Wednesday 2 May 1945
The Times published Adolf Hitler’s obituary. On the same page they gave the details of a “Guide to Victory Celebration” issued by the Home Office to the local and licensing authorities of England and Wales, in hopes of an imminent unconditional surrender of Germany.
The end of warfare in Europe would not be the end of the stuggle, and “there should be no relaxation of the national effort until the war in the Far East has been won.” Nevertheless, there would be an opportunity to celebrate with a public holiday, not only on the as yet unconfirmed VE day, but also on the following day.
It was all about having arrangements in place that could be put into action at short notice, with provison for essential services to “wind down.”
The Prime Minister would announce the news over the wireless, and the King would broadcast at 9pm “to his peoples throughout the world.” There would be church services on the day, churches would be open for private prayer and the following Sunday would be observed as a day of thanksgiving and prayer. “It is hoped that church bells will be rung throughout the country."
However, “economy in consumption of fuel and light is still essential, and the Government cannot agree to the restoration of full street-lighting even on VE day.” Local authorities could use floodlighting if it was available, and the armed forces would help, subject to operational requirements. But the Admiralty was worried about U-boats that may not have received or obeyed orders to cease hostilities, and coastal areas were still subject to lighting restrictions. Southampton was under dim-out conditions, so when the town’s plans were published in the Southern Daily Echo on the 3 May, they were cautious in what they committed to: the Civic Centre would be only “probably” floodlit. Bonfires were permitted, but “only material with no salvage value should be used,” and the Fire Brigade should be alerted.
Pubs and hotels could be open as late as they were licensed for, and dancing allowed into the night “until such hour as the local authority names.” But the best places for local festivities were in parks and open spaces.
Provision was made for essential services like food and post offices to be open after the announcement of surrender. Shops were advised to “arrange in advance to meet essential food requirements” for the two day break. Grocers were asked to be open for two hours after the announcement, and to be open Saturday if VE day was a Friday, with the public holiday falling on Monday. Milkmen and bakers would still be delivering, and main post offices would be open for an hour after the signal, and from 9am til noon on the following day. There would be no postal deliveries or collections, and the public were urged to only make essential telephone calls or send essential telegrams as the service would be running on reduced staff. Cheap rates for evening calls were suspended.

The Civic Centre forecourt, 1950

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Here the Prime Minister's announcement of the end of the war in Europe would be broadcast on VE Day, 8 May 1945

Thursday 3 May 1945
The Southern Daily Echo published Southampton’s plans for VE day. The date and time were still unknown.
The radio broadcast of the Prime Minister’s announcement would be relayed by loudspeakers in the forecourt of the Civic Centre. The BBC would announce the time beforehand, and this would allow everyone taking part in the ceremony assemble there with ten minutes to spare. There would be a parade of “token detachments” representing:
British Armed Forces
US Armed Forces
Home Guard
National Fire Service
Civil Defence Services
Cadet organisations
British Red Cross
St John Ambulance Brigade
British Legion.
After the announcement, representive clergy would conduct a short service of thanksgiving.
If it rained, the ceremony would take place in the Guildhall.
In the evening, there would beThanksgiving services in churches, including the blitzed ruins of St Mary’s.
The King’s Speech would be broadcast via the loudspeakers at 9pm, and the Civic Centre would be specially decorated and “probably” floodlit.
There would be a dance in the Guildhall with proceeds to the Mayor’s Charity, the “Services Homecoming Fund.”
The following day, the public holiday, was less structured: there would be Sports at the Sports Centre, and another dance at the Guildhall.

The King’s request that the Sunday following VE-day should be observed as a day of thanksgiving and prayer would be marked with a 3pm service in the Civic Centre forecourt with Bishop of Winchester giving the address, the Mayor and Corporation to attend in state, representatives of all services to be on parade, and the Mayor to take the salute. Here was the opportunity to have more than the brief ceremonies convened at short notice on VE-day.

Post Offices were to close one hour after the Cease Fire signal (or at their usual closing time if earlier), although the Docks Branch Post office would be open for telegrams day and night. Only the Head Office and the Docks Branch Post Office would be open for a while on the public holiday. If you normally collected your pension or allowance from other Post Offices on Cease Fire Day or following day, you could “exceptionally” collect it from these offices. “The public are asked to avoid using the telephone or telegraph services during the celebration period except for really urgent matters.”

