Monday, 25 May 2020

Neighbours celebrate 75th VE Day together (carefully)

Neighbours celebrate 75th VE Day together (carefully)

COMMUNITIES across the Henley area celebrated the 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday despite the coronavirus lockdown.

Neighbours held street parties and decorated their homes with Union flags and bunting to show they could still have a good time while obeying the social distancing rules.

Some set up tables in their driveways and held tea parties with their families.

In Henley, residents of St Mark’s Road were among many who made an effort to commemorate the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945.

Tim Ferguson draped 6m of bed sheets on which he had painted the Union flag from his first floor window and joined his wife Joy and their son Paris, 19, outside to speak to neighbours from a safe distance.

The family created a game for children in which they were blindfolded and then had to pin medals made from card on the chest of Captain Tom Moore.

The image of the 100-year-old war hero was made from sheets of A4 paper stuck to a lifesize cardboard cut-out of actor Hugh Jackman belonging to a resident. The winner’s prize was a box of Cadbury Heroes.

Just before 11am, Barry Carson played the Last Post over speakers and residents then observed the nationwide two-minute silence.

At 2pm neighbours had lunch on the street and drank Prosecco, champagne, tea and coffee before Mr Carson played Winston Churchill’s victory speech from his speakers.

Later the neighbours joined each other once again for a rendition of Dame Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again after the Queen’s address at 9pm.

Paris and his father were dressed in his grandfather’s Royal Air Force tunics and many other people were dressed in Forties-style costumes.

Mr Ferguson said: “It was absolutely fantastic. The weather was stunning, which helped, and it was such a great day. Everyone loved it. We all stood apart but we were with our families and we could walk up and down the street and chat to everyone. There was a great atmosphere.”

Mrs Ferguson said: “VE Day was the perfect opportunity to meet people that we already knew and those we didn’t.

“We live in a fantastic community, which has really come together during the pandemic. We spent the whole day chatting and having fun.”

Further along the street, Claudia Shoenmakers, 47, partied with her husband Wil, 50, and their daughters Natalie, 16, Lisanne, 14, and Roxanna, 11. The family is originally from the Netherlands, which was occupied by Nazi Germany.

Mrs Shoenmakers, who had decorated her home with Dutch orange bunting, said: “We’ve lived here for 17 years but this was the first time we’ve met some people. It was really nice chatting to the neighbours.”

Her husband added: “Many people are quite isolated and I think it helped to have a bit of human contact. Everybody made an effort as they felt it was a chance to get back to a bit of normality.”

Robert Spotswood-Brown, 42, who dressed in a Union flag jacket, was drinking beer in the road with Matthew Bryant, 39, Nat Davison, 41, and Tom Potter, 40, as well as his wife Claire, 45.

He said: “It nice seeing people come together. We had lots of Forties music and everybody was so well behaved. St Mark’s is really supportive community and everyone has done something for each other.”

Mrs Spotswood-Brown added: “It’s nice that we managed to do something. Normally there would have been a street party but this still made us feel particularly patriotic.”

Pam Phillips, who lives on the other side of the road, had decorated her home in bunting illustrated with the Flag of Wales that she received on her 60th birthday.

She said: “As neighbours we’ve not been able to socialise in any sort of way for the last seven weeks or more, so to actually have an occasion where people have got together is great.

“The highlight was seeing my bunting come out of the cupboard and having neighbours to help put it up and just look at it.”

Organiser Catherine Partridge, who lives in the road with her partner Jamie Shawcross and her sons Henry 18, and George, 16, said people had a great time.

She said: “It was an opportunity to thank the Second World War generation. There was some parallel with our freedom being curtailed and everybody wanted to do something to say ‘thank you’.

“If it hadn’t been for all those people who gave so much we would not be as free as we are. I think in the circumstances it really meant a lot.”

Ms Partridge said the highlights included a cake competition and performance of songs such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow and We’ll Meet Again by Daisy Smith and Samantha Fields, of production company How Very Productions.

She said: “They were absolutely brilliant. There wasn’t a dry eye. It was very emotional, in a good way, for lots of people.”

