University of Oxford
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Childhood memories of D-Day and VE day celebrations

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:11 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My name is Michael Pearce, and I was born just before the Second World War broke out. I have recorded my memories of air raids and scenes from when I lived at 81 Yeading Avenue in the Parish of Roxbourne, which was part of Rayners Lane in the now London Borough of Harrow. These are my memories of the run up to D-Day and the Victory celebrations.

The D-Day invasion was obviously kept secret, but I remember a day when I was visiting my school chum John Deamer, who lived on Field End Road. Field End Road was a long main road that ran from Eastcote to South Ruislip. RAF Northolt was nearby, as was a large USA military camp at South Ruislip. His house was opposite what is now the Queens Walk housing estate but in those days it was corn fields. When the weather was fine, we would often sit outside on the verge playing with cigarette cards or marbles. As we sat there in the sunshine, there was the sudden appearance of lorries and tanks, crammed with soldiers and they rumbled past for what seemed like hours. This was quite an incredible and exciting sight for us youngsters and we stood waving to the soldiers - who waved back - as they hung out of the vehicles to enjoy the sunshine. Such a sight of happiness, but with the benefit of hindsight, many of these men would soon be facing the terrors of war, death and injury.

Not long after this experience, two Scotsmen arrived at my house to repair relatively minor damage which had been caused by the blast of an incendiary bomb that had fallen in our back garden but whose explosion had thankfully been absorbed by it landing in soft wet clay where my dad had begun digging a trench for an Anderson shelter. I remember sitting on the front doorstep watching them and chatting and listening in to a conversation they had with Mum. They said that they had been prisoners of war together in Germany and had escaped when the Germans became lax with their guarding duties, no doubt realising that they were losing the war. The two men had simply dived into a ditch as they were being marched along a road and then headed towards France, scavenging food and shelter as they went. They were particularly proud that their broad guttural Scottish accents had enabled them to travel across Germany passing off as Germans from another part and thus avoiding being recaptured.

American servicemen began arriving in numbers as a result of the nearby camp at South Ruislip. If we spotted one, there would immediately be a following of little boys calling out "got any gum chum?" They were always very friendly and occasionally a silver foil rectangular packet of gum would be forthcoming. The English gum was Wrigley's - if you could get it - which was sold in small sugar-coated sort of capsules. Once the sugar had gone, it was just a grey tasteless rubbery substance. Boys loved it, but I could only stand it for a short while, before spitting it out. The American type of gum lent itself to all sorts of tricks in terms of blowing bubbles from the mouth and making the bubble explode with quite a bang. Bigger boys thought this made them look tough! My Mum more or less banned me from chewing gum, as she thought it was unhealthy and unhygienic. Another subtle change was that the radio seemed to have more light music. During the depths of the war, there was a lot of heavy symphony music. There are passages in Brahms' first piano concerto that still almost make me shiver and I am positive I associate this music with the dark frightening days of the war as we crouched in the candlelight wondering whether a bomb was meant for us.

When at last Germany surrendered, there was a lot of celebrating and I can remember going to a very large social party at the Clay Pigeon - a pub on Field End Road - that was just a short walk across waste land locally known as "the dump". The whole neighbourhood seemed to be there, and we thoroughly enjoyed unknown pleasures, which included an entertainer, who did conjuring and singing, plus a film show. Disney cartoons were seen for the first time, and we were entranced with short films of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Popeye the Sailor Man. Ice cream and jelly - real luxuries - and a bag of sweets to go home with, really made a young boy's day. Eventually, the air raid shelters were removed, and D-Day was celebrated with street parties. Yeading Avenue was decked in red, white and blue bunting and trestle tables were set out more or less the whole length of the road. Everyone came out for this party, which was a massive celebration of survival, victory and above all, optimism for the future. Everyone had pulled together to survive the war years, and the atmosphere of mutual achievement could be felt - even by a little chap who was still trying to fully understand what it had all been about.


Item list and details

1. A photograph of the Yeading Avenue D-Day street party, which shows my mother (Margaret) holding my baby sister (Susie) in her arms (RH side) 2. Scan of the VE day victory message from King George VI that I was given at school

Person the story/items relate to

Michael Pearce

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Michael Pearce

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Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

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