Friday-Sunday 4-6 May 1945
News of Allied advances, and German surrenders in the Netherlands, Denmark and North-West Germany. Great Expectations and wild rumours.

Monday 7 May 1945
VE day -1. Everyone had their radios on, listening to the BBC who would be announcing the hoped-for unconditional surrender of Germany. “Only the most methodical housewives could resist the temptation to postpone the big Monday wash, and even they kept as close to their radios as possible.” (Southern Daily Echo 8 May 1945)
Housewives queued for food to feed their families over the two days of holiday they expected to be announced any minute.
For weeks past Sotonians had been buying flags or hunting out those they used for the Silver Jubilee and Coronation celebration, and now there was a big demand for more, and for red, white and blue ribbon. One Southampton shop window displayed a notice apologising “to our American friends” for having only Union Jacks for sale. “These are old stock. We have tried hard but could get no Stars and Stripes.”
The announcement came that evening: tomorrow would be the day for celebration. In the streets of Southampton, many came out onto their doorsteps. An Echo reporter said “They wanted to talk about it, quietly. They wanted no excitement, no effusive cheering.” A soldier went by, and a woman said “Thanks, Tommy.”
It was too late to organise church services, but churches were open, and many went in to pray, to kneel quietly, to give thanks and to remember the fallen. There was an undercurrent of grief: the Echo reporter spoke to a couple whose son was in Burma: “We can’t celebrate yet.”
People began to gather in their homes and in the pubs, and others started to hang their bunting and their flags. Soldiers at the US Army dispensary in Portland Street “hollered [their] lungs out, woke everyone up, and then went back to bed.” Then the singing began, singalong songs and the National Anthem: three cheers for the victorious allies , and rattles and paper hats. The merrymaking had started early, and lasted into the early hours of VE-day itself, as the suspense was lifted, and good spirits could be released.

Bombsite off Bernard Street

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Site of a bonfire built on VE day morning ready to burn an effigy of Hitler

Tuesday 8 May 1945
VE- day. All the ships’ sirens sounded at midnight. All along the waterfront the ships were hooting the V-sign in Morse Code (three dots and a dash.) The docks were full of troopships and cargo ships, with their deep voices, and tugs, coasters, and harbour craft, more piercing and shrill. Then the searchlights were on, flashing the V-sign, red and green signal rockets and star shells were going off, and Southampton was breaking the “dim-out” rules with a vengeance.
The Echo commented that “it was all rather reminiscent of an air raid - minus the dangers.”
What was not reminiscent of an air raid were the church bells, ringing a Victory peal. The bellringers at St Michael’s were the old Holy Rood ringers, but Holy Rood was in ruins. The Echo recorded their names: “Treble was George Prince: 2, Bert Holloway: 3, William Cross: 4, George Cross: 5, George Crook: 6, Leonard Cross: 7, Charles Cross (captain) and tenor, James Cross.” (Southern Daily Echo 10 May 1945)

The St Michael's Bellringers

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from the Southern Daily Echo, 11 May 1945.

The bells finally went quiet in the early hours, the merrymakers of the night before finally went to bed, and the everyone settled down to sleep.
The morning was a little quieter: the Echo said there was “no rejoicing, no hectic celebrations:” but the Echo was published before night fell. An Echo reporter was told “Tonight may be different.”
There were already signs that things were not going to stay quiet and calm: decorated Jeeps and army trucks rode in procession through the town, blowing hooters, horns and klaxons.
Groves Electrical Engineers at 19 College Place, at the top of London Road, had put up a large illuminated sign of coloured bulbs “winking out the magic letter V in Morse.”
Flags and bunting were going up. Red, white and blue was everywhere, on lapels, in hats, strung across the streets, and old soldiers proudly displayed their medal ribbons. The greeting was “A Merry VE day!” “If a first prize could be awarded for the area with the most brightly-decorated streets, Northam would most certainly carry the honours. In every street bunting stretched from side to side and flags and other decorations hang from almost every house." (Southern Daily Echo 8 May 1945) And here and there you could see “Welcome Home” signs for returning prisoners-of-war.

