Newsletter 2013

VE Day – the nation erupts!

Pam Reynolds’ memories of VE Day

I’m in London, one of the Wren crew of HMS Pembroke III, a stone-bound frigate permanently moored in Hampstead (a London accounting centre and recruit reception unit). Six of us hot-foot it that evening to the West End. We are in uniform so we’re fêted – hauled into pubs, plied with drinks, shaken by the hand, thumped up on the back.

By the time we reach Baker Street we’re two feet off the ground and feel we’ve won the war single-handed. Have no compunction removing an enormous flag pole and Union Jack from the entrance of Daniel Neal’s store.

We’re joined by a drunken naval bugler. Flag aloft, our bugler ripping the air with discords, we act as a magnet to other naval ratings. In tumultuous Piccadilly Circus more naval types detach themselves from the swarming crowds to tag along with us to Trafalgar Square. We are now about 100-strong but this is our greatest catchment area. The Navy’s there in force, celebrating under the single benevolent eye of its patron saint high on his column among the pigeons.

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The Mall – here it really starts – a solid phalanx of naval personnel marching down The Mall towards the Palace headed by six delirious Wrens, a half-stoned bugler* and a huge flag. The crowds part to make way for us and we finally join the thousands outside the gates roaring with one voice “We want the King!” The Royals come out onto the balcony again and again.

The roars continue until, suddenly a silence falls as it sometimes does in a crowded room. Booming over the heads of the throngs comes a lonely beery voice; “I want the Queen – my Gawd I want the Queen.”

Time passes; slowly the crowds disperse, our vast naval column breaks ranks and the bugler subsides in the gutter. We make our way back euphoric but very, very weary. It is 2 am. In Oxford Street a taxi draws up. A man leans out of the window.

“Where are you for girls?”

“Hampstead.”

“Jump in, I’ll drop you off.”?

It’s Jack Buchanan. Magic, or what?

* Not the bugler, but in amongst the crowds in front of Buckingham Palace was a Guards officer, one Humphrey Lyttleton, being pushed in a wheelbarrow, playing ‘Roll out the barrel’ on his trumpet, captured in a BBC recording made at the time.