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Commemoration and Celebration Memories and Legacies of the Second World War (1939 -1945). Glimpses from an exhibition planned for Guildford Museum later this year.

We hope you enjoy this online display, scroll down to find out how you can get involved.

Seventy-five years after the Second World War ended this display remembers Guildford’s experience at that time

On 7 May 1945 BBC radio broadcast news of the end of war in Europe. It was announced that the next day would be Victory in Europe Day and a national holiday.

People celebrated with hastily organised street parties, bonfires and fireworks, and pubs were licensed to open late. Over the next weeks parades and services of thanksgiving were organised.

Victory in Europe Day was one of joy but also sorrow as many people were grieving for lost loved ones, and fear for those still serving overseas. Allied forces were still fighting in the Far East and the Pacific against Japan. The war there ended on 14 August 1945 when Japan surrendered to the allies, and then signed the act of surrender on 2 September that year. 14 August became Victory in Japan Day (VJ Day).

Our display celebrates both military and civilian heroes and looks at some of the legacies of war, negative and positive that we endured and benefit from today.

Queen’s Regiment Parade before the Mayor of Guildford

Painted by Reginald Henry Lewis (1894-1973) from a photograph taken of the event in 1945. Credit, Jonathan Hoare, Grandson.

The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment were given the Freedom of the Borough of Guildford in September 1944. This honour was given to the Queen’s Regiment to express Guildford’s pride in its close association with them and to recognise their distinguished history. However, as the regiment were still overseas fighting, the Freedom of the Borough ceremony was postponed until after the war and took place on 29 September 1945. The Queen’s Regiment marched past the Mayor "with bayonets fixed, colours flying, and the bands playing". The painting dates from 1946 as it was painted by the artist a year later from photographs taken at the time.

Guildford's direct connection with the Queen's ended in 1959 when the regiment left its Stoughton Barracks. However, in 1992 the Freedom passed to the Queen's successors, the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment which continues to exercise the Honour to this day.

Commemoration – The Ongoing Battle

1945 witnessed some of the most vicious fighting of the Second World War as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan fought desperately to avoid defeat. Battalions from the Surrey Regiments were in the thick of the action in North-west Europe, Italy and the Far East until the end of hostilities there in August 1945.

Until the arrival of VJ day thousands of allied service men were still fighting in the Far East and many thousands were held there as prisoners of war. With the known statistics it is reasonable to assume that 500 men became prisoners of the Japanese.

The East Surreys’ entire 2nd Battalion was captured at Singapore in early 1942.

The Far East POWs experience and what they endured has become notorious: poor nutrition, an almost total absence of medicines, horrific punishments and slave-labour conditions. This resulted in an average death rate of one in four, compared to one in twenty-five suffered by prisoners in European camps.

Albert (Mick) Stening and Jack Childs, both of the East Surrey Regiment, became prisoners of the Imperial Japanese Army in February 1942 when Allied forces in Malaya surrendered. They endured at least some of their captivity in Changi Jail on Singapore Island and may have been forced to work on the building of the infamous Burma Railway. Although there is no evidence that the two men were together whilst POWs, the archive material relating to them provides a grim insight into their experience.

Life at Changi (also known as Chungkai) was harsh. In September 1942 there was a notorious incident where 17,000 men were crammed into a barracks parade ground roughly 100m by 200m which formed part of the jail complex. The men were held for days in tropical heat with little water and no food or sanitation until they agreed to sign a ‘no-escape pledge’. Eventually, under orders from their officers, the men signed, mostly using false or made-up names.

212 men of the East Surreys are amongst the 29,000 now commemorated at Singapore’s main war cemetery.

Albert and Jack were ‘lucky’: both made it back to the UK. The details regarding their return is incomplete but Jack was photographed aboard one of the evacuation ships arriving from the Far East, possibly the SS Ormonde which docked at Southampton on 22 October 1945. They would have received letters of welcome from King George VI; were subject to a series of medical checks and intelligence de-briefings before being issued with a travel warrant for the rail journey home. For many, this would have been the beginning of a long and difficult process of returning to civilian and family life. Emotional, behavioural and psychological problems were common as the men struggled with the memory of their experiences.

