VE Day in Littlehampton in 1945 was celebrated with great gusto

Alan Readman, former county archivist, and Martin Hayes, county local studies librarian, West Sussex Record Office, bring stories from the archives and remind us how Victory in Europe was celebrated across the area.

As the armies of liberation progressed through occupied Europe en route to Berlin, at home coastal defences were gradually removed, tenders being invited for the demolition of the dragons teeth and pill boxes which had been so feverishly constructed in 1940.

At Worthing, Littlehampton and Bognor, barbed wire was cleared away from the promenade, giving some small children their first glimpse of an unobstructed seafront, though the beaches still had to be cleared of mines.

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The formal German surrender was taken by General Montgomery at his Luneburg Heath HQ, near Hamburg, on May 4, 1945. In Britain, Tuesday, May 8, was declared a public holiday, VE (Victory in Europe) Day.

The street party in Sandfield Avenue, Littlehampton, in 1945. Pictures: West Sussex Record Office

The excitement really began the evening before. As the news broke of the end of the war in Europe, the hawkers were out on street corners with flags and bunting and everywhere streamers and ‘God save the King’ banners suddenly appeared.

Every shop put out its decorations and public houses began to prepare themselves for the influx of merrymakers. People had been waiting so long for the moment and on to the streets they spilled, cheering and singing, slapping each other on the back, ready to drink the health of Mr Churchill.

Roll Out the Barrel and We Won’t Go Home Till Morning were popular songs. The threat to freedom had vanished and everywhere there was an impatience to find expression for the mood of gratitude and relief.

In West Sussex, the day dawned with dull skies but spirits were not to be dampened and the weather improved.

Celebrations in Lyminster in 1945. Pictures: West Sussex Record Office

Worthing resident Joan Strange noted in her diary, which was published as Despatches from the Home Front: the War Diaries of Joan Strange by Monarch Publications, 1989, the following: “It’s come at last. I woke up at 7am to hear the sound of Mother wrestling with the flags (rather moth-eaten and patched, relics of Queen Victoria’s jubilee!). But we weren’t the first in the road after all as we were when Mussolini was captured in July 1943.”

The Town Hall in Chapel Road was at the centre of celebrations with a purple and gold covered dais for the VIPs. At 11 am a fanfare by Arthur Fotterell, trumpeter of the Municipal Orchestra, preceded the singing of a doxology (short hymn) by the crowd and a speech by the mayor, councillor H.W. Shalders.

In the town centre, particularly South Street and Montague Place, crowds gathered, with servicemen and civilians alike laughing and dancing together. Others perched perilously on Army trucks as they drove around streets to ensure no-one missed the news or the party atmosphere.

At 3pm most people clustered around the loudspeakers on the Town Hall to hear Winston Churchill’s speech, described by Joan Strange as a highlight. Following this, buglers of the Scots Guards sounded the Cease Fire, the National Anthem was sung with gusto and the town centre and seafront became awash with masses of people singing and cheering.

The victory bonfire in Littlehampton in 1945. Pictures: West Sussex Record Office

The celebrations took many forms, churches and cinemas remained open for services and programmes for most of the day. One of the most popular were the informal street parties in the afternoon as rationing was forgotten for the day. Parties reported in newspapers included Beeches Avenue, Burnham Road, Buckingham Road, Carnegie Road, Howard Street, Marlowe Road, Sugden Road, and Mendip Road, Durrington and many more.

All tickets for the Victory Ball at the Assembly Hall were snapped up in minutes and 700 people danced the night away to Tom Priddy’s Municipal Orchestra. At 9pm, the mayor arrived and a hush fell as everyone listened to the King’s speech, another highlight enjoyed by Joan Strange.

Pubs had extended licensing hours till midnight and many ran out of beer. There wasn’t as much drunkenness as might be imagined, however, as alcohol had been in short supply throughout the war.

Similar celebrations were held in towns and villages along the coast, including Littlehampton. People living in Sandfield Avenue in Wick were determined to make the most of the day. Not only did they hold a street party in the afternoon but ended the day with a victory bonfire featuring an inventive Nazi swastika guy.

Street party in Carnegie Road, Worthing in 1945. Pictures: West Sussex Record Office

In North Lancing on VE Day, the Jefferies children, six-year-old Gloria and 12-year-old Mavis, helped by their schoolmates, held a sale in aid of the Red Cross in their garden at Derek Road, raising £3 14s 9d.

In Shoreham, the flag of our Russian ally was hoisted over the Town Hall. Official celebrations centred on church services at St Mary de Haura, St Nicolas (Old Shoreham), St Peter’s RC and the Methodist church. Ventriloquist George Gulliver entertained children at St Peter’s Hall. A victory peal was rung in the evening at Kingston Buci parish church.

Southwick’s ancient Green saw a pop-up fun fair, sports for children and probably the biggest tea party in the county.

The afternoon’s events were rounded off by, what else, a cricket match between Southwick village and a Mr Bennett’s XI from Brighton.

The day ended fittingly with a huge bonfire off The Driveway near Buckingham Park, featuring a guy, Hitler in uniform with arm raised in Nazi salute.

Of course, there were tears as well as happiness. Those who had given their lives were remembered. So, too, those still fighting the Japanese and those yet to return from their wasted years in POW camps in Europe and beyond.

The VE Day crowd outside Worthing Town Hall in 1945. Pictures: West Sussex Record Office

Some amongst the crowds simply watched the festivities, lost in their own thoughts and prayers, but there would be a special time for remembrance and for this day at least the overriding sense was one of unbridled rejoicing.

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Original coverage of VE Day from the Worthing Gazette on May 9, 1945