VE Day 75: Memories of Bethnal Green at war and celebrating victory in Europe

PUBLISHED: 12:30 08 May 2020

Alice Varney (in the middle of the picture wearing a black dress and white blouse) celebrating peace in Europe on VE Day 1945. Picture: Maureen Jordan

Alice Varney (in the middle of the picture wearing a black dress and white blouse) celebrating peace in Europe on VE Day 1945. Picture: Maureen Jordan


John Viney’s mother Alice took part in a VE Day celebration 75 years ago in the East End. Here he shares her story.

Alice Viney with family. Picture: John VineyAlice Viney with family. Picture: John Viney

May 8, 1945 – now known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day) – was a day that those who experienced the horrors of the conflict of World War Two will never forget.

Among those that lived through the devastation and trauma was Alice Viney, now 94-years-old and living in Barry, South Wales.

But back then, she lived in Elwin Street, Bethnal Green, and Alice recalls the infamous bombings and doodlebugs that Hitler rained over London.

They caused fear when you heard the whirring noise, and then the deadly silence as they dropped, before they hit their target.

You only knew where, when the explosion happened. The silence just before impact was the most feared anticipation knowing someone somewhere was going to be hit, but who?

One day earlier, on May 7, 1945, the Nazi Germany signed the surrender that brought an end to nearly six years of a war that had cost the lives of millions; had destroyed homes, families, and cities; and had wrought huge suffering and misery to the populations of entire countries.

The accompanying picture shows Alice next to her mother at a children’s street party. Also in the picture is her sister Sue and brother John Mossell, who would have been about 14 at the time.

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Only three weeks before, on April 21, 1945 Alice had married John (Jack) Viney who then returned to active service.

Alice’s new husband John was in the Royal Navy and was still on board his ship when news of the surrender broke.

Alice’s mother and father, Elizabeth and Charles Mossell, lived at number 14 Elwin Street, Bethnal Green, and towards the start of the war had been offered the chance to take the younger children out of London.

Alice was one of eight kids, four girls and four boys, so there was a lot to lose had the unthinkable happened during one of those raids.

Liz, Alice’s mother, had told them they were staying in London and would either live together or die together, which seems typical of the East End spirit that would not be beaten down.

But the strategy paid off as all the family survived the war and went on to become a large extended family.

Alice and John went on to have three children who all live in South Wales, with a host of grandchildren that can only imagine how tough those times were.

She currently lives with her daughter Alison in her own little flat but with Alison and other family members keeping a watchful eye on her.

So while we are all living now in isolation under stressful situations, it seems this country is no stranger to anxiety and pressure. If we came through the bleakest of times back then, we can do it again.

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