An account of VE Day in Woodley by John and Phyllis Dodgson

VE Day 8 May 1945

 John and Phyllis Dodgson had a celebratory glass of Army and N sherry. “The war in Europe is over but strangely enough I cannot feel very joyful and as I read of excited crowds in London …. It all seems so foolish. I cannot express my thankfulness by shouting, I can’t get away from the thought that this is a very solemn occasion!” 

He disapproved of the celebrations in London and Reading.  

“I did not go down into Reading, the streets as far as I did go were peopled by school children taking a holiday, carrying little flags and either wandering or rushing about. The houses were decorated with bunting and flags were flying from the biscuit factory and other places. Many had begun to decorate yesterday. Even our Woodley cottages are gay with flags. Phyllis came back on the Maidenhead bus and joined the Woodley one at Shepherd’s Hill. She had got off there and bought a few pounds of flour for use if the bread is not delivered. Mrs Bradley (tenant of Grenada) was on the Woodley bus. She said she had been to Reading to buy bread but there was no bread to buy”.

“The Thames Valley staff are not getting a holiday but are being given five days pay. This company can well afford it, they have been running crowded buses for years past. 

There has been no postal delivery today. 

As we have no wireless we went at 3 o’clock to the Morris’s to hear Mr Churchill officially announce the end of fighting in Europe. Then we heard the sound of rejoicing in London (Buckingham Palace, Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square), Edinburgh, Belfast, Liverpool, Coventry, Cardiff and the bells of Westminster Abbey, York minster and the Dorset village of Puddletown. Mr Churchill told us that the surrender to the Allies takes effect at a minute after midnight, but the ceasefire has been given already to avoid loss of life. He told us that the Channel Islands will be set free today, this has pleased everyone greatly…..

Our lunch today was cold beef and potatoes boiled in their skins, followed by Rum Omelette. How Phyllis has managed to save the rum I don’t know, I have not bought any for years.” 

Their neighbours Mr and Mrs Williams went into Reading to have lunch.

“Today seemed strangely quiet to us. We are rather glad to be away from the turbulence of the town…..The baker brought bread today, Wednesday is the normal day”. The US Air Force made a display over Southern England to celebrate “shortly after 7 o’clock about 260 fighters flew North with great noise.” Over 2000 planes took part.

Wed 9 May – he saw the glow in the sky over London last night. “Here in Woodley some people were burning shortlived coloured fires, there was one bonfire and a little illumination. On the whole the place was quieter than usual.” He went into garden and planted dwarf beans. Phyllis was at a meeting of  the WI in the hut, much disturbed by hooligan boys .They had to phone the police. Complains that these universal holidays mean more work for someone. This was the 2nd day of holidays.

10 May – arrangements being made to send evacuees back to London, women and children first then schools at the end of term. “I walked into Reading after lunch, it was much beflagged but otherwise quite quiet. Attended a meeting of the proposed Reading Civic Society. “The traffic lights now show a full circle of red, amber and green. They appear strangely brilliant”.

11 May – Reading preparing official celebrations. A platform was erected outside Town Hall and more flags appearing. Read in the Reading Standard that R was “en fete. Both Tuesday and Wednesday there was a service in St Laurence’s church attended by the university, the Corporation and even by the judge who was holding the Assizes. There were great crowds and dancing in the streets while bonfires were lighted in several places. No wonder Woodley seemed more quiet than usual, we have been out of it all and are not sorry”.

12 May – demobilisation will start on June 18. Went to the United Service of Thanksgiving at the Recreation ground. Not well attended “but it was a pleasant and well-conducted affair. Some of the forces were represented, all voluntary forces including WVS and National Fire Service.”

14 May – met Olivier the chemist at Miles aircraft who showed him one of the so-called fountains pens which are being made, and said Miles was gearing up for light industries. (biro) They would only need 1000 men in peacetime.

Mon 21 May – “Today Woodley is holding a festival in aid of the Red Cross. St John’s band and side shows on the Recreation  Ground. Among other things, there’s a baby show. We shall stay at home and work gently in the garden….The Buses are full today, we suppose they have brought people to the Red Cross fete”.

22 May – General Election announced . He disapproves – the socialists refuse to co-operate with other parties now war in Europe is over.

7 Aug – article in newspapers about Atomic bomb “especially devastating” invented by British and American physicists. Article vague and did not mention using the bomb. Mr Dodgson thinks atomic energy would be an important discovery and “change the whole world”. 

President Truman will set up a commission to research atomic energy. Reported (eve newspaper or wireless?) that an Atomic bomb was dropped on a Japanese town. Smoke and dust too thick to see what damage had been done. Phyllis was at American Red Cross Club and confirmed news. “It would seem that something terrible has happened. This bomb business can’t be entirely a fabrication”.

Wed 8 – Newspapers full of commentary on the Atomic bomb. The Times is alarmed at the terrible possibilities “without control it will mean the end of civilization within 20 years”. Now know the name of the town Hiroshima but no photos of the devastation.

Saw an advert for the Biro Fountain Pen made by Miles Martin in shop where Phyllis’s pen was being repaired. 

9 Aug – Russia has declared war on Japan – was neutral. Hopes it will shorten war with Japan. Thinks Japanese were brutal in their war methods, but they had no choice to expand as their islands were overcrowded. 100 million population. Now knows 4 square miles of Hiroshima reduced to dust and terrible loss of life. Talked about in in university common room and agreed “man’s scientific knowledge is far ahead of his moral development and that he cannot be trusted with these ultra dangerous weapons”.

10 Aug – second Atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Phyllis went to help feed Mrs Hunt’s chickens and heard Japan had surrendered.

At Red Cross Mrs Tanner had a young American soldier thanking her and Phyllis for kindness, saying perhaps they had sons in the forces and that was why they were doing it. Mrs Tanner finally said “I had 2 sons in the forces but I haven’t now.”

11 Aug – newspapers say when war with Japan officially ends, governmentt factories will have 2 day holiday but those working in essential services: gas food transport must keep working. Mr Dodgson disapproves of extra holiday, thinks the end of war should be enough. Ditto annual paid holiday for working people.

13 Aug – Emperor of Japan may abdicate. Worries that Japanese troops on far islands may fight on. Vicar felt he had been deceived into thinking a house would be ready for him. The Vicarage was requisitioned as a war time day nursery by the County Council and they refuse to leave. May have to sell it to the CC. Cannot get new verger as the widow of the old one still living in house in vicarage grounds. Hopes to get £10,000 to build new school, then it could become the parish room, and headmistress’s house would be new verger’s home.

14 Aug – preparations being made for celebrations- platform outside Municipal Buildings, flag poles erected, air of expectation. Disapproves- the VE day cele brations cost the borough £300(or £800 pounds- figure unclear). Letter from nephew who was removing his Anderson shelter from garden and finding it hard work.

15 Aug – Japan surrenders. Mr Atlee said “the last of our enemies is laid low”. He and Phyllis celebrated with a glass of sherry from the last bottle. At 7.30 they went to a service of thanksgiving at church. Later in evening went to “children’s bonfire and celebrations in the field behind Mr Morris’ house. U (sic) lighted some pieces of magnesium ribbon which gave a good light and children exploded fireworks”. The country is rejoicing and with reason.

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