Thank you to the Surrey Infantry Museum for the text. Image Jack Childs: courtesy of the Surrey History Centre for material supplied by the Surrey Infantry Museum.

Commemoration - Heroes on the Home Front - The Home Guard

Images show: Guildford Home Guard helmet worn by James Gwinn, and two photographs of Guildford Home Guard in 1940.

Menu for Home Guard stand down dinner, 1944: The 4th Surrey (Guildford) Battalion of the Home Guard (‘D’ Company) held a celebratory stand-down dinner on 15th December 1944.

Soup

Ragout de Roadblock

Puree de Perimeter

Fish

Haydon Plaice

Viands

D.Coy. Duck

Stop Line Sausage

Blacker Puddings

Sweets

Pull Through Pudding

E.Y Trifle

Note: The above menu is entirely imaginary and bears no relation whatsoever to what may actually be served.

During the spring of 1940 German forces in Europe approached the Channel coastline. The threat of Britain being invaded was real and the country desperately needed plans for home defence. On 14 May 1940 Anthony Eden, Secretary of State for War invited men aged between 17 and 65 years, not already in military service, to volunteer as Local Defence Volunteers to provide a secondary defence force if the Germans invaded Britain.

Throughout the country thousands flocked to form units often attached to social and sporting clubs, factories and workplaces. They were soon renamed the Home Guard.

Guildford’s Home Guard was formed of men from all walks of life, and whilst serving unpaid with the Guard the members had to continue in their ‘day jobs’. Home Guard member James Gwinn ran a bakery in the town’s Chapel Street, and E.H. Shepard, the well-known illustrator of A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books, was a company commander of the local Home Guard. By 1943 the 4th Guildford Battalion alone had 3200 members.

Many of us know little about the Home Guard, and much of that may be from the affectionate comedy TV programme Dad’s Army. In reality, many of the Home Guard were much more active and exposed to danger operating guns and rockets, and in coastal defence. During 1940 and 1941 the German bombing raids on towns and cities, known as the Blitz, left behind many unexploded bombs. The Home Guard helped find these bombs and move people away from danger.

Throughout the country 1,206 of the Home Guard were killed in this work and more died in related accidents.

A Home Guard map of the area south of Guildford, by Ernest Mason of Bramley, 1945.

Commemoration - Heroes on the Home Front - Air Raid Protection Wardens

In 1937 the Air Raid Protection (ARP) services were set up to protect the civilian population from air raids.

On 1 September 1939 the ‘blackout’ came in to force to darken Britain and protect the population from night-time bombing. It was the job of the volunteer ARP Wardens to make sure no chink of light escaped from any building which might guide the bombers to their targets.

As bombing increased with the Blitz the role of the ARP services expanded, to include reporting and dealing with bombing incidents, first aid, operating air raid sirens and directing people to the shelters.

They were supported in their work through the Women’s Voluntary Service which was formed in 1938 to support the work of the ARP services.

It was the responsibility of the local council to deliver the ARP service, and in Guildford in 1941 the Mayor was an ARP Warden.

During the Second World War 1.5 million men and women volunteered in these roles nationally, and almost 7,000were killed.

Local Drummonds ARP first aid party

Commemoration - Heroes on the Home Front - A Place of Safety – Evacuees and Edith Gaskell

During the Second World War thousands of children, threatened by enemy bombing in the towns where they lived, were evacuated to places of safety in the countryside. For most children this meant being separated from parents and siblings to live in private homes, school buildings or camps. For some children, not really knowing what was going on, this may have seemed like an adventure. For others the prospect of being separated from Mum and Dad to live with strangers in an unfamiliar place must have been frightening. Almost 4,500 London children arrived in Guildford labelled with their name tags, carrying their gas masks and suitcases, to be billeted (given accommodation) in the town and surrounding areas with people they didn’t know.

Miss Edith Norah Gaskell, known as Nimmy, lived in Brown Cottage in Blackheath, Surrey.

During the war Edith looked after four evacuees, George, Reggie, Peter, and Mimi, giving them a safe place to live. It is a tribute to the care that Edith gave her evacuees that George, originally from London, remained with Edith after the war and the two had a life-long relationship. Peter, an Austrian Jew who escaped Europe as part of the Kindertransport, joined them in the safety of Edith’s cottage.