The singers, from Woodley, performed for Ms Smith’s mother and grandmother in Ancastle Green before they did the same in Sherwood Gardens, The Close, the Acacia Lodge care home, Albert Court, River Terrace and Western Road.

They sang with microphones connected to a battery powered speaker and their set list also included Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Kiss Me Goodnight, Sergeant Major and The White Cliffs of Dover.

Ms Smith, 34, said: “We just thought it could cheer some people up. Sam and I don’t have any singing opportunities at the moment and everyone is a bit sad so we thought ‘let’s get out and make people smile’.

“It was amazing and the most emotional, weird, uplifting day. We had people in tears and singing and the care homes were amazing. It was pretty incredible and there was one elderly couple in St Mark’s Road who hadn’t seen any people for seven weeks. They were dancing in their driveway and things like that made it very special.”

Elsewhere, Henley Deputy Mayor David Eggleton embraced the occasion in Gainsborough Road by decorating his house in Union flag bunting and having a tea party with his family.

He wore a traditional Forties policeman’s costume that he had acquired from his days working as a film extra and played Glenn Miller music in his garden.

He also had a display of war memorabilia, including a jerry can, police helmet and satchel, and had made plywood rifles that he attached to a commemorative display above his front door together with a Union flag, a poppy wreath and two plastic poppies next to a paper sheet with the words “VE Day” written on it.

He also decorated a vintage Silver Cross pushchair with flowers and mini Union flags and set up serving tables with scones, cucumber sandwiches, egg and cress sandwiches, tea and a jug of Pimm’s, which he enjoyed with his wife Nicky and their daughters Lily, 15, Daisy, 12, and Poppy, 12.

The family also had a Victoria sponge gifted by Barbara Maynard, of Vicarage Road, to whom Cllr Eggleton has delivered food during lockdown.

Cllr Eggleton and his family observed the two-minute silence at 11am.

He said: “I think it’s very important to reflect on the people that sacrificed their lives for us today. This was just a small token of respect for those that lost their lives during the Second World War and all wars.”

His wife added: “It’s just important to recognise what people who were in the war did for us.”

Sue Mellett, who has lived in Park Road for more than 70 years, decorated the front window at her home with photocopies of pictures of her father and uncles that were taken during the war.

Her father Clifford Ayres was a member of the Home Guard, 27th Lancers, 12th Lancers and Royal Armoured Corps and her mother’s three brothers served in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry before two of them, Harold and Ted Bishop, were captured in 1940.

They are believed to have spent the rest of the war in Stalag VIIIB Lamsdorf prison camp near the town of Lamsdorf, now called Lambinowice, in Poland, in what was then known as Upper Silesia before their release in 1945. One of Mrs Mellett’s uncles, Fred Bishop, was killed in 1940 but the family was able to bury him at Fairmile Cemetery in Henley.

Mrs Mellett said she thought it was an appropriate day to remember them.

She said: “The photos have been stuck in a box. I felt that because I’m not always going to be here and I may not be here for the 80th anniversary, it was time to show them to everybody.

“I’m remembering them and what they suffered and endured. We must never forget what they did, lockdown or not.

“I tried to make the best of the day and have a bit of a chat with the neighbours, some of them had a look at the pictures and put their bunting out.

“A few people put their tables and chairs outside to celebrate. It was a very nice day. I thought it was good to get-together.”

The Nettlebed Creamery delivered about 30 two-litre bottles of its milk free to villagers who had been nominated by their neighbours.

Owner and founder Rose Grimond drove through the village to make the deliveries in a 1984 Morrison milk float with her production manager Patrick Heathcoat Amory.

They wore white aprons and hats and visited homes throughout the village and in Stoke Row where they stopped for lunch at the Crooked Billet pub and exchanged some milk with chef Paul Clerehugh for roast chicken and asparagus.

Ms Grimond knocked on each recipient’s front door and explained why they were receiving the milk before leaving it for them to collect at an appropriate social distance.

One recipient was Dr Mark Bish, who works at the Hart Surgery in Henley and lives in Nettlebed high street with his wife Lucy, who is also a doctor at the surgery, and their children Tom, 11, and Emilia, nine.

