Robert Putt, who attended Woodbridge High School 80 years ago, is collaborating with the school to document his memories of the area. In the fourth of a series of articles, Robert talks about VE Day
Tuesday 8 May 1945. I remember this date well in the nation’s calendar of special events. The German surrender had been enacted on the seventh and the next day had been declared a national holiday.
At that time, I was looking forward to my 16th birthday and had been working in a City of London stockbroker’s office since January 1944. This necessitated a weekly seasonal rail ticket between George Lane railway station and Liverpool Street. My friends and I, deciding that the empty streets and shops of South Woodford offered very little in the way of teenage excitement, soon made use of these valuable assets. We found ourselves walking up Old Broad Street, past the Mansion House and then onwards, towards Ludgate Circus, Fleet Street and the Strand, always aware of the people we were walking with gradually increasing in number as we moved along the full width of the roads.
Traffic was non-existent. Entering Trafalgar Square, the sight that met our eyes was amazing. It seemed to us that every nationality was there. Military uniforms from all over the world were bringing changes to a backdrop of grey buildings, and progressing into Pall Mall, with its red asphalt roadway and green trees, this presented a picture of London that we, and thousands of others, had not seen before.
A kaleidoscope of colour, with people making circles of space in which to dance. There was no music, but it didn’t seem to matter. American GIs were jitterbugging with any girl who wanted to dance and there were hundreds of them, circling around others who were demonstrating their slightly more formal ballroom skills. There were the khaki uniforms of the Women’s ATS and Land Army, the blue tunics of the WAAFs and the navy blues of the WRENs, all merging with similar colours of the male contingent. Added to this were the civilians in their party frocks and shirts, thousands of them, all converging on less than a square half-mile of London’s West End. For our part, we hadn’t wasted our time at the dances that were held at the Royal Forest Hotel every Saturday evening and were soon in the middle of this crazy and unusual celebration.
The last trains back to Epping and Ongar were timed to leave Liverpool Street between six and seven o’clock, in fairness to the railwaymen who had worked that day. We arrived back at George Lane before eight and returned home to see what our parents had been doing to mark the occasion. I think my dad made the most of his time off to do some work on his vegetable garden. Some things don’t stop; even an event like the end of the war had to give way to more demanding duties.