Surrey Celebrates Victory in Europe (VE Day), 1945
On the 7 May 1945 Germany surrendered after six long painful years of war and the 8 May was declared Victory in Europe, or VE day. Celebrations were widespread throughout Britain with thanksgiving services, street parties, dancing and bonfires. It was a day to be remembered but tinged with sadness for there was a realisation that many men and women were not yet home from various fighting fronts and the Japanese had still to be conquered. Above all, there were thousands throughout the country who would not return.
On August 6 1945, at 8.15am, US Forces had dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, killing 70,000 people. On August 9 1945, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and on 15 August 1945, Japan surrendered. When the war in Japan ended the celebrations for VJ Day seemed much more subdued than the VE celebrations, but nevertheless everyone celebrated in the hope that it was the war to end all wars.
VE Day in Surrey
Across Surrey, the end of war in Europe in 1945 was marked with an abundance of festivities and commemorations. The capital was awash with people partying into the early hours of the morning; the Surrey Mirror, 11 May 1945, reported that “large contingents of people from Redhill and Reigate travelled on the early trains to London to see and take part in rejoicings such as London had not experienced since our present King and Queen were crowned.”
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In May 1945, one of the thousands who could scarcely contain their joy was Marjorie Kelsey of Redhill. She poured out her feelings and hopes for the future in a long letter to her husband William in the army. Marjorie’s letter, now in the collections at Surrey History Centre, was written after six years of fear and privations, her excitement was overwhelming. Her long and emotional letter to her husband expresses her uncontainable joy, her love and her hopes for the future. Parts of the letter are read by Jane Lewis from Surrey History Centre.
Download a pdf copy of a transcript of Jane’s reading.
Download a pdf copy of Marjorie’s letter.
Among the archive collections at Surrey History Centre are copies of wartime letters of Derrick Clewley (SHC ref. Z/439/1-14). These include an account of VE Day celebrations in London from his girlfriend Mary Blythe of Horsell (who later became his wife; Z/439/1/2). She writes:
“Next I rang up Connie & she wanted to do something. So we decided to go up to London & try to see Churchill & the King & Queen. So we started off about 1.30 & got to Waterloo about 2 o’clock. Connie’s mother & Tony came too. First of all we wandered along to Parliament Square, by the Houses of Parliament, & sat down there in the [sun], & waited for Mr Churchill to speak at 3.0pm. It was very strange hearing his voice outside – there were loudspeakers all over London – & knowing that everyone, perhaps all over the world, was listening. It was really too hot sitting there. The sun was beating down with all its might. Well after that, we wandered through St James Park, & then round by Trafalgar Square along to the Health Ministry, where Mr Churchill was to speak at 5pm. The crowds were terrific. Everywhere you looked there were hundreds of people strolling along, each one with some kind of red, white & blue on them. Some of the girls had frocks with stripes in those colours, or flowered frocks perhaps, or nearly every girl had some flower, or ribbon, or [veil], of the tricolours in her hair. I had just a rosette but I lost that in the crowd. There were flags everywhere, on all buildings that could possibly have them. It really was a wonderful, gay sight…..“At Parsons Mead School in Ashtead, pupil Anne Tannock compiled a ‘Victory Week’ diary and scrapbook of newscuttings. She writes that when headmistress Miss Hopkins announced on 7 May that war would be officially over, “we all went mad and danced around the hall and sang.” The following day, they went to a Thanksgiving Service in the recreation ground, followed by an “absolutely marvellous” bonfire. On 9 May, Miss Hopkins took the pupils to London and after waiting for about an hour outside Buckingham Palace, they saw the Royal Family. On returning back to Ashtead that evening, a fancy dress dance in the hall brought an eventful day to an end.
The collections at Surrey History Centre include many photographs of Victory celebrations, ranging from formal parades and services to locally organised street parties in Caterham, Chertsey, Esher, Ewell and elsewhere. A photograph album compiled by Arthur Windsor-Spice, Mayor of Reigate, from 1942 to 1946, records in detail the many events across the borough. These include a thanksgiving service for Victory in Europe and parade at the Memorial Sports Ground, Redhill, on 13 May, and several street parties attended by the Mayor and Mayoress.