Dr Bish said he was grateful, adding: “I don’t know who nominated me but it’s very much appreciated and Rose’s milk is just the best.

“It’s so lovely to be thought of at the moment. All my staff at the surgery are genuinely touched by the support we’re getting from all our patients.”

Ms Grimond dropped off another bottle for her hairdresser Danni Goatley, who lives in Wanbourne Lane with her parents Jane and Trevor and works at Rudi Kartal in Henley.

Ms Goatley said: “I haven’t got a clue who nominated me but we’re definitely happy about it. We get through a lot of milk and I look forward to trying this.”

Ms Grimond said she enjoyed making the deliveries and all the recipients were grateful.

She said: “It was actually quite moving. Some of the people who got the deliveries are having a tough time. Some of them are NHS workers and some are older and cannot leave home. Then we had some people who remember VE Day but people had nominated their neighbours for all sorts of different reasons. It was great to be able to do something nice for the community.”

David Challis, secretary and treasurer of the Nettlebed and District branch of the Royal British Legion, took part in a small ceremony at the village war memorial at the lychgate of St Bartholomew’s Church from 2.55pm. He played the Last Post and When the Battle is Over from a Bose speaker connected to his iPhone before Winston Churchill’s victory speech from 3pm.

Mr Challis, who lives in The Ridgeway, said he was paying tribute to those who lost their lives during the conflict.

He said: “If they hadn’t made that sacrifice, we would not have the way of life that we had up to March 23 and we do not want it to happen again.”

In Sonning Common, Rob Beeton celebrated the day by parking his black 1945 Morris Ten outside his house in Newfield Road. He attached Union flags to it and also showed off his 1968 smoke grey Morris Minor Traveller.

Mr Beeton, who has lived in the village with his wife Vi, 75, for about 25 years, said: “I was born right at the end of the war and my uncles fought in it.

“You think of the sacrifices made by some of those fellas — they were scared stiff — and anything like this is good when you can’t thank them for what they did.” Mrs Beeton added: “I think it was very good to be doing something, especially in the times we’re in. It gives people a lift. It was also nice to meet our neighbours. We met people that have lived here for six years that we’ve never spoken to, so it was an opportunity to get together at a distance.”

Their neighbours Ben and Laura Densham and their children Noah, four, Eliana, eight, Toby, six, and Reuben, 10, made their own bunting.

They walked up and down the street chatting to neighbours.

Mr Densham said: “It was probably more of a thing this year than it would be because we’re restricted at home.”

Mrs Densham said: “We really want our kids to remember and understand the freedom we have now and why.

“We did the silence at 11am and talked to them about that and prayed with them to say thank you for the freedom we enjoy now.” Near-neighbours Sue and Tom Sadler set up a table and chairs on their drive and chatted to the neighbours opposite while they enjoyed Pimm’s and pineapple and coconut scones.

Mrs Sadler, 63, said: “It was a lovely opportunity to get together. We walked up and down the road and it was brilliant. Everyone just made do with what they had and everbody did their bit.

“However bad the things we’re going through, it doesn’t compare to 75 years ago. We’re all living under some sort of threat but all we’re being asked to do is stay at home.”

Mr Sadler, 75, said: “I’m definitely thinking about the past and what happened. My father was in the army for six years and my mother lived through it all. It’s a good reminder that whatever we’re going through it’s not as bad as what they had.

“I think it was an opportunity to spend some time with our neighbours. One of the few good things to come out of the situation we’re in at the moment is that we’re able to talk to people who live close by.”

Dan and Hannah Staples and their children Devon, 12, and Madeleine, 15, had an afternoon tea.

Mr Staples said: “If it hadn’t been for covid-19 I’m not sure this would have happened. We’ve lived here six years and there are neighbours we’re meeting for the first time today.”

Colin Turner, 80, his wife Marian, 77, took the opportunity to celebrate as it was the first time they had been out since the lockdown began.

The couple used to sell poppies for the Royal British Legion for about 35 years and their daughter Caroline, 51, said: “We always try to celebrate every royal or historic event.

