The explosion of joy had not yet erupted. But there, in the heart of London, darkness was strangely absent on a city street. A stream of light illuminated almost an entire city block.
A happy soul had raised a blackout blind. And for the first time in nearly six years, it was done without fear of inviting an air raid director’s quote or German bombs.
This marvelous luminous scene, heralding the end of Europe’s deadliest period, has remained with me for all these years. The date was May 7, 1945.
I was 20 years old and was an American radio gunner on a B-24 bomber on a three-day pass from my airbase at Attlebridge near Norwich, a five-hour train ride. On a tube train en route to Piccadilly Circus, I got the picture when I saw a newspaper headline.
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“Imminent unconditional surrender” he shouted in big black letters. The lit street seemed to confirm the title. At 3 p.m. the next day, it was official.
Standing on the balcony of the War Office above Whitehall at the hour, a beaming Winston Churchill flashed his usual V sign. This time, however, his “V” for victory was not a token promise. Hostilities with Nazi Germany were over.
“It’s your victory,” he told a huge crowd that had gathered.
The cheers turned into one hell of a party. People poured into the streets, shouting, dancing, kissing. They rode double-decker buses and electric poles, waved flags, lit bonfires, and I was tricked into hokey pokey dancing around a statue of Queen Victoria with delighted strangers as the mermaids sounded, car horns and church bells sounded.
In four neat one-syllable words, a newspaper headline expressed the country’s mood: “Our Day of Days.”
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Like so many others, I was drawn to Buckingham Palace, and as I stood there in the midst of a mass of people, several people suddenly appeared on the balcony and were greeted by a roar from the crowd. and wild applause. From where I was, they were just a blur.
The following day, front-page newspapers published photos of those on the balcony – King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, their princess daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, and Prime Minister Churchill responding to the adulation of the crowd with smiles and waves.
At night, searchlights illuminated the Palace and Houses of Parliament for the first time since the Battle of Britain began in 1939. And the Big Ben toll, signaling the official end of the war in Europe, was welcomed by explosive fireworks and howling sirens.
The party lasted two days. Bus and train service to and from London was disrupted, and thousands of people who had flocked to the city to witness and take part in these historic moments blocked hotels and parks.
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Great, except the Red Cross military hotel and other hotels were running out of places and my money ran out. I was not alone and joined many others, spending a cool, damp night trying to warm up and sleeping by one of the bonfires in St. James’s Park.
A thin, dark-haired girl I met was also left out in the cold – unable to return to her suburban home because the trains weren’t running. Doreen Jordan was her name. She said her mother came to London to celebrate the end of World War I and met and married a Yank.
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She couldn’t wait for rationing to end, she said, especially the day nylon stockings became available in England. Returning to the States several months later, I answered his prayers and sent him three pairs. The expected thank you note, however, never arrived.
The years have passed but not the memories of those tumultuous days. They will be revived on May 8, the 77th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. And I’ll be there in spirit, remembering the joy and that cold night in St. James’s Park.
This time, however, I will be with my wife of nearly 73 lucky years, and as the sole survivor of my crew of nine Air Force B-24 bombers, I will toast to memory. of my old friends.
‘Till we Meet Again. …
Learning to get along with the British
There were lessons to be learned, and Uncle Sam had some prime advice for understanding and getting along with Britain’s allies during World War II. They were carefully featured in “A Short Guide to Great Britain”, a 44-page booklet by the United States Department of War and Navy I and thousands of other American Airmen were published before heading to the United Kingdom.
“It’s militarily stupid to insult your allies. So stop and think before you talk about lukewarm beer or cold boiled potatoes or the taste of English cigarettes.”
“Two actions will slow friendship down – hitting his girlfriend and not appreciating what his army has been up against. Yes, and rubbing it in that you get paid more than him.”
“If British civilians look outdated or badly dressed, it’s not because they don’t like the right clothes or don’t know how to wear them. All clothes are rationed and the British know they help war production by wearing an old suit or dress until it cannot be patched Old clothes are “in good shape”.
“The British people want you to know that in normal times Britain looks much prettier, cleaner, neater.”
“Don’t be fooled by the British tendency to be soft and polite. If they have to be, they can be very tough.”
“If you’re trying to shine in polite society, it’s not a good idea, for example, to say ‘bloody’ in mixed company. It’s one of their worst swear words. Saying ‘I look like a bum ‘” is offensive to their ears because to Brits it means you look like your own behind.”
“They’re not used to patting each other on the back and they’re afraid to show affection, but once they like you, they make the best of friends.”
“You can rub a Brit the wrong way by saying ‘we came and won the last war.’… Britain remembers that almost a million of its best men died in the last war. America lost 60,000.”
“Be careful not to criticize the king. The British feel this as you would if someone spoke against our country or our flag. and people are proud of it.”
“In the pubs you will hear many Britons openly criticizing their government and the conduct of the war. This is no occasion for you to put your two cents in there. It’s their business, not yours.”
“British people consider it inappropriate not to stand to attention when their national anthem, ‘God Save the King’, is played at theatrical performances. If you’re in a rush and it means missing the bus, leave before it’s played.
“When you see a girl in khaki or Air Force blue with a bit of ribbon on her tunic, remember she didn’t get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich .”
“If you are invited to eat as a family, do not eat too much. Otherwise, you risk eating their weekly rations.
“We have to understand and respect each other. First, because we want to be true comrades-in-arms, not fake Axis comrades. Secondly and more importantly, we don’t want mere friendship in times of war. We want the real thing – the alliance that survives the peace and becomes a permanent force in the shaping of the new world.
Si Liberman, 97, is a retired Asbury Park Sunday Press editor and former Interlaken resident who lives in Palm Beach, Florida.