Our Century

Joy at the end of war

Express & Star Atomic Bomb headline
Portents for the future - uncertainty on the front page of the Express & Star after the dropping of the first atomic bomb.

Like the rest of Britain, the joyous populations of town's and cities across the West Midlands, including Walsall, Wolverhampton and Birmingham went mad thronging the streets in May to celebrate VE-Day - marking the historic event with those now legendary street parties across the region.

The people were letting their hair down in the typical British fashion of the times following the hard won victory which left great swathes of our cities lying in ruins.And a few months later, on August 15, VJ-Day - Victory over Japan - was marked in Wolverhampton with crowds thronging Queen Square until the early hours.

Wulfrunians in dressing gowns and pyjamas left their beds and gathered in the town centre to hear the Prime Minister's midnight victory broadcast.

Streams of people converged on the area by foot, cycle and car and many vehicles had to be diverted.

Quite early in the proceedings, Prince Albert's statue had a number of live companions on his bronze mount.

Streamers of victory and fairy lights in red, white and blue, put up by the corporation, were switched on and sirens, church bells and car horns echoed the victory news across the town.

Residents gather for a VE Day party in Kent Road, Friar Park, Wednesbury in 1945.

Various groups sang the Hokey-Cokey and did the Conga round the streets.

One woman lifted her baby high above the heads of the crowd during the excitement.

But the VE-Day celebrations were tempered as the appalling evidence began emerge from liberated concentration camps in Germany of emaciated bodies and scraps, of humanity cowering behind the barbed wire at Belsen, Buchenwald and other "Final Solution" compounds.

And right up to his suicide in a Berlin bunker, Hitler was still blaming everything on a Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy.

Legendary British writer, J B Priestley, spoke at Wolverhampton in June in support of Jennie Lee, the Cannock Labour candidate on the run-up to the General Election. In his speech he accused the Conservatives of "carting Churchill around the country because they have nothing else to cart." In the event, the General Election was a landslide victory for Labour that year.

Many female film buffs in the West Midlands looked to Hollywood for fashion ideas during the immediate post war period when cinemas drew massive crowds.

And women from Bilston to Birmingham were impressed by the "bonnet in bloom" look designed in Hollywood. It was composed of layers of cocoa-brown tulle swirl round the crown which completely covered the brim of the hat.

Tragedy as plane crashes: Just days after the final surrender of German forces shocked Wednesfield residents were experiencing a tragic reminder of the war years when a four-engined Lancaster bomber was blown to pieces after crashing in Lichfield Road in May, killing the crew of seven.

The crash-blast hurled four bricklayers working on the road some distance away to the ground and pieces of the bomber were found strewn over a two mile area. Not a single piece of the plane was left larger than a table top and traffic between Wednesfield and Bloxwich had to be diverted because the road was impassable.

Eye witnesses described how firemen battled to put out a blaze in the wreckage and it was found that a long stretch of hedge had been burnt to the ground and the grass of a field burnt over a large area. There were no signs of the plane's engines which were thought to have been buried in a five foot deep crater in the road caused by the crash.

Miraculously, the only damage to nearby houses was to the chimney pot of Moat House Farm thought to have been knocked off by the doomed bomber.

One of the first at the tragic scene was Express & Star driver, Joe Castree, who described how he was handing a parcel of newspapers to a girl in Stubby Lane, near the crash, when he heard the plane flying low overhead. "It passed right over me," he said. "There seemed to be two explosions in the air before the crash.

"I ran to the spot immediately, but it was impossible for me to do anything and there was just a lot of wreckage scattered over a wide area. There were no signs of any members of the crew except fragmentary remains," he went on. "Bullets were exploding and flares were going off."

Another witness described how bullets were going off like a firework display. "The plane seemed to come down in a swift vertical dive," the witness added.

An RAF inquiry into the crash was immediately launched. The aircraft had come from East Kirkby , Lincolnshire, on a routine training flight.

Prisoner of the Japanese returns: In far-off Sumatra, Jack Plant of Great Wyrley had been a prisoner-of-war of the Japanese for nearly three years.

All around him, comrades had weakened and died as they were used as slave labour on a railway.

In August 1945 they were unaware that the atoms bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But the prisoners noticed the Japanese camp commander was burning papers in his garden. Suddenly, the rations increased:

"We started to get two buckets of green slime to go with our ride in the evening instead of one.

Then, on August 15, the senior British officer called his men together and announced quietly and without emotion that the Japanese Emperor had broadcast the capitulation; the war was over and we were free men. We were not to kill any Japs or Koreans.

"Food became plentiful. The remains of some Red Cross parcels intended for us but which had been looted with the guards came to light.

More letters from home were found. It is testimony to our level-headedness that no guards were seen off' by us then."

After liberation the half-starved Brits were shipped to hospital in Alexandra. Jack Plant recalls: "beautiful nurses, beds with white linen, soap - yes, soap - and free telegrams home. Will wonders never cease?"

Fran Oborski
Suddenly there I was speaking live on Polish television...