On the 75th anniversary of VE Day, we look back at how the Gazette reported the end of the conflict in Europe in May 1945.
“Tuesday, May 8th will go down in history as VE Day, marking the victory of the Allied cause against Germany and her policy of aggression.”
That was the opening line of the Gazette’s coverage of VE Day and the celebrations that followed in May 1945.
Cuttings from the landmark edition, dated May 15, 1945, have been found by the Bideford and District Community Archive, and tell of the celebrations that followed Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s message to say Germany had unconditionally surrendered.
The article, headlined ‘Germany surrenders - Torridge-side’s joy and thankfulness’ said: “The general relief and reaction that had been gaining ground throughout the previous days and weeks gave all at home a profound and developing feeling of festive realisation.
“Tuesday, May 8th was the culminating point of the week we shall remember all our lives – and history long after we are gone.”
The article told of streets ‘in friendly competition’ to see who could put on the best displays as the war in Europe reached its expected end.
It said: “A tour of the town to see the flags was a favourite occupation - and the display was one certainly worth seeing and of which one could be proud.
“Reports from all parts of the district confirm that everywhere a great effort was made to present a loyal, gay, face for the occasion.”
“The flags started to go up in real earnest on Monday evening, and especially so when news came through on the wireless that VE day was to be on the morrow. It almost seemed that street vied street in friendly competition to see which could put forward the greatest show. Some of the small streets of the town were particularly well done.”
Although there were reports of fireworks on the night of Monday, May 7, the real celebrations began on VE-Day itself, with the 5th Bideford Battalion of the Home Guard livening up proceedings with music, and official streamers of bunting were draped across the bridge and along the Quay.
Churches held thanksgiving services before giving way to more celebrations.
The article added: “Later in the evening there was music on the Quay and the King’s speech was relayed through amplifiers.
“The fun became fast and furious as the night advanced with many signs of jolification, including singing in the streets, occasional dancing, impromptu flood-lighting, the discharge of fireworks (with an especially brilliant display from Chudleigh Fort) and other illuminated effects.
“Many hundreds of people were happily parading the streets until a late hour.
“Tuesday was given over to personal demonstration marking the great day, and Wednesday, after an extra hour in bed to make up for all the energies of the previous day, resolved itself into a day of much-enjoyed organised events.”
There was a series of celebrations in Westward Ho!, which included an effigy of Hitler being paraded around the village to be burned one evening.
Villagers danced until midnight and raised £16 for the Westward Ho! Welcome Home Fund.
By Saturday, children and their parents ‘marched to the sands’ where they were given rides around Bideford Bay in the military’s amphibious ‘ducks’. Some 600 people took trips.
Torrington enjoyed ‘non-stop flood-lit dancing’ thanks to dance bands and community singing, The streets were ‘profusely decorated’ and there was maypole dancing which made up for a wet Mayfair.
The town was presented with a huge Union Jack by glove-workers James Tapscott and Sons Ltd, which was flown outside the town hall.
The article said: “The flag was described by the donors as ‘a token of gratitude not only to the men and women but to all who have made the supreme sacrifice’.”
Meanwhile, in St Giles, Sgt T Hocking lit a bonfire, having returned from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany the previous day.
On the evening of Wednesday, May 9, the River Torridge saw a ‘striking array of naval craft’ travel up the river in formation in front of a large crowd assembled on the quayside and bridge in Bideford.