Edith's Evacuees - (above images courtesy of Kirsteen Warner and family)

After the war Edith received an award from HM Queen Elizabeth, mother to Elizabeth II, in recognition of all that she had done by “opening your door to strangers who were in need of shelter and sharing your home with them.”

An entry for Edith’s diary records how she celebrated VE Day 8 May 1945, rather modestly with breakfast in bed and a bonfire in the evening.

Edith Gaskell’s diary page for VE Day: ‘V.E Day Marvellous! Breakfast in bed in a.m. Bonfire in evening on field’

The certificate awarded to Edith Gaskell.

Parents were provided with lists of what to pack for the evacuee children; this included types of clothes and how many sets, gas mask, food for the journey.

Evacuee Pack and Evacuee Tag.

Commemoration - Heroes on the Home Front - Women’s Work

Food was rationed from 1940 – 1954. Ration books contained coupons which were exchanged in shops for food. Clothing and fuel were also rationed.

Ration Books

Potato Pete Recipe Book

Potato Pete was a character devised for The Ministry of Food to encourage people to eat more potatoes as they were easy to grow and cheap to buy. This booklet contains all sorts of recipes using potatoes for every meal from breakfast to dinner. There are even recipes for sweet dishes that could be used for afternoon tea or a VE day street party such as scones, waffles and ‘Middleton Medley’, a piped mashed potato nest baked in the oven and then filled with grated apple and jam. It was based on a savoury dish of mashed potato nest filled with either diced carrots and turnips or cooked sprouts and cheese!

Potato Pete Recipe Booklet, Ministry of Food, 1943 (image from private collection).

Recreated Middleton Medley (copyright of Carolyn Nield).

With the majority of able-bodied men serving in the forces many of the jobs they traditionally carried out needed to be picked up by women. From 1941 women were called up for war work which included working in factories, agriculture, forestry and serving in the armed forces.

For women working in the home the impact of war brought added pressures. Shortages of food and clothing brought in rationing, causing the already full-time woman’s role of keeping a family fed, clothed, clean and healthy even more challenging. Women were digging for victory in their gardens and allotments, creating imaginative meals with minimal ingredients, and resorting to ‘make do and mend’ techniques to extend the life of old clothes. As well as this they may also have been volunteering with a range of military and civil services.

Magazine cover Home Notes 1942 and Cookery Service Notes, courtesy of Carol Brown. To Eat or Not to Eat, Guildford Museum collection.

Women’s Land Army

Guildford Museum collections include some objects relating to the Women’s Land Army. The Women’s Land Army was formed during the First World War, to carry out the farming and forestry work undertaken by men in peace time. It re-formed at the outbreak of war in 1939 to resume its vital work. At first the ‘Land Girls’, as they were known, were volunteers, but from December 1941 women could also be conscripted into the Women’s Land Army. By 1944 more than 80,000 women were serving in this force, and by the time the service disbanded in 1950 over 200,000 women had been part of the WLA.

They weren’t just country girls: many were recruited from towns through a campaign which promoted Land Army life in the countryside as a healthy one.

Amongst the objects held by the museum is a medical certificate confirming the owner was fit to be a Land Girl. It stated “Members of the Women’s Land Army must be capable of arduous and sustained physical labour in all weathers…”

Land Army armband belonging to Miss Rassell, she was awarded a fifth half-diamond for her satisfactory work.

Celebration

To mark the end of war in Europe 8 May 1945 was declared Victory in Europe Day: a public holiday and a day of celebration. The Mayor of Guildford’s message outlined the type of festivities that were happening across the land. People gathered in towns, villages and local streets to celebrate together the end of nearly six years of war which had brought the death of millions of service men and women, and of civilians.

This photograph shows the party that took place in Grantley Gardens Westborough. How formally the people are dressed: just look at those ties and jackets the men are wearing… but with party hats!

8 May was declared Victory in Europe Day and all over the country people gathered to celebrate with hastily organised parties. With food being rationed what did they eat? The Board of Trade had removed blue white and red bunting from the list of rationed goods – so the parties could be patriotically decorated!

