VE Day – and memories of a noisy party
AS Teesdale commemorated the 75th anniversary of VE Day last week at least one resident remembers vividly the very first celebration in Barnard Castle – the day the war in Europe ended.
Marjorie Nelson (nee Blenkinsopp) was just 12 when the guns fell silent on May 8, 1945, and recalls a day full of joy and celebration, and a fair bit in inebriation.
That day they sang songs at the county school (now Barnard Castle School) and held a big bonfire.
After that she walked up to Market Place with her father, John Blenkinsopp who had been an ARP warden. There they saw how people had set fire to an old horse-drawn carriage previously owned by one of her neighbours.
Mrs Nelson, who has lived in Birch Road all her life, said: “It was very noisy. It probably shocked me because I had never seen anyone drunk before. My dad didn’t drink. We had a lot of soldiers in the area. They were all in the town.”
Her memories are confirmed in a piece written by one of the soldiers in Market Place that day, which was published in the Teesdale Mercury on May 16, 1945.
He wrote: “They had, it transpired, persuaded the owner of an ancient coach – for that is what it was – that as this particular type of vehicle was grossly out of date, it should accordingly be ‘struck off the records’ and publicly burned. And burned it was.
“This relic of a bygone age, this link with the past which may have been graced by the presence of Dickens himself, was religiously but unceremoniously burned.
“It was pulled up and down the Market Square to the raucous shouts and laughter of those pulling it, so that all eyes should witness its ignominious end.”
Although Mrs Nelson’s memories of earlier in the war are not as strong, the Mercury reveals some of her family’s contribution to the war effort.
Her father, who was a solicitor’s clerk, operated as an ARP warden and her mum took donations and collections.
Mrs Nelson and her sister Mary joined their friends, Ruth Page and Rosemary Waugh, to hold a sale of toys, books and trinkets in their front garden in September 1940, in which they raise £4 1s 6d for the Spitfire Fund.
Of her other memories, she said: “We carried our gas masks to school. On the Demesnes there were shelters. We had to go into them quite a lot.”
She also remembers how her mum made her a pair of corduroy trousers to grow vegetables in their garden and how they would “fry mounds of potatoes”, pickle onions and make chutney.
She also recalls people coming out of their homes to watch as a German fighter was chased through the sky above Barnard Castle.
This may have been on August 15, 1940, as the Luftwaffe attempted to saturate the British defences and attacked the North East.
One Messerschmitt Bf 110 bomber got as far as Barnard Castle, but Spitfire pilot Sqn Ldr George “Ben” Bennions shot it down and it was forced to crash land near Broomielaw, close to the military camp at Streatlam.
In spite of the celebrations that marked the end of the war in Europe, times remained tough for people in the following years.
Mrs Nelson said: “You couldn’t get sweets. I can remember ice-cream coming back at Victoria Hall. I would have been about 16.”