Unsurprisingly, the local papers of the time covered in depth the numerous Victory celebrations across the county. The Surrey Mirror, 18 May, reported that “a bonfire at Norwood Hill on VE-Day, followed by sports and a splendid tea for local children on the following day, and rounded off on Saturday by a firework display, were the chief features of a happy week to mark the cessation of hostilities in Europe.”
In the same edition, the Surrey Mirror recounted another heart-warming story. Mrs Arnott of Linnell Road, Redhill, had extra occasion to celebrate, when her son, Private Leslie Arnott, a POW in Germany who had been captured at Dunkirk, arrived home on VE Day.
Despite the celebrations, nearly six years of war had taken its toll on service personnel and civilians alike. Under the headline Monty, Very Tired, Is Resting, the Gloucester Citizen reported that Field Marshall Sir Bernard Montgomery was spending a short leave in the beautiful countryside around Hindhead, staying with Major T Reynolds, headmaster of Amesbury School. Although the schoolchildren gathered in the playing fields to greet him, a reporter was told that “Sir Bernard is very tired and is not to be disturbed by anyone. He is even refusing to see personal friends. This is a rest for him and we round here are seeing to it that he is not disturbed.”
Sources for VE Day at Surrey History Centre
Among the records of Surrey’s families, businesses, charities, parishes, the Surrey regiments, and organisations such as the Women’s Institute, held in the archives at Surrey History Centre, there are many documents and photographs relating to VE Day and VJ Day, and subsequent anniversaries of the events. You can search for them on this website and at https://www.surreyarchives.org.uk/. Here is just a selection of items:
2572/135/14: Order of service for Thanksgiving for Victory at Dorking Parish Church (St Martin’s), 24 November 1945
2718/1/16: Form of service for thanksgiving for victory in Europe, 1945, from the parish records of St Peter’s, Wimbledon
4317/25: Photocopy (undated) of photograph of adults and children in costume for VE Day celebrations at The Junipers, Croydon Lane, Banstead, 1945
5296/1: Printed VE Day anniversary celebrations programme of events for Saturday 6 May to 8 May 1995 in Shere and Gomshall
6755/1: Photograph album containing black and white photographs, programmes of events, orders of service and invitation cards, illustrating the activities of Alderman Arthur Windsor-Spice, JP, and Mrs Windsor-Spice, mayor and mayoress of Reigate, 1942 – 1946. Includes VE Day party photographs, thanksgiving service for Victory in Europe at the Memorial Sports Ground, Redhill, 13 May 1945 (p.26), and programme for VE Day thanksgiving service and parade at the Memorial Sports Ground, Redhill, 13 May 1945 (p.26)
6791/1/5: Slides (undated) of photographic prints and postcards of Knaphill views, local events, businesses and residents. Includes Victory party, Queen’s Road, 1945
6889/3/4/1-2: Photographs of Horsell Platoon marching in a [victory] parade on [Chobham] Road, Horsell, nd 
6922/1/4: Chipstead St Margaret’s programme for a service of thanksgiving for Victory in Europe, 8 May 1945
7179/3/6: Photograph of tea party for Bisley VE and VJ Day 50th anniversary celebrations, May 1995
8091/14/11: Diary and scrapbook of newscuttings compiled during ‘Victory Week’, 1945, by Anne Lewis [née Tannock] whilst a pupil at Parsons Mead, 1945
8326/7/21: Hersham St Peter’s Order of Service entitled ‘ Thanksgiving for Victory’ celebrating VE Day. Annotated with note reflecting that the ‘church packed to overflowing with worshippers’, May 1945
8875/4: Photographs of VE Day celebration tea at [?The Avenue], Sunbury-on Thames, May 1945
9931: Kelsey Family of Dorking and Redhill: Collected Family Papers, 1914-1982. Including letters and photographs relating to VE Day celebrations in Redhill
CC818/2/14-16: Photograph of the VE and VJ Day 50th anniversary memorial service held at Guildford Cathedral on 20 August 1995
