V E Day 1945
A few months ago I wrote about my sister Audrey Higgins. I shared with you her part in the story of H.R.Higgins (Coffee-man) Ltd from the time she left school just before she was sixteen. In taking over her effects when she died in 2014, I came across this account of V E Day 1945. I am sure Audrey would not mind me sharing it with you.
8th May 1945 - V E Day
I am sitting on the edge of my bed at number 48 Stockens Green, Knebworth, trying to describe some of the amazing scenes I have seen today. Even as I write at 10.56 pm the sounds of Knebworth’s celebrations can be heard across the fields.
After meeting June and her brother David, we had lunch. We then took a bus down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus. The whole city was fluttering with flags of nearly all nationalities. Crowds surged along the streets wearing every kind of decoration imaginable! Ribbons, streamers, comic hats, flags and flowers.
We spent some time until just after two pm in the Royal Academy looking at the paintings. The streets were hot and tiring and we wanted to sit down. Then we strolled down St James’s. Several army lorries were tearing about loaded with cheering people. One boy was hanging perilously on the back of one and seemed to be in danger of falling off any minute! The Mall leading up to Buckingham Palace was the most crowded place we had seen up to then.
We made our way to The Palace to hear the Prime Minister’s Speech. It was to be recorded all over London at 3pm. The sweep of the road that surrounds the Queen Victoria Memorial was one mass of people, right up to the gates of the Palace and all over the monument. We moved about a bit trying to decide the best place to stand. The King and Queen were expected on the balcony after the speech. We decided to get on to the steps of the memorial, a decision we much regretted afterwards. However having forced our way up, it was IMPOSSIBLE to move one's shoulders. We found we were stuck with a six foot three Grenadier Guard in front of us. It was stifling and I wondered just how long one could stay like it without fainting.
As Big Ben was striking the voice of Churchill came through the loud speakers and the massive audience of thirty thousand fell silent. He gave his historic speech and it was followed by the Victory Salute from the buglers. The crowd broke into deafening cheering and shouting for The King. Now it is sad to record that although I was so near, I only caught a brief glimpse of The King and Queen stepping out on to the balcony. But the two Princesses were also there. The crowd went wild with excitement and sang “For he’s a jolly good fellow”. The Royal Family after much waving went back into the Palace and the crowd TRIED to move.
June had just time to call “Where shall we meet if we get separated” and David to answer “St. James’ Palace” when we began to drift. A man leading a boy, judging by the colour of the boy’s face he was just on the point of collapsing, stepped between us. June was swept forward and David and me back. It was impossible to keep together. I sent up a prayer that June would remember the way to St James’ Palace.
David and myself gradually made our way down the steps of the memorial to The Mall. We were there held up again by a crowd of people who formed themselves into a procession and were forcing their way in the opposite direction from that of the crowd. We reached Friary Court at St James’ and were just getting really worried when June appeared. It was agreed that the only thing to do was to get into the park where we could sit and rest our aching legs and feet.
We had bought a newspaper which said that Mr Churchill was expected on the balcony of The Ministry of Health in Whitehall at about 5pm. After our rest in St James’ Park, we decided to begin walking towards Whitehall. Everyone had the same idea and progress was slow but nobody minded. The squeakers that were blown in one's face, and balls on a piece of elastic that thumped into one's back were all taken in good part. The only thing we could not stand at any price were rattles of wood that people whirled round. They really made an awful noise. June said it was an invention of The Devil. Actually they were designed to warn people of a gas attack.
We reached Big Ben and Whitehall and found the crowds once more consolidating. The time I noticed was 4.30pm. None of us knew which building was The Ministry of Health but it was obvious when we turned into Whitehall. There was the balcony divided into three by pillars and hung with Union Jacks. The crowds were massing in front and an amazing number of people had climbed on to the roofs of the bus shelters, lamp posts. In short, anything climbable.
After our experience at Buckingham Palace, we were much more careful in choosing our position. We took a stand on the edge of the kerb facing the balcony. I should have said we took our seat on the kerb, because that is where we stayed until we were in danger of being trodden on by the ever growing crowd. It struck me as I sat there, getting a dog’s eye view of things, how badly many people stand and feet look different from the usual view one gets of them.