If ever there was time for a celebration it is now. The 8th of May has been reserved for celebration and remembrance since 1945, when it was announced that the war in Europe was over, and victory belong to the allied forces.
Elizabeth Christie, the archivist at St Mary’s Calne, Wiltshire, has released the accounts of the Calne Girls in 1945 when peace was declared in Europe. Saved in the form of the September 1945 St Mary’s Calne News Sheet, the school has said, ‘ It has been very heartwarming to read how VE Day was met with such joy and relief by the girls and staff of St Mary’s.’
After an 20:00 announcement from the Winston Churchill that the war in Europe was over, the headmistress, Miss Matthews, announced that the next day would be kept as VE Day all over the country. It was a very full day of celebrations, starting with Chapel and decorating of both students and the school.
‘After Chapel we struck the flag and proceeded to decorate the houses (having ornamented ourselves with bows of red, white and blue which each girl found on her plate at breakfast),’ documents the News Sheet. ‘One long string of flags was festooned with great difficulty and danger from window to window outside Bodinnar, while a second formed a triumphant V from the top of the porch to Miss Matthews’ bedroom and sitting room windows.’
At 3pm, the girls gathered in Gabriel to listen to the Prime Minister and listen to descriptions of the crowd outside Buckingham Palace and Whitehall. Everyone then marched into Calne for a short Thanksgiving Service on the Strand, conducted by the Archdeacon: ‘The town was gay with flags and everywhere red, white and blue decorations showed the spirit of rejoicing, but it was in the silence and the singing that we showed our true feelings of thankfulness and proud remembrance of the great sacrifices.’
When the girls returned to school they had a few hours to prepare for the fancy dress ‘Victory Dinner’, which started at 19:00. This was followed by a big dance, open to all, on the school’s cricket pitch.
A handwritten report described the evening thus:
‘The people of Calne flocked to our grounds. From the very start everyone mixed and mingled with each other until we were one big happy party almost bursting with joy. Old couples who hadn’t danced for years joined in with great enthusiasm for two hours on end, broken only by the King’s speech at nine o’clock.
‘Then, at 10.15 we grabbed our cloaks and dashed up to the work-house where Mr Hart and Mr Dickinson had built the most colossal bonfire.
‘For over half an hour, we stood under the roaring flames singing all the good old songs, such as ‘Tipperary’, ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’, John Brown’s Body’, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, and many more. Then at last, we turned homewards. The people of Calne began to stream away and we left the glory of that starry night with tired, but very light and thankful hearts.
‘VE Day was over, but PEACE had only just begun!’
This year’s VE Day should be particularly poignant. It was often said at the start of Britain’s lockdown that coronavirus was the great test that faced this generation. Comparisons were made between us staying at home and the young men who were sent to war and death in the last century – no comparison really. So while we celebrate and remember the achievement of others this year on VE Day, let us keep in mind especially that the trials set in 2020 are by no means trivial or insignificant, but perhaps far more comfortable and less testing than that which was faced by those in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
Find the St Mary’s Calne online listing here