‘Looking back at how we celebrated the end of World War II’

Apr 25, 2020
Brian remembers how the world responded just after the war. Source: Getty Images

At last the war was over and we could all breathe a sigh of relief and get on with our lives. It was an exciting time too, for both young and old, in the cities of the United Kingdom and in the countryside, with things that had laid dormant for five years suddenly coming alive again.

Businesses swiftly got back to producing whatever it was they had been producing before the war machine forced them into building for military requirements. Shops started getting stocks of peacetime goods again, though rationing was still to go on for some considerable time, and queues still formed outside many shops, as housewives hunted for something special for the old man’s tea, or a bit of decent cloth to make a dress for that birthday party coming up at the end of next week!

A man suddenly appeared in our street every night, carrying a long pole, with a hook on the far end, and he stopped at all the street lights, poked his pole up into the globe at the top, gave it a little jerk and lo-and-behold, the lights came on. This was something we kids had never seen before, street lights were banned during hostilities, to hopefully confuse the Germans into thinking that it wasn’t a city they were flying over.

I’m sure the street lights were on before the war, but I was only four then and I had little or no recollection of them, so it was something exciting and new to us. We even followed him for the first week or so, on his regular nightly visits, to watch him do his work, but of course we soon got bored with that and left him to carry on, on his own.

Another wonderful thing was the return, in confectioners’ windows, of lots of lovely sweets and chocolate, items sadly in short supply for the past five years. Of course, all that kind of stuff was still rationed too, but it was fantastic to suddenly have such a choice to choose from, when we took our ration books there and made a purchase, we could spend half an hour drooling over it all before finally making a choice and picking something.

One of the luxury items that had actually come onto the market during the latter part of the war were nylons! These stockings, guaranteed to make girls swoon with delight, weren’t yet available in British shops, that was to come a few years later on. There were a lot of American soldiers stationed in Britain and someone somewhere in America had told them before they left their homeland that this was the prize that won a girl’s heart ‘over there’ and they should go nowhere without at least on pair tucked away in a pocket — it worked!

Another of the changes that took place as soon as the war was over, was the removal and disposal of gas-masks. We had had to carry one of the small cardboard boxes with us, every day we went to school, though most of us hated them. They bumped about on the hip and made running harder when we were in the playground. What’s more, it turned out they were never needed, except for the one occasion soon after the beginning of hostilities.

All the local tradesmen got going again. The milkman returned to his round, bringing fresh milk on the back of his cart, which he ladled into housewives’ own bottles for a while, until he became industrialised and put the milk in his own bottles before he left his dairy. It made his round a lot quicker and no doubt was a lot more hygienic as well!

Then there was the postman, who had been delivering letters once a day since 1939, but now he returned to making two deliveries a day — the post was actually efficient in those days, not a bit like the rubbish we have to put up with today! There was also a continuous stream of green-grocers, coal-men, ice-cream vendors and rag-and-bone men, all on their carts and all eager to do business.

We really thought the future had arrived in 1948, surely nothing could get any better than this! Little did we know about the really great wonders, hiding quietly in the future — colour television, computers, space travel, the internet, sleek high powered cars that could travel safely at over 100 miles an hour, processed and frozen foods and so much else as well. But for all its comparative simplicity, those immediate post-war days were very good I’m glad I was at the right age to enjoy them to the full!

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What do your or your older loved ones remember of the end of World War II?

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