Today is VE Day 75 and it is rather sad not to be able to mark this momentous moment in a more fitting way. However, it does maybe give us an opportunity to focus on those in our family directly and indirectly affected by the events of 75-80 years ago.
Officers' Mess staff 44th Div Signals B Company somewhere in France 1st May 1940.
My Granddad, Richard Castle, on the far left.
Somewhere in the desert now, back row on the
left in the forage cap.
My dad was what today would be referred to as a teenager, he was just 12, when the war broke out, the eldest of four and living in Hounslow, West London. His dad, having served in the Great War as a boy sailor, left the navy in 1923 but joined the Territorial Army so was called up in 1939 (almost old enough to avoid joining the BEF, but not quite). By spring 1940 he was in France and then evacuated off the mole at Dunkirk right at the end of May. After less than 6 months at home he was off to Egypt and North Africa as part of the 8th Army, finally returning home in 1946. I suppose some of the person my dad became was forged in those years where his own father was absent - having to be 'the man of the house', evacuated to Yorkshire, returning to London as a messenger boy delivering telegrams to Allied HQ at St Paul's School (and I imagine to homes with very unwelcome news), fire-watching as a scout and finally being conscripted after the end of the war but under wartime regulations and serving in Palestine as part of the Middle East Landing Force. He also has a VE Day story - but more of that later.
My granddad hardly spoke of his war time. There is a photo of him at home in the garden with his four children after Dunkirk. I always remember him as a rather portly man but in the photo he was thin and drawn. I said to him, "Granddad you were really skinny." his reply was "You'd have been skinny too if you'd been bloody well chased halfway across Europe!" It was the only time I ever remember hearing him use bad language.
Looks a natural doesn't he?
In the United States, the event coincided with President Harry Truman's 61st birthday. He dedicated the victory to the memory of his predecessor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a month earlier, on 12 April. Great celebrations took place in many American cities, especially in New York's Time Square. Tempering the jubilation somewhat, both Churchill and Truman pointed out that the war against Japan had not yet been won. In his radio broadcast at 3pm on the 8th, Churchill told the British people that: "We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing (as Japan) remains unsubdued". In America, Truman broadcast at 9am and said it was "... a victory only half won". VJ Day would not come until August 14th - the day my dad turned 18. For that generation in Norfolk, a significant date as much of the Royal Norfolk Regiment served in the Far East and the 4th Battalion had been forced to surrender at the fall of Singapore in 1942, subsequently suffering many casualties on the infamous 'Death Railway'.
The Allies had originally agreed to mark 9th May 1945 as VE day, but eager western journalists broke the news of Germany’s surrender prematurely, thus signalling the earlier celebration. The Soviets kept to the agreed date, and Russia still commemorates the end of the Second World War, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, as Victory Day on 9th May.
As you can imagine, wartime rationing made food a central issue for everyone. I think my dad was often hungry and I never ever saw him leave food on a plate. So to suddenly have to produce a celebration feast for the many street parties was a bit of a challenge. The first recipe is just that - a challenge - and to our eyes (and tastebuds) an odd one. The second is much easier and probably more palatable.
One of the characters that encouraged people to eat potatoes during the war, was Potato Pete and he (and his recipes) appear in many WWII cookbooks and recipe leaflets.
Potatoes weren’t just healthy - children get more Vitamin C, B1, B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Potassium from potatoes than from the 5 super-foods; beetroot, bananas, nuts, broccoli and avocado combined. Potatoes were not rationed and being home-grown, they 'saved the fleet', insofar as there was no need to ship them from overseas to Great Britain. Check out the film by clicking on the picture.
Whit Salad (mock egg salad with potatoes and vegetables)
Serves 4 to 6
Prep time 15 minutes
From: Victory Cookbook by Marguerite Patten
Mock potato eggs
225g grated carrots
50g grated Mature Cheddar cheese
450g cooked mashed potatoes (Desiree)
450g cooked, diced potatoes (Charlotte or Maris Peer)
1/2 small cabbage, grated (or celeriac)
2 - 3 carrots, grated
baby gem lettuce leaves
12 small (cherry) tomatoes, halved
fresh chives, snipped
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper
1 teacup of milk (about 120mls)
1 tablespoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon English mustard powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1. To make the potato eggs, mix the grated carrots and cheese together to form balls, like egg yolks; add a little of the mashed potato to bind them if necessary.
2. Wrap the balls with a layer of mashed potato, and then cut in half, so they resemble hard boiled eggs.
3. Arrange the salad ingredients on a large serving platter - lettuce first and then the carrots, cabbage (or celeriac), diced potatoes with snipped chives; arrange the tomatoes and mock egg halves around the outside of the salad.
4. Make the dressing by whisking all the ingredients together and drizzle over the salad.
Note: Any root vegetables can be used in place of the cabbage and carrots, and commercially made salad cream can be used too. When watercress is in season, decorate the salad with watercress.
1940s Gin Cocktail
4 cubes ice 60ml gin 115ml bitter lemon 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 lime or lemon wedge
Method: Place the ice cubes in a tall, narrow glass with the ice coming near the top.
Pour gin, bitter lemon and lime juice over the ice.
Stir well with a long-necked spoon.
Garnish with lime wedge and serve immediately.
Close by to us here in NN is Felbrigg Hall (now owned by the National Trust). The last private owner, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, planted a V for Victory avenue of trees after the war to commemorate its ending and in memory of his brother, Richard, a pilot in the RAFVR who was killed during the battle of Crete on 31 May 1941. It is now a beautiful mature walkway of beech trees and visible from the air. The walk has just been granted listed status
And finally, on VE night my dad was at a local pub in Hounslow (not sure if he was drinking as too young!) but he vividly remembers the following scenario. The revellers were in full voice and the piano was being bashed like it was going out of fashion in what today would be the pub car-park. There was a blazing bonfire and first of all the beer ran out, then the voices started to strain and the fire began to get low - so to finish off the evening they heaved the piano on the fire and continued to sing unaccompanied - and who can blame them!?
Robert Macfarlane's Word of the Day is ...
"aubade — a dawn serenade; a song, poem or piece of music in praise of the day’s break (from the Old Occitan “auba”, dawn).
ps: SHAEF stands for Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. “ - Corrie ten Boom
"The best portion of a good man’s life is his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love." - William Wordsworth
"My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole..." - Winston Churchill May 8th 1945