The 75th Anniversary of VE Day

8th May 2020

Today, 8 May 2020, is the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, ending the war against Nazi Germany.

2,370 Wykehamists and 16 Assistant Masters served in the armed forces of the Second World War, and 270 lost their lives. Wavell, Portal, Dowding, all held commands of enormous responsibility. The initial surrender of German Forces in the West on 4 May on the Lüneburger Heide, was taken by Field Marshall Montgomery, who although a Harrovian, sent his son David (Turner's, 1942-1946) to Winchester.

Despite the significance for the country, and the significant personal price paid by the school community, the school archives do not include much contemporary material about the impact of the end of the war, or the response to VE day. We know that there was a ceremony in War Cloister, Illumina was held, and there were street celebrations but little detail is preserved. The first official reference to the end of war in Europe appears in The Wykehamist of 4 July 1945.

One might have expected a comment on Germany’s surrender in the previous edition dated 6 June 1945. Instead it notes only that Field Marshal Lord Wavell (College, 1896-1900) lectured to the whole school on 9 May, followed by Field Marshal Montgomery on 21 May, who also inspected the CCF.

According to the editor of The Wykehamist, this was not an oversight on their part but a reflection of the mood and working reality for those involved. In drawing comparison with the three-page editorial celebrating comparable peace in the 1918 edition, he notes "this Wykehamist is still a war-time number: it works with its sleeves rolled up, no relaxation, no reclining into the luxury of peace is-permitted... There is a world to build, there is no time to engage in rhetoric." 

The house annals provide a more personal insight:

"The End of the War in Europe! This meant for us, apart from the joy of victory itself, the total relief from fire-watching, already only theoretical, and the end of the black-out. Victory-in-Europe celebrations went quietly here, with an extra whole remedy ending in a Thanksgiving Service and the first Illumina for 7 years" (Morshead's)

"On the first VE night there was a thanksgiving service followed by Illumina which no member of the school had seen before. Perhaps the most important event of the term was the end of the war with Germany on May 7th . May 8th and 9th were National holidays, the school being given a whole remedy [day off] on the 8th." (Kingsgate House)

"When the school reassembled at the beginning of May, great events were occurring in Germany. On May 7th the news for which we had waited five and a half years was received. The war against Germany was over. The school celebrated the occasion in fitting style, with a whole remedy on VE Day and Illumina in the evening.

There is no one who does not realise how extremely lucky we have been here during the war years. That the school has been able to carry on, as it has done, during the past five and a half years is remarkable in itself, but that it has been able to carry on with such comparatively little change is hardly short of a miracle and reflects boundless credit on the Headmaster and the other school authorities." (Bramston's)

In recent years, the school archivist has gathered memories of some OWs who were in the school during WW2. From the recollections of one OW, another aspect of the celebrations emerges:

"On VE-day a whole day holiday for the school was declared at short notice. Having not made plans in advance for visits elsewhere, many boys were enjoying a rare day in town. In the evening some of us joined the towns-folk (quite unheard of!) to celebrate with bonfire and booze on St Giles Hill."

A Scholar from that time, Mr Bruce Paterson (College, 1942 - 47), wrote to his mother the following week recounting his joy at hearing the Cathedral bells ringing for almost an hour, which had not been allowed during war time, and stringing flags across Chamber Court. He also remarks on the "deafeningly wonderful" singing in the Thanksgiving service, and there is a tremedous sense of relief running throughout his letter. 

That the end of the war was approaching is evident from short notices in The Wykehamist from December 1944. The Win Coll contingent of the Home Guard was stood down on 3rd December 1944, having been in service since Common Time 1942. 297 boys had served in the school’s Home Guard and over half of these went on to military service when they left Winchester. The school’s black-out provisions were also being removed slowly, except for the lights in Chapel gallery that were still shaded by the sugar tins and cardboard covers used to supplement the black-out as late as March 1945.

The excellent Winchester College at War website has considerably more detail about the involvement of individual OWs, including the Revd Graham White, Archdeacon of Singapore, who was a civilian prisoner of the Japanese and died on this day, 8 May 1945.

To mark this significant anniversary there will be a special morning Div hour and online Chapel service, and a half day, in order to give the school community the opportunity to join the rest of the country in a period of commemoration and reflection.

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