“Because dad is high risk we have not been out beyond the driveway since the lockdown began, so it was a nice opportunity to see a few neighbours.

“It was really good and it’s just a shame we couldn’t get closer and have a proper street party.”

Paul and Karin Elliott were joined by their son Louis, 19, and their cockapoo Nino, two, for an afternoon tea on their driveway. 

Mr Elliott said: “This underlines the spirit that has been exhibited during lockdown. If there was one day during this experience that we should be out celebrating together it is VE Day. It was  great to see everybody making such an effort to at least demonstrate some community spirit.”

 Sally Card, 60, was joined by her husband Graham, 67, and their son Andrew, 30, and daughter Jenny, 24.

Her son wore a Union flag tie, which belonged to his grandfather, for the occasion and the family observed the two-minute silence at 11am.

Mrs Card said: “It’s about keeping the memory going so it doesn’t happen again. It was fantastic.” 

In Benson about 40 volunteers from its help hub, which is based at the Millstream Centre in the village, delivered more than 200 goodie bags to residents who are relying on it during the lockdown.

Each bag had been put together by five volunteers and contained cake, crisps, a commemorative badge, a programme for the day and the words for Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again so the recipient could take part in the nationwide singalong after the Queen’s message on television.

Volunteer Emma Firth, 51, of St Helen’s Avenue, took some bags to Chiltern Close, where many of the residents are elderly, with the help of her husband Andrew, 55, and their children Megan, 19, and Jamie, 15.

She said: “I think they all appreciated it. They are used to visiting the centre three times a week. It really is a lifeline for some of them.

“The majority of the users are over 70 and most of them will have been born just before the war. They have first-hand memories so it’s more important to them than it is to our generation.”

John Spence, 17, a member of the Roke and Benson Brass Band played the cornet for about 15 residents.  He performed The White Cliffs of Dover, Lili Marlene, We’ll Meet Again, Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler? and Chattanooga Choo Choo. When he started to play the National Anthem the residents stood up as a mark of respect. 

John, who lives with his parents Judith and Martin in Ewelme, said: “It was good fun and hopefully it would have added something to their day.”

Valerie Evans, 80, who has lived in Chiltern Close for four years, said: “It was lovely to have a young man take the time to entertain us and having a bit of a party brought us all together.”

Neighbour Jenny Rawlins, 75, said: “He was excellent. It cheered us all up.”

Pandora Huntingford, 83, said she could recall VE Day when she was eight and living in Bedfont.

She said: “I remember going to the pub, which was a bit of an event, and I remember running through the grass and scarring my leg on an iron railing.

“I don’t remember any street parties but they were probably later on in the afternoon.”

Lily Edwards and her two siblings were evacuated from Battersea to Chittlehampton in Devon during the war.

She said: “We worked hard on the farm and I used to have to milk four cows before I went to school.” Ethne Askew, 100, who has lived in Chiltern Close for 11 years, remembers the sense of impatience on May 8, 1945. 

She said: “Everyone knew the war was over but Churchill would not announce it and people were saying ‘when is he going to do it?’

“Once Churchill did announce the war was over people went a bit mad.”

In Watlington, about 30 residents observed the two-minute silence at the village cross, the town’s war memorial, in High Street before the Last Post was sounded.

There was a display of photographs taken in the town on the 50th anniversary of VE Day  when the high street was full of crowds.

Tessa Mogg, secretary of the Watlingon branch of the Royal British Legion, said: “Nothing was officially planned.

“People just wanted to do their bit in such remarkable spring sunshine and many were original and artistic in the way they did this.

“Union flags were abundant, fluttering in the light breeze, bunting — often homemade — adorned houses and fences and there were balloons and red, white and blue flowers too.

“At 3pm, the commemoration began with new kinds of distancing street parties. Street by street and close by close, people emerged from their homes, many with a glass in hand, or perhaps a cup of tea, and chatted to their neighbours.

“Some had tables and chairs and sat in the sun as people walked past while taking their daily exercise. Some dressed in Forties clothing and others wore red white and blue.”

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