It was Tuesday 8th May 1945 and two teenage sisters, one in ATC uniform, joined the dancing crowd in Piccadilly in celebration of VE-Day – the end of the Second World War in Europe. The nation had overcome the worst of challenges. Some days before, on 30th April, Adolf Hitler, holed up in his Berlin bunker, had swallowed a cyanide capsule and shot himself in the head. Although the brutal War continued in the Far East against Japan, the nation had been allowed a moment to rejoice in the fact that the European conflict was now over, at last. The two sisters were carried along by the emotion of the day, the laughing, crying and dancing and were swept along in a tide of happiness and relief. They danced the Lambeth Walk and the Hokey-Cokey and sang ‘Run Rabbit Run’ in linked arms in the street. Arriving outside Buckingham Palace they joined in the yelling “We want to see the King” with all the others.
The King’s himself had played a heroic part during the years of conflict. ‘Bertie’ as he had been known, within the family, had become monarch unexpectedly with the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 and was now himself King George VI. He had overcome the difficulties of a severe speech impediment to address the nation on radio at the outbreak of the War. The memory will almost certainly have left the two teenage girls in the crowd with lumps in their throats. Unbeknown their fellow revellers they were the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and they, unlike all the others, were calling for their father, the King, to appear.
When Queen Elizabeth precedes over the nation’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of this event it is most unlikely that there will be any senior members of the royal family mingling incognito with the celebrating throngs.
Back the 8th May 1945 again and Mr and Mrs Heazell are on the train from their Merseyside home to Caergwrle for a day out in Wales to celebrate VE-Day. Like many Merseysiders they had fond memories of Caergwrle. The route was a well-travelled one. Liverpudlians had been coming on shilling rides from the early years of the twentieth century. The railway station had been named ‘Caergwrle Spa and Wells’ but visitors also visited the Castle, Hope Mountain and swam or fished in the River Alyn. The resort was popular because you could get from Liverpool, have a pretty full day of enjoyment ‘in Wales’, and then make it back on the same day. There were always plenty of teashops and cafes to provide refreshments.
Mrs Heazell was later to remark with bitter disappointment: “Everywhere in Caergwrle was closed and we couldn’t even get a drink of water!” One might say, in support of Caergwrle folk, that if the nation as a whole was celebrating that day, and if even princesses were dancing in the street, then local people were also allowed a day off.
Caergwrle had changed since pre-War days. The advent of the motor car and the increase in numbers of people who were able to purchase them had meant that trippers were no longer bound by the need to take the train. Like others, Merseysiders now had the freedom to go elsewhere and could reach coastal resorts, like Rhyl and Llandundo, and get back again on the same day. The hey-day of the Spa and of the teashops had ended even before the first shots of the Second World War had been fired.
None of these changes prevented local people from enjoying themselves on 8th May 1945. John Trematick wrote that the day was eventful for the residents of Derby Road, Hope Street and Mold Road. A party was held at the Methodist Church with strawberries included as part of a sumptuous meal. The day was rounded off with community singing, music being
provided by Mr Cliff Hughes before sports events, organised by the men folk, were held on Goddings Field.
According to oral traditions there were a number of street parties locally to commemorate the event. It is said that there was a party at the top of Caergwrle Castle Hill and that a beacon was lit both there and at the top of Hope Mountain. One local tradition has it that one street party ended in a bonfire being lit in the street with the council later forcing residents to pay for the damage done to the road. Whilst this has not been substantiated, the story does have the ring of truth about it!
There are international plans to commemorate VE-Day 75 across the world. Within the UK pipers will play ‘Battle’s O’er’ from the highest peaks of Britain – Ben Nevis in Scotland, Scafell in England, Snowdon in Wales and Slieve Donnard in Northern Ireland and also in the five furthest points in the UK. Local areas are being encouraged to source their own piper to play at a preferred location at 3:00pm. Across the country representatives of local communities will read out the Tribute to the Millions and a local bugler or trumpeter will play the Last Post and Reveille. There will be a Ringing Out For Peace from churches and cathedrals at 7:00pm in a collective celebration of VE-Day 75. At 6.66pm local time there will be ‘A Cry for Peace Around the World’, starting with New Zealand’s Toast to the Heroes of World War Two, to coincide with the playing of Battle’s O’er and local civic leaders joining in the ‘Nation’s Toast to the Heroes of World War Two’ with glass raising to toast the millions at home and abroad who gave so much for our freedom.
There are high expectations that communities will make their own response and use this as an occasion to pay their tributes. Credit must go to the Editor of Hope4All who has seized the imitative to bring together members of the community to organise the local commemoration. This community made a terrific effort to commemorate the Centenary of the End of the First World War. This time we will be recognising those who served and those who fought for freedom during the Second World War. Elsewhere in the magazine the Editor outlines the current proposals that have emerged from the community. This is something that is worthy of support.
As a footnote I may add that it was fantastic to see a recent event at Hope’s ‘Pop-In’ bussing with people giving their reminiscences about the area. One gentleman has visited from Stoke-on-Trent because he was interested in family history. He wanted to be able to see the Church building, Hope Mountain and Caergwrle Castle so that he could see some of the sights which his ancestors saw. In a world that is changing rapidly it is important to have some things that stay the same. They are fixed coordinates that we share with those who went before.
More importantly for the VE-Day commemoration it was good to see Heather Cunnah actively engage in collating memories of those present who could recall what the area was like at the time of World War Two. Heather’s questionnaire includes questions about memories of air raids, the location of air raid shelters, changes in the village due to the war, relatives in the military, good and bad memories of those times and memories of VE-Day itself. It is hoped that these memories can be collated in time for the commemorative event itself. If you have memories, and can help please contact Heather at Htcunnah@yahoo.co.uk or by telephone on 07840 933 601.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of either Flintshire County Council or Hope Community Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.