Towards the end of the Second World War, in the Spring of 1945, Allied Forces began to overrun Germany from the west as the Russian Army advanced from the east. When they met at the River Elbe on the 25th April the German Army was all but destroyed. Five days later Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker. His successor, Admiral Doenitz, sought terms to end the War and an unconditional surrender was signed to take effect at 11.01p.m. on 8th May. The 8th of May was declared as “Victory in Europe” or “VE” Day.
Chester City Centre
Although the announcement ending hostilities was expected, it seemed to catch the authorities in Chester by surprise, as no official functions had been arranged nor the Town Hall decorated. The Mayor however decided that something should be done, and he ordered loudspeakers to be placed outside the Town Hall so that dance tunes could be played on the following evening, and the square was to be lit on a pre-war scale. In addition to Union Jacks, the bunting which was hung included the flags of the USA and Russia.
In an interview the Mayor said that it was not customary to decorate the Town Hall except for coronations. People flooded from all parts of the City to take part. Just after 10p.m. it was estimated that 5,000 people were present. The Mayor and fellow dignitaries and the Dean and Bishop of Chester appeared on the Town Hall balcony to a great ovation. Credit for the quick installation of the loudspeakers was given to Messrs. R.W. and G.N. Milton who worked incessantly throughout the day.
Hoole & Newton
In Hoole, a Service was held on the evening of VE Day at All Saints Church attended by over 750 people headed by the Chairman of the Urban District Council (UDC). It was conducted by the Vicar, Rev. R.A.P. Gell and the collection of £29 3s went to St. Dunstans, a charity for the blind. A large bonfire had been built on the playing field and was lit later in the evening by the UDC’s Chairman’s wife. The large crowd did not disperse until well after midnight. Groups of happy young people danced in Faulkner Street until a late hour.
Over the next few days individual streets in Hoole & Newton organised their own events. Prescot Street in fact held theirs on the day before VE Day. The centrepiece at their “Victory” party was a large two-tiered cake the bottom tier weighing 16lbs, the top 8lbs and the decorations included miniature allied flags and emblems. A piece of cake was to be sent to every man and woman in the forces including those who were prisoners of war, whose home was in Prescot Street. Neighbouring streets including William and Edna Street followed suit.
About 90 children and between 30 and 40 adults of Phillip Street held a Victory tea party on Wednesday when 3 trestle tables were loaded with an abundance supply of fancy cakes, ice cream etc. Sweets and oranges were distributed, and prizes were awarded for the competitive games which followed.
Residents of Park Drive provided 43 children with tea on the hockey (playing) field where a bonfire was topped with an effigy of Hitler; pony rides and sports events took place and each child was presented with a bag of sweets and biscuits. In the evening 150 adults used a portion of Park Drive South for an outdoor social and to the accompaniment of a piano and accordion community singing, musical chairs and dancing took place. Park Drive continued to celebrate until the final victory when in August, Hoole's Carnival Queen (Miss Ruth Bromley) cut a Victory Cake at a children’s tea party, and presented prizes won at the sports which preceded it. A dinner and dance were organised for adults in the evening.
The children of West Street and Ermine Road appear to have celebrated twice with 50 of them having an open-air tea followed by a Punch and Judy show on Thursday, and a party for 70 children in the Elms Pavilion on the following Thursday when they were joined by children from Brookside Terrace. A highlight was a 10lb cake given and made by the head confectioner at Messrs. Cottles & Brown.
Children and parents residing in Oaklea Avenue were entertained on the sports ground in Newton Lane lent by the Cheshire County Officers. A Punch and Judy show was followed by a conjuring display and a ventriloquial act. After a programme of races, the party concluded by the distribution of prizes and a gift of oranges and a 6d (2.5p) to each child.
At the City Hospital on Hoole Lane flags were flown and the children’s wards were decorated with bunting, Union Jacks and pictures of the King and Queen. The King's speech and Mr. Churchill's announcement were played throughout the hospital via loudspeakers.
