- 30th April 1945 - Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun, his wife of fewer than 40 hours, commit suicide in the Führerbunker in Berlin.
- 2nd May 1945 - German forces in Italy and Austria surrender at Caserta to British forces under General Harold Alexander.
- 4th May 1945 - German forces in North West Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands surrender to Field Marshal Montgomery on Lüneburg Heath.
- 5th May 1945 - Großadmiral Dönitz orders all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases.
- 7th May 1945 - The Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signs the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces at SHAEF headquarters in Reims, France.
We all knew the end was coming. The signs were there for everyone to see. On Saturday April 28th 1945 the ‘Richmond and Twickenham Times’ reported that British POW’s were beginning to trickle home and advised mothers and wives to take care feeding them. “Small meals at frequent intervals” was the recommendation. The blackout had already been lifted and the ‘Richmond Herald’ noted that “many and varied are the uses waiting black-out curtains now that they are no longer needed.” It suggested turning them into pinafores for the children of France. Richmond Park, closed during the war, had been reopened to the public with this caution… “Pedestrians are warned that there are some mines in the boundary fence of Pembroke Lodge and the cottage which it has been impracticable to remove.”
Poet and Park lover Herbert Cressy knocked together a poem in celebration…
'But soon your wounds will all be healed, The Vanquished to the Victor yield. We shall be free your paths to roam, Rejoice in you our Pastoral Home In piping days of Peace.'
All this we knew. What we didn’t know was when the formal announcement of the end of the war was going to be made. On Saturday 5th May the ‘Rich and Twick’ offered a clue…
“The Prime Minister will announce V.E Day (Victory in Europe Day) in a special broadcast. The King will speak at 9.00pm the same evening. V.E Day and that following will be a public holiday.”
That special broadcast was eventually made by the Prime Minister Winston Churchill at 3.00pm on Tuesday 8th May from the Cabinet Room at No. 10…
“The German War is at an end…Almost the whole world was combined against the evil-doers, who are now prostate before us.”
And at this point and into the following day St Margarets, Richmond and Twickenham went crazy with street parties, bonfires, singing, dancing and what ‘The Richmond Herald’ described as “Revelry by Night”…
“Every house and business played its part in adding to the gay appearance of the town with paper flags and red, white and blue flowers… and everyone wearing their brightest frocks, with patriotic emblems and red, white and blue ribbons in their hair.”
There was a parade from Twickenham Green to St Stephen’s Church by the Civil Defence Service, recently ‘stood-down’. The Mayor of Twickenham toured the borough in a car and gave a speech from the steps of the Queen’s Cinema, opposite York House. There were many bonfires. One house in St. Peter’s Road also caught fire and two bedsteads and a grand piano were destroyed. At the corner of Crown Road and St Margarets Road a grocer’s shop displayed a model of a sailing ship flanked by pictures of Churchill and the slogan “Pioneers of yesterday, our salvation today!” All Hallows Church Tower on the Chertsey Road was floodlit and a thanksgiving service remembering the fallen was held in St Margarets R.C Church. But the biggest and most widely reported celebration took place outside No 2 St Margaret Grove, the home of local bookie and bulldog fancier Jimmy Knode…
“Everyone knows Jimmy Knode never owes. Pays like lightning and always wears a rose.”
A professional dance band had been hired for the occasion and over 800 people attended including the Mayors of both Richmond and Twickenham …
“All the streets around were a seething mass. Children sat on the roof of the Turk’s Head opposite and many were still sitting there when the party finally broke up at 2 o’clock in the morning… A cup won by Jimmy’s prize winning bulldog Queenie was filled and everyone in the crowd had a drink from it… The boys still fighting in Burma were not forgotten, a toast being drunk to them. The crowd also observed a half-minute’s silence for those who had made the jubilations possible.”
And so a momentous day passed into history - a day of great rejoicing and gratitude, tempered with the knowledge that for many the war was not yet over, as Churchill reminded us in his speech on ‘Victory in Europe Day’, Tuesday 8th May 1945…
“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued….We must now devote all our strength and resources to the completion of our task, both at home and abroad. Advance, Britannia! Long live the cause of freedom! God save the King!”
You can read about one role that Richmond Park played during the war.
Imperial War Museum footage
On VE Day, Vera Lynn singing “There’ll always be an England.
– from Martyn Day