We are grateful to Jack Pridham for his memories of growing up in Thornbury during World War II. This account deals with the long awaited Victory.
With the fall of Berlin to the Russians, Victory in Europe came at 00.01hr on Tuesday, 8 May 1945 – VE Day and a huge national celebration! The night before the big occasion, Thornburians began to build a massive bonfire in the middle of The Plain. It was largely fuelled with old vehicle tyres and father began to worry that the consequences might be the perfect blackout that would be approved by all air raid wardens: the fire was being built right over a major electricity cable! However, the fire burned, red and black, the lights stayed on and the party continued throughout the day and well into the night with music, dancing and alcohol. A local idiot let off a naval maroon in the horizontal dimension and it snaked at Mach 0.4 though the crowd and buried itself in the oak door of the National Provincial Bank. It was a miracle that the day did not end in tragedy! Mother had one or two gins too many with her friends the Cooks at the grocer’s shop. She had abstained for almost all her life and here she was with a laughing husband, a flushed face and a need to take to her bed for the latter half of the day!
The second celebration of the year, was on 15 August, VJ Day, Victory in Japan. In comparison to VE Day, it went off like a damp squib! Fewer attended and raucous behaviour was set three notches lower. The Asian war had been remote for all except those with a family involvement and the terrible stories of atrocities had not yet been fully appreciated at VJ time.
The War period had not left Thornburians with much spare time for political thought. However, all remembered the pre-War recession and some of Churchill’s more doubtful peacetime activities. Observant Thornburians towards the end of the War, would have noticed how these subjects were increasingly being discussed in public and by 1945 people were, literally, standing on soap boxes to air their views and in some cases, to rant and rave! As a keen supporter of my war-time hero I could not believe what I was hearing. The quiet, normally unassuming manager of the International Stores, for example, a Mr Moon, was one kitten who turned into a lion! His performances as a rabble-rouser under a street light in St John Street had to be seen to be believed. The little mouse in a brown overall who had served my mother with biscuits and sugar and tea had, in my opinion, turned into a left-wing demon! Despite all of this political activity few thought that Churchill would be ousted but he was: even middle-of-the-road, Conservative Thornbury returned a Labour candidate and I learned that my father had helped him on his way! There was some consolation in 1951 when ‘Winnie’ regained the ‘throne’ but with increasing age and a different ‘ball game’ he never dominated the political scene as before.