On Sunday 13th May, the official Thanksgiving Service for Victory was held at All Saints Church and 700 people attended. The offerings were divided between Chester Royal Infirmary which received £20 and the Reconstruction of Damaged Churches in Europe and Britain which benefited by £14. A parade consisting of police, wardens and civil defence workers, fire service units, Hoole Branch of the British Legion and members of Hoole Council assembled outside the Council Offices at The Elms, Hoole Road and marched to the Church led by the band of the Hoole Boys’ Brigade. Also present at the Service were girl guides and brownies. A Service was also held at Hamilton Street Methodist Church conducted by Rev. H. Hartley Evans.
Hoole Welcome Home Fund
In anticipation of the end of the War, Welcome Home Funds were set up in communities across the Country. At a meeting convened by the Urban District Council in Hoole in October 1944 a committee was set up, a target of £5,000 set and the suggestion that each man returning from the forces should be given a wallet and treasury notes, and each woman a handbag also with notes. The Fund also seems to have been used to finance the War Memorial plaque which is now located in the Community Centre.
A ‘white elephant’ sale in December 1944 raised £240; a dance with music by the Modernaires Dance Band was organised in March; a speedway meeting was held on the playing field on Whit Monday with “all motorcycles using synthetic fuel”, remarkable in view of petrol rationing; and the Hoole 1945 Victory Carnival at the sports ground, Newton Lane over the August Bank Holiday was also in aid of the Welcome Home Fund. At the latter, the first post war fireworks display in the district took place, and two silver cups awarded, one from the UDC for the school obtaining the best all round sports results, the other from Mrs. Margaret Whitley, the landlady at the Bromfield Arms for the best juvenile team of Morris dancers.
Hoole & Newton British Legion
The other organisation concerned with the welfare of returning troops was the British Legion. Hoole & Newton Men’s Section was founded in 1944 and by July 1945 it had 102 members. A Women’s Section was founded in March 1946. By 1958, their benevolent schemes supported 3 children’s homes and 2 rest homes in the local area and provided 256 widows allowances. Every Friday evening from March 1946 ex-service men and women could seek advice on pensions, benevolence and employment matters from a British Legion desk located in Hamilton Street Methodist Church.
The British Legion eventually occupied a hut at the southern end of the playing field, where leisure services were provided including snooker, billiards, bagatelle, bowls using the adjacent green, and even a drama society. Funds were raised by fetes, motorcycle races on the playing field and even a boxing tournament. A Christmas party for the children of former service personnel became an annual event.
Hardship and rationing
Although the end of the War was in sight, civilians continued to endure shortages and interestingly in the same local newspapers reporting street parties, advertisements of the Ministry of Food on "How to get your new ration book" appeared, distributed locally by the Hoole Food Control Committee on production of identity cards.
Given this rationing it is evident that many households gave some of their allowance to allow parties to take place and children to be given sweets. Bunting and ribbons could be purchased without the use of clothing coupons.
The War of course was not yet over and fighting continued in the Far East until VJ (Victory in Japan) Day was declared on 15th August 1945, following the dropping of 2 atomic bombs. The joy of ending the War continued to resonate and in June 1946 Victory Day celebrations were held with free ice cream for children of school age and under. The Urban District Council spent £50 on a musical programme and fireworks display; there were 2 assembly points for the parade to the playing field - one being The Elms and the other Cedar Grove where the large estate of over 200 council houses had been built 15 years earlier, resulting in a high child population.
The price of war locally can be measured when in 1949 the Second World War Memorial on Hoole Road was unveiled. It contained 44 names and Dave Rees has since discovered another 28 men with Hoole and Newton connections who lost their lives and are not listed on the Hoole & Newton War Memorial.
The Society is seeking information about Hoole and Newton British Legion, particularly the current whereabouts of its two banners.
- Article researched and written by Ralph Earlam, March 2020, Hoole History & Heritage Society