This photograph shows the party at Pitch Place Worplesdon. The man in the front row down on the left has a flagon of something - cider or beer?

How did our soldiers celebrate the end of war?

When the war in Europe was over it continued in the Far East until 14 August. Approximately 2.9 million army service personnel were located across the world with most of the combat units in mainland Europe and Indo-China.

Apart from having to continue fighting against the Japanese, much of the front-line personnel was needed to enforce law and order, establish and maintain supplies of food, fuel and other materiel in the occupied and liberated territories.

Image courtesy of Surrey History Centre for material supplied by the Surrey Infantry Museum.

So it was that most of the 1945 victory celebrations in which the Surrey Regiments participated took place overseas. Ironically it was returning Prisoners of War from the European theatre, whose repatriation was prioritised, and UK-based, mainly non-combatant, soldiers that represented the Regiments at events in Guildford and across the county.

Thank you to the Surrey Infantry Museum for the text. Images courtesy of the Surrey History Centre for material supplied by the Surrey Infantry Museum.

In advance of the announcement that the war in Europe had ended the Mayor of Guildford prepared this speech:

Hello! Hello! Here is a message from the Mayor of Guildford.

You already know that when the hostilities in Europe have ceased, the Prime Minister will announce the news over the wireless, and that His Majesty The King will speak to his peoples throughout the world, at 9 o’clock on that evening.

That day will be known as V.E. Day.

Both V.E. Day, and the day following, will be public holidays.

Here are the arrangements made for Guildford when V.E. Day arrives:-

On V.E. Day, and the following evening, a number of buildings will be flood lit, but there will be no change in street lighting.

As almost all material is required for salvage, there will be no Town Bonfires, but private bonfires will be welcomed, provided the fuel is not needed for salvage.

There will be an extension of the permitted hours of opening for public houses in the Borough up to 11 p.m. on the evening of V.E. Day only.

All cinemas will remain open on V.E. Day and the following day during usual hours.

Permission has been sought to keep Dance Halls open until a later hour.

It is the wish of His Majesty The King that the Sunday following V.E. Day shall be observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer.

Each place of worship in the Borough will make its own arrangements, but the Mayor and Corporation will attend – in state – at the 11.00 a.m. service to be held at Holy Trinity Church.

Good Luck to you all and God Save the King.

Transcription courtesy of the Surrey History Centre.

Queen’s Regiment Parade before the Mayor of Guildford - Painted by Reginald Henry Lewis (1894-1973) from a photograph taken of the event in 1945. Credit, Jonathan Hoare, Grandson.

We hope you enjoyed a first glimpse of Commemoration and Celebration -Memories and Legacies of the Second World War (1939 -1945). You’ll be able to see the whole exhibition in person as soon as we’re able to re-open the museum. The exhibition will include objects from the museum’s collections, the Surrey Infantry Museum as well objects and information generously contributed by the public.

Seventy-five years after the Second World War ended the exhibition remembers Guildford’s experience at that time. The focus is on celebrating our military and civilian heroes, on the war front and on the home front: the men and women who served overseas, and those who remained at home to keep us safe, to keep us fed and to keep the country running.

We would also like the museum display to explore some of the legacies of the Second World War. For Guildford this included the unexpected positive benefit of the town becoming home to two talented émigré artists, WH Krommer and Boris Fijalkowski who spent much time recording the town through their art, and this work is now housed in our collections for the enjoyment of all Guildfordians.

Get involved

We’d love you to be a part of the ongoing exhibition.

Do you have any memories, objects or photographs of Guildford on VE or VJ Day, and what came after that you would like to share with us in our exhibition? We’d love to hear from you. Please contact us through heritageservices@guildford.gov.uk.

In the spirit of celebration we’ve also prepared activities for families to enjoy. On our website you will find a bunting template for your use. We’d love to decorate our museum with your bunting – so if you have any to spare once again contact us through heritage services and we’ll talk about how we can do this. Whilst the museum is closed please do not deliver anything to the museum.

Produced by Guildford Museum: https://www.guildford.gov.uk/museum