Charlotte has been reading through a box of letters by her parents from the 1940s, with excerpts as below. JHGL was in France, as a weather forecaster for the RAF. MCL was staying in London, South Woodford, in an area recently bombed (January 1945).
JHGL 7/5/1945 from SW France
“V-day at last, with the announcement four hours ago that the Germans had broadcast their unconditional surrender.
“There is to be a party in the Mess tonight, for the sergeants. I will miss it for I am being taken on a 24 hour motor tour with my French opposite number, inspecting stations. I shall see V-celebrations in small, remote French towns and villages in the Midi… most places have been enfête for a week, with flags and processions and speeches and dances in the squares, especially when the fall of Berlin was announced.”
MCL letter from bomb-damaged S Woodford
Decorating tin hats
“On VE day we carried out an enjoyable programme which I shall outline. We lunched – soup, fish and Xmas pudding. As it was a glorious afternoon, we had tea in the garden, partaking of an excellent and suitably decorated cake. Irene and Margaret had adorned their tin hats with ribbons, big feathers and artificial flowers, and Irene subsequently placed them on poles in the front garden with a notice ‘Advanced post-war styles’ causing comment and amusement from passers-by.
Bonfires with Hitler as the guy
“After tea we all went to hear the Mayor’s speech to an open-air gathering. From ten till midnight, IM and I went to see bonfires and fireworks in various parts of Woodford, one of the best being held in the middle of Greenheys Drive. On top of the pile was a fine Hitler Guy. A notice announced the time of lighting and subsequent progress, ‘leaves by 10.15 Special, 11pm Hell non-stop’.
“Many other bonfires had similar guys. Shortly before 10.15 down Broadwalk came the noise of accordions, drums and other jazz instruments and along came a troop of Rover Scouts drawing a decorated hand-cart bearing some players. After much shouting and banter they proceeded to set alight to the bonfire in Greenheys Drive and gave us a lead in singing popular songs and parading round the fire.”
JHGL 9/5/1945 letter
Plan to go into the country
“The plan to spend a day in the remote countryside with my French colleague was carried out, and we left this place on Monday at 5pm. We spent the night at his birthplace, in a very remote and picturesque district, which I had not before visited, a garden of fertility, with vineyards and rich meadows everywhere, and many small copses and groves on the slopes, white with the tassels of flowering acacia. The town itself is built on a spur jutting out from a higher plateau just to the north, and a domed church, with the roofs and stone walls around, is a landmark from great distances.”
The small farm
“He has a small farm ½ mile outside the town, with three vineyards and an old windmill crowning a little knoll. His mother is still living there, and she welcomed me with a very characteristically French compliment saying that on this of all days she was delighted to see an Englishman. Then we went down and drank a home-made aperitif in a cool, dark, living room, lighted through one small shuttered window in a thick stone wall, the great open fireplace still unencumbered by a stove, having only a great suspended pot; and I looked at the simply fashioned cupboard, dresser, table, sideboards, and chairs, of old, polished oak, and the pewter or brass materials on the walls. The only modern article of furniture was the wireless set, on which the French transmission from London was coming through clear and strong, as during the occupation.”
“…then we went to the auberge, where we had soup, pate, mutton with fried potatoes, artichoke and omelette, accompanied by half a bottle of vin ordinaire rouge. The meal was cooked by the landlady, again at an open fire, and served by the landlord in his shirtsleeves. The plain cutlery, the blown-glass salad and oil bottles, the paper tablecloth, the dingy wallpaper and the dusty plans of the floor all conformed to the universal pattern of French country inns where the customers are generally wearing well-soiled garments and muddy or dusty boots.
“Upstairs, however, there were clean, small bedrooms; I slept well rising before sunrise, on a crystal clear morning. I was entranced by the quietude, broken only by occasional cock-crows or bird-calls, and the lovely deep purple shadows of the valleys. The small triangular place in front of the inn, surrounded by round-arched arcades, and planted with double rows of planes, the leaves of wonderfully fresh green, and absolutely still, will long remain in my memory.”
Beautiful hilly countryside
“But we had a long day ahead, and we had breakfast among the herbs of the little garden in front – after eggs, bread and coffee, we started off. The countryside retained throughout the character of the illustrations in children’s picture books little stone-built farms, russet or grey, with high pitched mossy red-tiled roofs, with lofts for pigeons. We briefly visited another old town, perched on a limestone crag with a 12th century cathedral built with wells and buttresses like a fortress, yards thick. Some visits to remote villages, and lunch a la paysanne; bread soup, mutton and beans, soft white cheese and dark bread, with red wine.”
Flags and dancing
“By now the afternoon was well advanced, and we decided to motor straight back. Flags had been hung from every farm and mairie; there were groups of men, women and children in front of every inn. At one small village, the band, consisting of one tuba, was being lustily and lugubriously blown and its siren-wails were to be heard for miles. As we passed through larger places, the main streets were lined with people in front of their doors, walking, or dancing. Nearing our own large town, we passed several cars, and vans, decorated and unsteadily driven, and a large lorry, literally crushing with humanity, boisterous and merry.”
A friendly evening at the Club France-Anglais
“After dinner, we went to the main square, where the Mairie was floodlit and a brass band was playing dance music to thousands of dancing couples, and young people circling with hands joined. The adjoining streets were dense with crowds, and our own car was stopped twice, and released, by gendarmes. Then to a friendly evening at the Club France-Anglais; mainly conversation, aperitifs and a little dancing.”