One of the greatest events of the last war was in fact, the end of it! Word was passed around at almost the speed of light when the announcement was finally made, and the immediate reaction in our road, and in many others, was to have a party for the kids, closely followed by something that had been banned all through the war – a bonfire!
And what a bonfire we had! Everyone, without exception, parents and grandparents, the local policeman, returned servicemen all searched dark cellars and dusty attics for any old, flammable, rubbish that was lying around, while others with any type of transport went further afield, scrounging and stealing from anywhere in the neighbourhood and beyond. By the end of the day there was an enormous pile of junk stacked in the middle of our road, carefully guarded to make sure no other groups came along and stole it for their bonfires. Bits of wood, tyres, old chairs, tree branches, crates, cardboard boxes – if it would burn, it was on the pile! In fact there was a lot of stuff there that wouldn’t burn too, as people eager to get rid of rubbish that had been cluttering up their homes for years, dumped it on the top of the pile, a secret not discovered until the clearing up, the next day, which took almost as long to accomplish as the collecting of the material the day before.
Everyone waited impatiently for the fun to start, and just as it was getting dark, the enormous stack was ignited, with all the neighbours gathered around to watch the event, chatting and laughing amongst themselves as the realisation that the war was over at last sank in. At first there wasn’t an awful lot to see, just a few flames licking around the base of the pile, but within ten minutes or so the fire really took hold and developed into a raging inferno. Flames leapt fifty feet or more into the air, with clouds of bright sparks and dense black smoke drifting away on the breeze. People who had been standing close to the fire, to appreciate its warmth, suddenly found they needed to move further and further back to escape the searing heat.
Within half an hour, the closest anyone could get to the conflagration without dying was about twenty feet! The fire burnt with this furore for about two hours before it started to die down into a mass of white-hot embers and it wasn’t until next morning that the area had cooled down enough to start clearing away the mess. To our amazement, we found a hole had been burnt in the surface of the road, about fifteen feet across and three feet deep, where the sheer heat had consumed the tarmac and even the earth beneath. The hole, despite being an obvious hazard, wasn’t filled in for about four weeks, hardly surprising really, considering there must have been hundreds just like it dotted about all over Bristol! I reckon our fires did more damage and cost the government more money, than the whole effort of the Germans during the past five years, but no one really cared, it had been a mass “letting-go” and little things like the cost of holes in the road weren’t going to spoil that!
Surprisingly, in our road at least, that hole in the road was the only real damage done throughout the whole war!
Do you remember the end of the war, and the bonfires?