Brunswick Square

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“Brunswick-square had a May-day appearance with the lamp standard in the centre gaily decorated and streamers extending from it to the surrounding houses.” (Southern Daily Echo 8 May 1945)

In anticipation of surging crowds several down-town shops fronts had been barricaded.
At the Civic Centre, there were more flags and bunting: a square of flagstaffs flew the flags of the United Nations linked by strings of pennants, Union Jacks flanked the entrance. The Stars and Stripes flew at half mast on the Guidlhall: President Roosevelt had died on 12 April, and the official period of mourning would only end on the 12 May. Huge loudspeakers were made ready to relay Churchill’s official ceasefire speech at 3pm. The excitement was building: crowds started to gather from lunchtime, civilians and service people, filling the space between the Civic Centre and surrounding buildings and blocking Civic Centre Road to traffic. There were people on the Civic Centre roof, and on top of the Hants and Dorset Bus station. A parade of “token detachments” assembled in the forecourt as planned (there would be a much larger and more representative parade on the following Sunday, announced as a day of Thanksgiving and prayer.) In full ceremonial, the Mayor and Mayoress, Councillor and Mrs J C Dyas, and other dignitaries stood on the Civic Centre steps. The Town Sergeants carried the town maces and the silver oar.

The Civic Centre Forecourt, 3pm, 8 May 1945

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Southern Daily Echo 10 May 1945. Note the people on top of the bus station.

Church bells rang out over the wireless, and the crowd fell silent as Churchill spoke. The mayor addressed the crowd: “This is one of the proudest moments of my life.” There was a short service of thanksgiving, led by the Rector of St Mary’s, Canon R B Jolly, with hymns sung to the sound of the Guildhall organ, relayed over the speakers. Silence fell again during the prayers, the sound of the fountain the only sound. The parade was dismissed. Canon Jolly would also speak at a packed Thanksgiving Service in the blitzed ruins of St Mary’s Church that evening.

Service in the blitzed St Mary's Church, 8 May 1945

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“Nearly a thousand attended, including American soldiers and British sailors, Czechs, Norwegians and Poles. The choir of women was dressed in purple robes and these contrasted vividly with the white robes of the clergy.” (Southern Daily Echo 10 May 1945)

That morning, the Police had warned that there should be no floodlighting and bonfires after dark., but as night fell, half the floodlights that had been pointing at the Civic Centre were turned to illuminate the crowds, who, if they were not dancing, surged across the lawns and sang and sang. There were fireworks as a half-mile-long procession followed a sailor carrying a Union Jack on a long pole round and round the Civic Centre. Other sailors performed acrobatics on top of the flagpoles and swam in the Rose Garden fountain, also floodlit. Someone climbed to the top of the Municipal Block and raised a Russian flag.

Library Staff by the Rose Garden Fountain

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Ian Graham, Billy Borras and her sister, VE Day 8 May 1945

The Docks were lit up again, and the bonfire built on a bombsite off Bernard Street ready to receive an effigy of Hitler burned with all the others. In all, the Fire Service inspected 20 bonfires on VE Day and VE Day plus 1, fortunately rarely having to extinguish them. One fire in Woolston was re-lit within half and hour: “We have been all day trying to light this fire and now you come along and put it out,” a woman complained. It was not surprising that half-and-hour later the fire was again burning, as brightly as before.

At 9pm, the King broadcast to the Empire, and to the Southampton crowds. The Mayor and Mayoress, and the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress (Councillor and Mrs R J Stranger) started the dancing in the Civic Centre forecourt.

Starting the Dancing

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Southern daily Echo 10 May 1945

A thousand people attended the dance at the Guildhall in aid of the Mayor’s charity, the Services’ Homecoming Fund, with music by the Pioneer Corps band, and 120 couples danced at the NAAFI. There was music in all the hotels, and the BBC broadcast Lew Stone and his band from the Court Royal Hotel from 12.30-1am.
The St Michael’s bellringers rang in the peace at midnight until the early hours of the morning.
A small notice appeared among the Echo’s reports of the events of VE-Day:
“CIVIC CENTRE FLAGS DISAPPEAR: Nine of the 12 flags of the Allies decorating Southampton Civic Centre were missing when daylight came yesterday. The Corporation will be grateful if the souvenirs are returned to the Civic Centre as soon as possible.” (Southern Daily Echo, 10 May 1945)

Wednesday 9 May 1945
A Wren dashed up to a surprised policeman in Above Bar, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed him. Then she ran away as fast as she could.
The children of Holland Place, Shirley Warren, had a grand street celebration, which included games – with saving stamps as prizes, and tea, with plenty of good things to eat. The children did “turns” on their own at the piano, and at the end of the party they burnt an effigy of Hitler. Many more street parties had been arranged. (see Saturday 19 May 1945)

