War-Time Memories and VE Day Celebrations in Bishopthorpe and York

Ken Baldwin taking part in the 1954 Pageant but, in 1939 when war broke out, he was brambling.
Lily Foggin explains in no uncertain terms how tiring it was for her husband to be in the Home Guard and have a full-time job.
Carol Woollcombe  remembers meat rationing during the war.

It has not been easy to discover how the people of Bishopthorpe celebrated Victory in Europe in May 1945.  Despite the many interviews which have been held with residents by the Bishopthorpe Local History Group, the end of the Second World War has hardly been mentioned. While the war, as a topic, featured throughout the recordings, interviewees first remembered how life was lived:  When war broke out: “We were going brambling. We just continued, it meant nothing to us.” (a young Ken Baldwin); the Home Guard, “…he fell asleep stood up one day.  He was that tired.” (Lily Foggin on her husband, Reg); Rationing: “Dear Mr. Dixon, [the butcher] he was marvellous. He kept us going all through the war, you know.  Phoebe, our maid, once said, ‘Well, that’s been round the Knavesmire a few times’. The joint! But he was awfully good.” (Carol Woollcombe); and the Black-Out: “There used to be somebody about on their bike shouting, ‘Will you put that light out, please’.  Yes, some people used to do it for a bit of fun, not knowing the seriousness of it.  But we got over that, all of us.”  (Audrey Bastard)

Audrey Bastard remembers pranksters and the black-out.

In May 1945 a good many villagers were not to be found in Bishopthorpe.  Several were in the services spread throughout the world; some were still prisoners of war; some still fighting, for the war was not over until 15 August when Japan surrendered.  It was this situation which led York City Council to take a subdued view on how to observe the end of hostilities with Germany.  It was thought more appropriate that this should be a time of thanksgiving rather than celebration.  However, for more than five long years, life had been hard for people at home and it was time to let their hair down.

On Monday 7 May, tension was in the air as everyone waited for an official declaration that Germany had surrendered.  The announcement was not made due to US President, Harry Truman, accommodating demands made by Stalin.   The Yorkshire Gazette reported that the citizens of York used their time to decorate the streets on a lavish scale and the evening was spent partying with Canadian, French and British servicemen.  Two days holiday had been granted; most pubs managed to have supplies available and full advantage was taken of the fact that they remained open until 11.30pm.

The following day, Tuesday 8 May, rain fell throughout the afternoon and the city was strangely quiet.  Then, at three o’ clock, Mr. Churchill made the historic announcement that the German forces had signed an unconditional surrender.  Most people would have heard him on the wireless and, with the weather clearing, joyful crowds thronged the streets singing, shouting, and dancing to amplified music in Exhibition Square.  Crowds jammed into Duncombe Place to see the floodlighting of the Minster while the bells pealed for the first time since war began.

Many Bishopthorpe residents would have gone into York and joined the excited revellers.  But those who stayed behind enjoyed the village festivities too.  The only two people who provided their memories of VE Day were Margaret Smith, nee Cox, and Eddie Waite, both of whom have since sadly died.  Margaret, whose father was a sergeant in the Home Guard, told us of the bonfire on the school field where the Junior School now stands.  “I remember going up on to the railway bridge to see the bonfires round about.”

Margaret Smith saw bonfires from the railway bridge.
Former choir boy Eddie Waite enjoyed the VE Day bonfire on the school field.

Eddie Waite, a choir boy at St. Andrew’s at the time, also remembered with glee the same bonfire on the school field:  “The RAF from Acaster made it with old ammo boxes.  They also had wonderful rockets – military rockets – to set off.  Unfortunately, one landed on Mr. Hutchinson as he was walking home down Copmanthorpe Lane and set his mackintosh on fire.  Another rocket landed on Mr. Drury’s hen house and set that alight, but all the hens survived.”  Eddie didn’t tell us how Mr. Hutchinson fared but, we hope he survived without injury!

We always welcome memories at the Bishopthorpe Community Archive.  When lockdown has finished, please call in on any Monday afternoon 2.30 – 5.00pm, upstairs at the Village Hall or email:  historygroup@bishopthorpe.net

Linda Haywood

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