Pam’s Story

Canon Pam Reed

Retired Vicar of St George’s, Chesterton

I had just had my 7th birthday in April 1945 when all this happened. I had just returned from being evacuated to my grandma’s in Scotland, where we had been during the war since we were bombed out early 1940 when I was 18 months old. We returned to London to live with my mother’s brother George and sister Daisy. My father, who was in the Navy, was killed just before the end of the war when HMS Penelope was sunk in the Mediterranean.

The day started quietly. The only noise was the bottles in the dairy at the beginning of Tudor Road where we lived in Upton Park E6, just up the road from West Ham football ground. Families had all gathered round their radios expectantly, hoping for better news which turned out to be good. We soon moved out into the street where we were greeting everyone with joy and speaking to neighbours of our relief that the war was over. It was ended, so Winston Churchill had announced.

The next thing was three men calling to speak to my Mum. As dad had been killed it was not such a celebration for her with two girls to bring up, but they hoped she would join in the celebrations. They were preparing a street party that night and wanted to be sure she and the twins’ mother, who had lost her husband, would join in the celebrations.
True East End style of caring and being protective – remembering those in not such a good place – being mates.

Everything started to happen. The window opposite came out and so did the piano onto the street then the stool. The joanna was soon put to use. The flags and bunting appeared and VE signs were painted on the door post in dots and dashes and put by the front doors. They would sing Daisy Daisy and dance the Lambeth Walk up and down the street. The beer barrel appeared on the wall and two large Pearly Queens sat down on the wall in their large hats with ostrich feathers and jackets with pearl buttons sewn on them. It was a sight to behold.

Everyone dressed up as best they could on the wartime rationing and recycled curtains. I was invited to sit and chat with them and they offered me a slurp of their beer – I have never drunk beer since. It put me off for life. With exhaustion we went to sleep in the early hours of the morning. The excitement and drink kept us going.

Our men were still where they were serving and those lucky enough would soon be returning home. In the following days we went to Buckingham Palace to see the King and Queen and the Princesses on the balcony. The lights went on again and Trafalgar Square was lit up with the fountains playing.

But East End folk would have to have a street party for their kids. This took time to arrange. It was fancy dress and entertainment for us all. Kids would do their party pieces. There were sausages, sandwiches, jelly and blancmanges and a cake with icing like a Union Jack. We had our pictures taken.

So much fun in all the deprivation and destruction of wartime bombing but it would lift us and take us through the rebuilding of property and lives. We went to see processions through London streets of soldiers, sailors and air men and the women who served and brought our nation through it all. Air raid wardens, firemen, ambulance men and women. The barrage balloons and gun emplacements that protected us, as we had faced the bombing and destruction to pull together and overcome. Saint Paul’s had stood out in the middle of London’s bombsites as a sign of indestructible hope for the future.