Outer Circle, Coxford

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One of many street parties

The Mayor and Mayoress were again dancing on the Civic Centre forecourt. On the second night at the Guildhall, music was provided by the Pioneer Corps and Bert Osborne and his band. Novelties included “the Lambeth Walk done backwards, the Hoki-Koki done to swing time and a grand march, with everyone round the building to the tune played by the bands, who led them.”
The Deputy Mayer auctioned a Union Jack which went to Commander Andre Falck, General de Gaulle’s liaison officer in Southampton, for £20. You could buy red wite and blue V’s.
“No rowdiness, no disorder and no casualties,” was the final report.
There were more bonfires than on the previous night. Hundreds watched the swastika burn at the Sports Centre. An enormous bonfire was lit by Mr Eric Ryder, the manager, who had guarded the pile of wood the night before until 2 o’clock in the morning defending it against the possible merrymaking activities of prospective “fire-raisers.” There was dancing all round the fire, which burned well past dim-out time. Eventually it was dowsed by the National Fire Service.

The bonfire at the Sports Centre

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Southern Daily Echo 11 May 1945

VE night plus VE night +1 reduced the sleep ration for many to two or three hours each night.
Dawn was breaking before the last celebrants went home the morning of 10 May.

**Thursday 10 May 1945 **
Housewives were told to buy enough bread Friday or Saturday to last until Wednesday, so that employees in the Bakery trade could have Monday and Tuesday off in lieu of VE-day and VE-day+1

Sunday 13 May 1945
Thanksgiving Day. All churches held services, and at 3pm the Bishop of Winchester preached at the Civic Centre to more than a “token parade” of Service and other organisations. On VE day, there had been no procession, now hundreds of waving, smiling people lined the beflagged streets as the victory procession, headed by the Southampton Police Band, marched from Palmerston Park to the Civic Centre. Organisations represented included:
British Navy, Army and RAF
Women’s Auxiliary Services
Merchant Navy
Home Guard
Police (including auxilaries)
National Fire Service
Civil Defence Services
Women’s Voluntary Service
Fire Guard organisation
Cadet and Youth organisations
St John Ambulance Brigade
British Red Cross Society
Hospital Nurses
Members of the British Legion, with their standards
More crowds waited in the Civic Centre forecourt, where the flags of Great Britain, the United States, and Russia flew from the flagpoles.

Thanksgiving Service, 3pm, Civic Centre forecourt

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Southern Daily Echo 15 May 1945.

Thanksgiving Service, 3pm, Civic Centre forecourt

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Southern Daily Echo 15 May 1945. Inset: the Bishop of Winchester preaching.

A gramophone record of church bells played, and the dignitaries waited on the Civic Centre steps. Southampton’s MPs, who had not been able to attend on VE day, as Parliament was sitting, were both present, as were Trade Unionists. Southampton’s Jewish Rabbi, M. L. Gordon, read a Psalm. Brigadier Hal Beckett of the Salvation Army, and other ministers and chaplains, led prayers. The Bishop preached, gave the blessing, and the Mayor took the salute as the parade marched past the Civic Centre steps. Then the crowd began to clap.

Monday 14 May 1945
The Civic Centre had some of its blast walls removed, and churches had taken down the boards from stained glass windows.

Tuesday 15 May 1945
The floodlighting of the Civic Centre and the Fountain was discontinued to save electricity, but the Fountain would continue to play, weather permitting. The “dim-out” masks from streetlamps were being removed, and soon streets would be back to pre-war lighting standards.

Saturday 19 May 1945
The Mayor and Mayoress completed their tour of Victory street parties with a final 30. Between them they had attended 111 parties since VE day, the Mayoress had received 25 bouquets, and the mayor had received cheques for the Forces’ Homecoming Fund and the Red Cross. Everyone was asking them to join in all the celebrations, and they had been “quite tireless” in their efforts to respond.
In Oliver Road, Swaythling, and Mead Crescent children enjoyed tea, games and oranges. Mr C McNab of 11 Oliver Road “hanged” an effigy of Hitler, then cut it down to be placed on the bonfire in Mead Crescent. The Echo photographed parties in Coxford and Clarendon Road 

Clarendon Road

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One of 111


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