Remembering VE Day celebrations in Islington 70 years on
- Credit: Archant
Residents began partying even before the official day of celebration, as Jon Dean reports
On May 7, 1945 – 70 years ago today – Grand Admiral Donitz, in charge of the Third Reich for a week, surrendered at General Eisenhower’s HQ at Reims in France. And people in Islington began to rejoice straight away rather than waiting for the official day of celebration on the 8th.
That night, folk were out on the streets, lighting bonfires, putting up bunting and banners and dancing. Within a quarter of a mile area of Mackenzie Road, Holloway, there were at least five bonfires burning, with cheering, singing crowds of people, youths and children gathered round huge bonfires.
Effigies of Hitler were burnt on huge bonfires which blazed on many bombed-sites in Islington and university students even hung one from the clocktower in Holloway Road.
Across the two boroughs – Islington and Finsbury – people held parties for children, got drunk, made a din, sang and danced in the streets, and went to church to give thanks to God for victory.
The May 11 issue of the North London Press said the people of Islington were “second to none in the high spirits with which they greeted the victory”.
It added: “The heavens themselves joined in. Stalin, famous for his victory salvos, would have been envious indeed of Jupiter’s majestic thunder had he heard that storm on VE Day eve.”
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The newspaper continued: “Youths fed the bonfire with doors, planks and broken furniture which they dragged from shattered buildings.
“Many children and young people sat precariously on the sloping roofs of street shelters in order to get a better view of the proceedings.
“The crowds of people celebrated with all the enthusiasm they possessed.
“Some couples danced, others joined hands with anyone who happened to be there and then let themselves go in the celebrated ‘knees-up’. It was a spontaneous display of joy, there was no effort at organising, no one wanted to be organised, everybody did what they felt like doing.”
People struggled to sleep and “either sat up gazing from their windows at the celebrations, or left their homes to join the dancing”.
But as dawn broke, a reminder of the grief the borough suffered came in “the grim outlines of the shattered and windowless houses which only a few months ago had been the homes of the people”.
Islington Council provided entertainment for people on the evening of May 8, when a band performed a tattoo and music and dancing took place “amid the cooling evening breezes”.
The Mayor of Islington paid a surprise visit and addressed the crowd. He said: “You have won the war, see that you do not lose the peace. You have a great responsibility on your shoulders. It is up to you to see that you put the right men in office, whether in local or national government.
“I am proud to be an Englishman and you, too have cause to be proud of your country and dominions.”
On Tuesday, May 11, a colourful display took place on steps of the town hall “beneath the flags of all the allies which fluttered proudly from their standards”.