ADVERTISER 150: How we reported the East End celebrating VE Day in 1945
PUBLISHED: 21:52 16 December 2016 | UPDATED: 22:12 16 December 2016
At last it's Peace. Victory in Europe with Hitler finally defeated and the East End can breathe safely after nearly six years of war. Our nightly revisit to the big stories of the Age marking the East London Advertiser's 150th anniversary last month has now reached 1945, a brave new world with hope for our future...
1945: The King and Queen arrive in Whitechapel to visit Hughes Mansions the day after Peace is declared in Europe on May 8 to meet survivors of Nazi Germany’s last V2 rocket bomb which had destroyed the housing complex in Vallence Road just six weeks before.
Our front page on May 18 shows the Queen meeting a mum holding a baby, when crowds of spectators suddenly surge forward and sing spontaneously There’ll always be an England.
The VE Day celebrations in the East End actually last a week. Bonfires appear everywhere—you’d think the people would have had enough of fires from the Blitz, but these are the flames of victory, freedom and above all a well-earned Peace.
We have our own Victory Parade in the East End that is led by the Royal Navy on Sunday, May 14, assembling at Tower Hill and “marching through Stepney’s Blitzed streets” along Royal Mint Street, Leman Street, Whitechapel Road and Mile End Road to the People’s Palace for The Grand Salute.
The ‘Senior Service heads the parade, followed by the Army Middlesex Regiment “whose band provided the stirring music for the march”.
The East London Advertiser’s front page of May 18 notes: “If ever Stepney was proud of its scars, though nothing was more unwanted than they were, it was on Sunday afternoon when a memorial to the onslaught the borough had survived, they were a background to the men and women who represented those whose endurance brought victory to Europe.”
The parade features the Stepney Warden Service “who in these very streets had laboured against every attack from the air”. Following them are the National Fire Service with crews from Whitechapel and Shadwell fire-stations who had literally been in the firing line during the Blitz when the Luftwaffe bombed the docks and surrounding districts. Others in the parade include the Women’s Voluntary Service and the Red Cross.
The Mile End Odeon holds a cinema party “for 300 kiddies from Bethnal Green” showing short films and Walt Disney cartoons.
Families in Gale Street in Bow paint the pavement kerbs red, white a blue and hold a street party for nearly 40 children. Celebrations in Arbery Road include floodlit dancing and a contest to find the woman with the shapeliest legs!
Bethnal Green, after nearly six years of wartime rationing, was splashing out on spam sandwiches and custard and, for the grown-ups, pints of brown and mild.
The kids have their VE Day street party at mid-day and are bundled off to the Empire ‘fea pit’ cinema in Green Street —known locally as “the Bug Hole”—where the owner lets them in free to watch a Dick Barton film, while the mums get ready for their own street party at 4pm. It is mostly housewives, as their menfolk are still serving in the Armed Forces.
Victoria Park has floodlit dancing with 9,000 revellers taking part—a welcome relief from the years of the Blackout when all street lights had to be switched off and all windows covered to avoid the light being seen by enemy aircraft above. More street parties are held the following Saturday, May 19.
Television doesn’t return for another year, after the big switch off back on September 3, 1939, the day war is first declared, to avoid enemy aircraft homing in on its transmission signal.
The cinema is still the main entertainment for the family. The Rex in Bethnal Green Road (later called the Essoldo) is showing Dick Powell and Claire Trevor in Farewell My Lovely. Stepney’s Popular cinema in Commercial Road is showing a western, Roy Rogers in San Fernando Valley.
The Queen’s Theatre in Poplar High Street is staging Fools and Angels, a comic review “with a cast of favourite review artistes”.
Life in post-war Britain is slowly getting back to normal. We are rebuilding a shattered but a proud nation, one that had stood up alone against Hitler and kept the flame of freedom alive for Occupied Europe.
There was still Japan to defeat in the Far East, but for now, in the summer of 1945, Europe is liberated and there is Peace across the land.
Britons go to the polls in June that year to elect the first post-war Government. It is a landslide for Labour, much to the surprise of Conservative Party Leader Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister who had just led Britain to Victory from the dark days of war.
The MP for Limehouse Clement Atlee,is returned. He is at the People’s Palace in Mile End for his constituency vote-counting when news comes through in the early hours that Labour has won the General Election—he also the Labour Party’s Leader in the Commons, which makes him Britain’s new Prime Minister.
There is much rebuilding to be done to a shattered East End, which had been the first target of the Luftwaffe back in 1940. Thousands of families are left homeless, others making do in badly-damaged houses.
The Walnut Cabinet Works at 100, Virginia Road, Bethnal Green, puts a notice in the Advertiser for “bomb damage repairs” including furniture repairs re-polished and re-covered.
More permanent solutions are needed. The new Labour Government starts a massive post-war housebuilding programme to replace the bomb sites that Britain’s cities, none more so than East London.
The Welfare State emerges under Health Secretary of State Nye Bevan, which the East End has had a taste of during the dark days of the Blitz eight years earlier at the Spitalfields Market air-raid shelter run my Mickey Davis with its free medical care, free milk for children and subsidised meals for the poor.
New developments spring up like Poplar’s huge Lansbury Estate, named after the late MP George Lansbury, former Mayor of Poplar. It is where London’s first pedestrian shopping precinct is built with its now-famous clock-tower, formally opened in 1951 by the Mayor of Poplar to coincide with the Festival of Britain that is being staged on the Southbank where London’s Royal Festival Hall stands today.
It’s a brave new world, a brave new East End rebuilding itself after six years of war. The East End had suffered the very start of the Blitz on ‘Black Saturday’ in September, 1940, when London’s docks were set ablaze along the Thames.
The East End had Britain’s worst wartime civilian disaster when crowds were crushed trying to get into the Bethnal Green air-raid shelter in what turned out to be a false alarm—but still killing 173 men, women and children in the crush.
The East End also suffered the first of Hitler’s ‘secret weapons’, when a V1 doodlebug flying bomb crashed down onto Grove Road, Mile End, killing Six people.
We also suffered the Nazis’ very last V2 rocket bomb of the war targeting London, falling in Whitechapel which had destroyed Hughes Mansions, killing 130 people.
But now in post-war Britain, it is time to rebuild, time to forget the suffering of the war years.