Lyme’s low-key celebrations when victory in Europe was declared

VE Day
Flags flying in Broad Street, Lyme Regis, as victory in Europe was declared in 1945

THE people of Lyme Regis will be marking the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day on Friday in a low-key manner – just as they did on May 8 1945.

A full programme of events to celebrate the victory over Germany in 1945 was scheduled to take place in Lyme Regis this weekend, but this has now been postponed until September due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Instead, because of the coronavirus lockdown, Lyme Regis residents will mark the occasion by staging ‘stay at home’ celebrations.

The Lyme Regis branch of the Royal British Legion is encouraging residents to celebrate the anniversary at their own homes, by holding a ‘stay at home garden party’ on Friday.

There is no record of official celebration in Lyme Regis after Churchill announced on the radio that the war in Europe was over, although the townsfolk were overjoyed and relieved that conflict was at an end.

Local historian Ken Gollop was 10 years-old when hostilities ceased but he can only remember going down to the Cobb where a beacon was lit on Monmouth Beach to mark the occasion.

Mr Gollop has an extensive collection of old photos of Lyme, including a number taken during the war, but there are very few, if any, featuring any kind of end-of-war celebrations.

The photograph we reproduce above, showing Broad Street decorated with flags, was taken by Ken’s sister Joan at 9am on VE Day.

Former schoolmaster John Wiscombe can remember going down to the seafront, which had been out of bounds during the war, with some friends and throwing some thunder flashes into the shelters.

He did not think any street parties were held for children, probably because food was in so short supply.

“What we eat for a three-course meal now would constitute a whole week of food coupons then,” he said.

Earlier in the war, Mr Wiscombe remembers watching a dog fight over Lyme Bay during the Battle of Britain in 1940. He watched from the golf club remembers being aware of the machine gun fire on his way back down the hill, which was uncomfortably close.

He said the Air Rescue Service stationed in Lyme were kept busy retrieving bodies, both British and German, from the seas.

Councillor Stan Williams, who lived in Ferndown Road during the war years, has no recollection of any VE Day celebrations. But he has many memories of the American GIs billeted in the town in the run-up to D-Day.

He spoke of the American troops’ kindness to local children, giving them sweets and bubble gum, and always asking: “Do you have an older sister?”

“And of course I did!” said Stan.

Councillor Williams said the American soldiers “were there one day and gone the next”.

Hundreds of American troops, serving with the 16th Infantry Division, were billeted all over the town with a number of properties being taken over for headquarters and officers, including the Marine Theatre. 

Many were accommodated in tents on land which is now Anning Road, where many a treat for the kids of Lyme came out of the cookhouse.

In February 1940 King George VI played a flying visit to Lyme amid much secrecy to inspect troops who were billeted at the golf club (pictured below).

General Dwight Eisenhower also visited US troops and shared a meal with them at the old church hall before leaving for the horrors of Omaha Beach where many lost their lives.

A plaque in their honour is fixed to the wall of the house at the top of Woodmead Road and a wreath will be placed on it on Friday by Major Ian Marshall, chairman of the Lyme Regis branch of the Royal British Legion.

A photo of King George VI arriving at Lyme Regis Golf Club for a low key visit during WWII, featured here in a special newspaper printed for Lyme’s Charter 700 celebrations in 1984
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Woodmead Halls

3 Comments

  1. There was an imprompu celebration bonfire on the beach of the old boats that had rotted during the five years that the beach was out of bounds. Including my grandfather’s (Tom Langford) boat which was very much still seaworthy. Still annoys me today.

  2. As a 12 year old at the time,I remember spending most of the day dragging driftwood and anything that would burn, off the beach for a big bonfire on Monmouth beach opposite what was then the tennis courts . As the fire was just past it’s best, my memory is of being horrified when others got an old boat which had been kept watertight with generous quantities of tar and added it to the flames. Must admit that it burnt well .

  3. I lived in Axminster during the war and only remember a big parade with all the Home Guard platoons marching to the cinema. Your ramblings Philip have brought back so many memories. I went to Lyme Regis Grammar School kindergarten along with Mick Bass and others travelling on puffing billy from Axminster with Mr Fuens the driver who lived in Corporation Terrace. I also remember Stan William’s older sister Joan who had a lovely soprano voice and Stan’s twin Peter. A German aircraft was shot down in the bay and the surviving crew were brought ashore in one of the RAF boats and the air crew taken away by lorry to the police station in Hill Road to await transfer as prisoners of war. What excitement! I look forward to Lyme-0nline so please keep it up. God bless all.

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