PH/29/71: Caterham, Homestead Road – showing a street party held to celebrate VE Day, with tables lined up in the centre of the road laden with food including a celebration cake, with children seated and various adults with small children alongside the pavements, 1045
PH/29/72/1: Caterham, Caterham Hill Infants School – showing VE Day celebration party, with two long tables laid with party food, including a tiered cake, with young children seated and adults and teachers standing posed for the photographer, 1945
PH/29/73: Caterham, Holly Tree Road – showing a street party for VE Day with paper bunting and tables laden with food, with children seated and adults standing posed for the photographer, floral bunting, 1945
PH/60/1: Ewell, Meadow Walk, street party to celebrate VE Day. Shows children sitting around a table with adults behind them, waving at the camera, nd 
PH/60/21: Ewell, Bradford Drive – street party to celebrate VE Day showing children, some with party hats, seated at long tables with adults standing watching, 1945
PH/160/351: Woking, 85 Commercial Road, Millers Café – showing several members of the Miller family and others standing outside the café on the evening of VE Day, 1945
PH/29/2235: Photograph of VE Day street party, Homestead Road, Caterham, 1945
PH/29/2238: Photograph of VE Day celebrations at Caterham Hill Infants School, 1945
PH/29/2239: Photograph of VE Day street party, Holly Tree Road, Caterham, 1945
PX/84/69: Kingston, Burton Road, looking towards St Luke’s Church – VE street party showing tables laid out with flowers and food with children seated and adults gathered around, and bunting across the street, 1945
PX/53/59: Photograph of VJ Day street party, Cotmandene, Dorking, 6 September 1945
Z/439/1-14: Collection of letters written between Flight Sergeant Derrick Clewley of 99 Squadron RAF, India, and his late wife (then girlfriend) Mary Blythe of Cardinal Avenue, Kingston, and formerly of High Street, Horsell, Woking, including letters describing VE Day, dated 7-17 May 1945, and describing VJ Day, 7-17 August 1945
Z/450/1-2: Prints from digital copies (2005) of photographs showing VE Day party at Station Road, Chertsey, May 1945
Z/447/1: Print from a digital copy (2005) of photograph showing Kingsway Hall, Woking children’s VE Day fancy dress party, May 1945
Z/516/3/44: VE Day Street Party outside The Tally Ho, Coulsdon Road, Caterham, 1945
Z/556/2/1: Digital copy of a black and white photograph of a VE Day party in Rydens Way, Woking, 1945
Click here for more information about the Surrey newspapers held at Surrey History Centre.
Click here for a comprehensive guide to the records of the Surrey Regiments held at Surrey History Centre.
Click here to read wartime interviews with veterans of the Surrey Regiments carried out as part of Surrey Heritage’s National Lottery funded project, ‘Buried Battles, Veteran’s Voices’.
VE Day in Surrey captured on film
Surrey History Centre holds archive film footage of people in Surrey at work and play throughout the twentieth century. You can watch clips of some of these unique films, including Surrey people and places during the Second World War, on our ‘Film at Surrey History Centre web page, and see a full list of the films. Of particular note are the following films:
Leatherhead War Time newsreels, c.1940-1945 (SHC ref F/16, film 2), extract can be viewed on the Screen Archive South East website
The Gowlland Family in War Time, [Croydon, Elstead and West Sussex], 1943-1946 (SHC ref F/24) Find out more about the Gowlland family and their films on the Screen Archive South East website
Extracts of both of these films feature in our DVD compilation Surrey on film 1914-1953 – A community in peace and war, which can be purchased via the Surrey History Centre online shop.
Extracts of many other Surrey wartime films can be viewed online via the Screen Archive South searchable online catalogue.
