By Jean Wilson
In normal circumstances people in Hayes in 2020 would be gathering together to remember the ending of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945 and considering the impact on Hayes since the start of the war in 1939.
Seventy-five years have passed but there are still people in Hayes who recall the tremendous sense of joy and relief when peace finally came. The Wilkins family were among the crowds who went up to London and joined the crowds making their way along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. They remembered, “it was a very exciting time and there was a tremendous atmosphere”. In 1995 Joy Palmer recalled her memories of the 8th May. She was rushed to Orpington Hospital for an emergency appendicitis operation. When she came round she thought she was in heaven, the lights were brilliant, the blackout had been removed and outside she could see the flames of a huge bonfire. “People were singing and laughing and the nurses who I had thought were angels were handing round glasses of sherry to the patients but passed me proclaiming ‘the War is Over, the War is over, but I’m sorry you can’t have any sherry’”. George Austen who was home on leave congregated with many others on the wasteland near the public shelter at the entrance to what is now Norman Park where a very large bonfire had been built. When towards the end of the evening the bonfire showed signs of going out someone had the idea of pulling the wooden bunks out of the air-raid shelter and committing them to the flames – a fine sight.
Mixed with the excitement was the sadness felt by many families who had suffered the loss of their loved ones either in direct attacks on Hayes or in fighting overseas. Many of their names are on the War Memorial in St Mary’s Churchyard. Other families would have to wait until later in the year for the return of Prisoners of War and for the ending of the war with Japan before they too could share in the celebration that took place. Over a thousand houses in Hayes had been damaged or destroyed, lives had been disrupted but for the moment there was relief that the war was over.
Plans had already been made in anticipation of peace and now the arrangements were quickly put into action.
On the morning of VE Day the newly appointed Rector of Hayes, Revd Eric Smith, took a service at the anti-aircraft gun site on Hayes Common. The Church bells were rung immediately after the Prime Minister’s speech in the afternoon. There was a well attended evening service and the following morning there was a United Service of Thanksgiving on the Common at 11 am with Revd Eric Smith and Revd Harold Edwards of the Free Church.
The school children rejoiced that they had two days’ holiday. When the school in George Lane reopened on 10th May services were held for both Infants and Juniors. The Mayor of Bromley and the Chairman of the Education Committee visited the school in the afternoon and each class then held its own party.
Further parties for the children took place on the Saturday including one for 50 children in George Lane with plenty of dancing and singing. About the same number attended one for the children of Hurstdene Avenue where in addition to the tea, there were sports, a fancy dress parade and a visit from the Mayor and Mayoress of Bromley. Bourne Vale had a street party and the fire watchers of Dartmouth Road, Southbourne and Northbourne provided a party for 60 children. Here as well as enjoying a tea each child was given 1/6d (7½p). It was from this party that the organisers decided to form a club, named the Victory Social Club, which survives to this day. The biggest party was at the Warren attended by over 400 children. There was also the opportunity for a visit to the Rex Cinema where the ‘Quips Concert party’ gave a free show.
The numbers attending the Thanksgiving Service on Sunday included members of the Home Guards, Civil Defence, British Legion, Red Cross, WVS, Scouts and Guides. The congregation was so large that the service was relayed to the Village Hall and some people still had to stand outside. Peace had come, thanks were given and then it was time to rebuild and look forward to the future.
Photograph courtesy of Sheila Williamson
Header graphic courtesy of Darren Street