packed St John's churchyard for another Thanksgiving Service which was preceded by a parade of over 700 young people representing the town's youth organisations who marched to the church from the South Street car park.

Once again the evening was turned over to dancing, but on this occasion it was at the floodlit Huish Ground where a large crowd danced to Bill Kelly's Band. There was a concert in the Sidney Gardens given by the Westland Male Voice Choir and the Salvation Army Band played in the Borough.

However the highlight of the evening (quite literally) was the huge bonfire built on the top of Summerhouse Hill. At 10pm precisely the bonfire was lit by Column Officer Charles Mitchell of the National Fire Service, and as the flames roared up they took with them a more than life size effigy of Adolf Hitler, while adults and children danced around the blaze.


With many thanks to Jack Sweet for much of the above.

 

gallery


 

Mayor Vosper address the crowd in the Borough from a platform erected on an emergency water tank on the site of the bombed Medical Hall.

 

Mayor Vosper addressing the crowd in the Borough, with St John's church in the background.

 

.... and a view of the crowd listening to the Mayor.

 

Bill Kelly and his Band played for the crowd all day and throughout the evening.

 

Crowds in the Borough danced throughout the day and well into the night - and many carried on the following day!

 


From my collection

A postcard showing St John's church "Floodlit on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee, 1935, by the Yeovil Electric Light & Power Company Limited".

 

At 10.15 in the morning of VE Day plus one, 9 May, crowds lined the streets and cheered the mile-long parade of over a thousand men and women of the three fighting services, the Home Guard (seen here in Huish, outside Douglas Seaton's showrooms on the corner of Clarence Street), Civil Defence (also seen here before the Home Guard), and the United States Army, led by three bands, they marched from Sherborne Road to the Huish Football Ground for the Public Thanksgiving Service.

 

Crowds packed St John's churchyard for another Thanksgiving Service during the afternoon of VE Day plus one.

 

The children of Stiby Road enjoy their party in the skittle alley of the Westfield Hotel on 9 May 1945 - VE Day plus one.

 


Courtesy of Jack Sweet

Westland Aircraft's sheet metal shop decorated to celebrate VE Day.

 

The sentiments of all Yeovilians expressed in a Denner's advertisement placed in the 11 May 1945 edition of the Western Gazette.