Screen Archive South East have produced ‘War and Peace: a new film to a commemorate VE Day’. This short, seven minute compilation of archive film, much of it in colour, gives an impressionistic view of the Home Front and VE Day, as seen through the eyes of film makers right across the South East of England at that time. This wonderful compilation features film from Surrey, including the Gowlland family in Croydon, Woking’s ‘walking’ Anderson shelter, a family and their pet dog posing in gas marks, the ‘real’ Dad’s Army armed with broomsticks in West Clandon, and ‘Civilian’s in Uniform’ in Leatherhead. View the film for free here http://screenarchive.brighton.ac.uk/detail/13714/
Surrey in the Second World War: Surrey History Centre’s Marvels of the Month
You can read the following wartime themed stories in our Marvels of the Month:
The wartime bombing of County Hall, Kingston, features a fascinating album compiled by Surrey County Council employee, Winifred Hutchings, recording bomb damage to County Hall during the Second World War.
On 6 June 1944, it was announced: “D-Day has come…” to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, records held at Surrey History Centre tell the story of Surrey’s role in the Normandy Landings.
Sir Barnes Wallis at Surrey History Centre, letters of Lady Wallis held in our archives gave a valuable insight into the life and mind of her husband, inventor Sir Barnes Wallis.
Lucean Arthur Headen – an African American inventor in Camberley, reveals the inspiring story of an American inventor and entrepreneur who played an important part in the British war effort in Surrey.
Letters of Major P H Mornement of the East Surrey Regiment provide a vivid account of his experiences in North Africa and Italy during the Second World War.
The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino, the battle seen through the eyes of Private Robert Charles Leslie Watkins (1925-1944) of the 1/6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, in letters to his parents in Epsom.
The Surrey Infantry Museum website features stories and artefacts relating to the regiments.
The Imperial War Museums (IWM) are co-ordinating a nationwide campaign to mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War and VE Day www.iwm.org.uk/victory and social media #Victory75. IWM is asking households to take a moment on Bank Holiday Friday 8th May, the 75th anniversary of VE Day, to play a four-minute soundscape Voices of War on IWM’s website. The soundscape brings together first-hand accounts of VE Day from IWM’s vast sound archive, ranging from an army nurse who served in Egypt at the time and a Jamaican aircraftsman who emigrated to the UK aboard the Empire Windrush in 1948, to a Jewish man from Berlin who spent six weeks in Sachsenhausen concentration camp and Prime Minister Winston Churchill. To find out more about the IWM’s nationwide campaign to mark 75 years since the end of the Second World War and VE Day see their Press Release (pdf ) and #Victory75 Toolkit (pdf ).
For Surrey’s VE Day 75th celebration see the Visit Surrey website.
VE Day – 75 year anniversary events in Surrey, see the Surrey County Council, Armed forces webpage.
The Royal British Legion calls on the nation to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day from home. The Royal British Legion has partnered with the National Literacy Trust to create a series of free, downloadable lesson plans and assemblies aimed at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 that can be used to explain to children of different ages and backgrounds why, how and who we Remember: VE Day Learning Resources.
To commemorate this important anniversary, Surrey Freemasons have created a display ‘Surrey Freemasons remembering those from World War Two‘ showcasing some of the fascinating stories of individual Freemasons and their families in Surrey and South London during WW2. The display will go on tour around Surrey libraries during 2020. A brochure to accompany the display is available to view on the Surrey Freemasons website: https://surreyfreemasons.org.uk/ve-day-celebrations-2020/ and a pdf () (3.8MB) copy is available to download.
Surrey Freemasons have also created an accompanying 144 page booklet produced by W.Bro. Peter Cartwright. The proceeds of this book are to be donated to the Commonwealth War Graves Commisssion. Price £10 or by post + £2.50 pp. Order by email to: [email protected]. BACs to: PGLOS-Events Ref: Book 30-92-45 A/c: 56455360. Available at some Masonic centres payment by cash or cheque.
Victory Day, 1946. This silent film depicts two processions and evening festivities on 8th June 1946, celebrating the British and Allied victory in the Second World War.Published on the London Metropolitan Archives YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElSGwbxUAqk).
‘Victory in Europe Day: How World War II changed the UK’ – click here to read an article on the Office for National Statistics website revealing how demographics changed as a result of the war.
Watch two Youtube videos: Dame Elizabeth Anson, a schoolgirl during VE Day, shares her memories and Royal Navy Veteran Lt Cmdr Alan Tyler shares his experiences during WW2.