Many consider the Second World War to have ended on 8 May 1945, or Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) as it became known. However, the war continued in the Pacific until 15 August 1945, Victory Over Japan Day (VJ Day). This date was much celebrated across Berkshire, and the Reading Standard was there to report on the festivities in several issues between 17 August and 7 September 1945.
In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Japan’s surrender, celebrations began taking place to mark the occasion. Twyford is said to have ‘celebrated VJ Day with a profusion of flags’, along with a dance and a children’s tea party. Bells were rung in Pangbourne and Sonning, with bellringers in the latter ringing ‘336 grandsire triples’. The Swan Hotel in Pangbourne was illuminated for people to dance, sing, and let off fireworks ‘until the early hours of the morning’. In Crowthorne, the flags and bunting put up in the morning meant that ‘when the sun broke through, there was a mass of colour in the High Street’. After a well-attended Thanksgiving Service, Shinfield saw a parade of ’14 bandsmen dressed in various costumes and conducted by Mr. E. Higgs’. They accompanied dancing around a bonfire on the School Green. In somewhat of a contrast, the farm workers at Basildon could not stop, but were to have their two days holiday at a later date. The only difference there appeared to be the closing of shops, although this caused no inconvenience as people ‘had laid in their stock of food on Monday and Tuesday in anticipation’.
Celebrations continued to take place throughout the following weeks. In Woodley, dances were held in the village hall ‘and the proceedings culminated with a huge bonfire in the recreation ground’. Mrs. Kirsaap and Mrs. Goodwin held a party in the village hall for some of the children, providing tea and gifting each child with an envelope of money. It was also reported that ‘Mr. Turton, of Headley Road, provided much amusement’. He must have been entertaining indeed to be reported on in such a way! Similar celebrations took place on Peppard Common with the villages of Peppard, Sonning Common, Kidmore End and Gallows Tree Common coming together for ‘children’s sports, a fancy dress parade, pony rides and a tea party in the afternoon’. Once again, this led to a bonfire in the evening.
A Victory Dance was held on Waterloo Road, Wokingham, on Saturday 18 August 1945 and was attended by ‘well over a thousand people’. Floodlights were set on the road and music was provided by Goswell’s Radio Rhythm. Earlier in the week, a procession of the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors made their way from the Town Hall to All Saint’s Church for a Thanksgiving Service. This was followed by celebrations in the streets. The streets were decorated at night with Peach Street in particular being reported as ‘gaily lighted by coloured bulbs hung across the road’.
Purley held a thanksgiving service in Purley Church, and followed up with bonfires, dancing, and community singing. Spencer’s Wood residents ‘made up their mind that the children should have a day by which they would remember that final victory had come.’ This resulted in a children’s party provided by ‘enthusiastic workers’ which included ‘a Punch and Judy show, ventriloquial entertainment and conjuring, also races, games, jumping, and musical chairs’.
Festivities were also held in Reading. As with many of the previous examples, there were flags, bonfires, and fireworks, alongside the whistles of trains, all beginning as soon as the announcement was made at midnight. The Reading Standard reports that the next day was relatively quiet, but in the afternoon and evening people made their way to the Forbury Gardens and celebrations began on a much grander scale. Throughout the town, similar scenes took place. On Broad Street, the crowd ‘carried two policemen shoulder high around the bonfire’. This was presumably in the middle of the officer’s attempts to direct traffic around the very same bonfire! The paper rounds up the scale and feeling of the celebrations by calling the town ‘a colourful spectacle, reminiscent of the Coronation celebrations.
The range and scale of the celebrations in the towns and villages of Berkshire appear to demonstrate, above all else, a shared community experience. Whether they were impromptu celebrations following the announcement, or more carefully planned events in the following days, they all show communities coming together to mark the end of years of warfare.
If you are interested in reading more about VJ Day celebrations in Berkshire, our August 2022 highlight examines celebrations in Newbury, along with the return of a prisoner of war. You can read the article on our website.
For more on Berkshire life during the Second World War, see our online exhibition ‘Through their Eyes’.