Posted: 08.05.20 at 09:39 by Nick Hudson
AN ETERNITY of memories separates the wild outpouring of joy to signal the end of World War Two in Europe and the Covid-restrained VE75 celebrations Mancetter couple Derek and June Day are anticipating today.
Despite the intervening 27,394 days – Tuesday May 8, 1945 still burns vividly in their collective minds’ eye as a once-in-a-lifetime event they’ll never forget.
Derek and June – married for more than 61 years now – represent a golden generation which embraced the unknown and the catastrophic without outward fear. They just got on with it.
As children on the first VE Day, Derek, 11, and June, nine, lived in different parts of North Warwickshire and would not meet until the 1950s.
We can learn from their story, which typifies a bygone age of fortitude and a time in our history that few of us lived through.
For Derek, now 86, he remembers most the cheering, clapping and who “organised everything” so whole families could enjoy the moment of victory from a tyranny and oppression of a regime hell bent on ruling the world by fear and naked aggression.
“The women in our street arranged the party, took the tables outside and lined them up down the middle of the road,” recalls the retired painter and decorator.
“I have to be honest I can’t remember what we had to eat – but it was a fun occasion and there was lots of smiling faces.”
VE Day was possibly something Derek, in common with everyone at the time, thought he would not see – either because he wondered whether the conflagration would ever end or if he would get to the end of it alive.
And on that score, as a boy in junior school, he had a ‘near miss’.
Derek lived at 102 Long Street, Dordon and went to the Board School as it was called then – now known as The Polesworth School.
One day in the early 1940s he was going home from school for his lunch and he noticed a lone fighter plane in the sky on his way to calling at Holland’s fish shop. He took little notice as he imagined it belonged to the RAF.
Seconds later the plane opened fire, strafing the road. Derek and his mates “ran like hell” all the way home.
“When I got back to school I was told the fish shop had been hit with bullets going through the windows from what was obviously a German plane,” said Derek. “I was lucky, I think.”
That ‘good fortune’ ran in the family as Derek recounts a tale relating to his father, Tommy, who had his own brush with mortality.
Tommy Day was a fitter at the Daimler factory in Coventry. He worked permanent nights and travelled to the Radford site on a motorbike and sidecar.
A neighbour, a Mrs Congrave, had no transport and used to cadge a lift with Mr Day in the sidecar to get to the same place of work.
On November 14, 1940 the German Luftwaffe inflicted one of the worst nights of destruction on any UK town or city in the whole of the war.
Part of Tommy Day’s job was to act as relief for the air raid wardens on the roof of the car factory.
On the ‘blitz’ night, the city centre was flattened by a carpet of bombs and the car factory was targeted. Although not directly hit, a subsequent fire destroyed the building where some of the vehicles dating back to start of motoring were housed – destroying them.
The area where Tommy was a look out was destroyed but he managed to escape the devastation.
His neighbour was not so fortunate – one of 500 people who died that night in a 10-hour raid that saw 2,300 homes raised to the ground and the city's medieval cathedral left a shell.
“I suppose you could say we both had our own lucky escapes in the war,” noted Derek.
One more part of wartime Britain sticks in the memory of Derek, the only child of Tommy and Elsie Day.
He said: “We lived in a three bedroom house and I slept in my parents’ room as the other two were occupied by my auntie Rose and my father’s parents.
“What did seem odd at the time was having four doors separating the hallway but looking back it was obviously to blunt the shockwaves from any bomb blasts.”
June, now 84, has the advantage of a pictorial recollection to keep her memories of May 8, 1945 fresh.
The picture above shows June in a nurse’s uniform at the front of group of youngsters in fancy dress going past Kingsbury School which was bombed in the war and resbuilt.
The parade, which included returning British troops from th frontlines, finished in the village recreation ground.
So what did June eat that day? She, like Derek, doesn’t have an exact memory. Jam sandwiches or as there were pigs kept in the vicinity probably “good old” ham sandwiches.
Her upbringing showed the harshness war inflicts on some families – not just in fatalities but in “difficult choices” made regarding siblings.
June was brought up in Kingsbury, with seven sisters and a twin brother. During the war her parents moved to Erdington but June stayed in the village with the Thawleys, local newsagents.
Asked about the separation from her blood relatives, she suggested it was "just one of those things" that happened during the war.
June was later adopted by the Thawleys but visited her parents and siblings once a week.
The newsagent's was to play a part in bringing Derek and June together.
He was working for Tamworth Co-op as a painter and was asked to work on Kingsbury Co-op. He called into the newsagent's one day, met June and romance blossomed.
They married in March 1959. Their family has grown with two children – Diane and Glen – three grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and one more due next month.
Fast forward to today, the couple – so refreshingly talkative about their lives and the past – are now being ‘shielded’ during coronavirus.
They will celebrate VE Day 75 years on in a more sedate manner.
“Our daughter Diane has decorated the front of the house for us and we’re planning a barbecue in the back garden,” added Derek.
Oh happy Days from a generation of true grit . . . they still know how to enjoy themselves.
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