VE Day 1945: The day Ten Mile Bank executed Adolf Hitler
Seventy-five years ago the pages of the Lynn News & Advertiser faithfully recorded many of the VE-Day celebrations in the Downham area.
One of the more bizarre was at Ten Mile Bank where the villagers staged a mock execution of Adolf Hitler.
Villager Bob Starling was the game stand-in for the (by-then dead in real life) Nazi dictator.
An Australian airman was the centre of attention in Downham when he managed to stop the town clock during unofficial and spontaneous Victory in Europe celebrations.
The serviceman initially made some unsuccessful attempts to climb the clock before he decided that climbing up a ladder was the best option.
A Lynn News and Advertiser correspondent who witnessed this event in early May, 1945, takes up the story: “At imminent risk of becoming airborne, he managed to reach the minute hand of the south face which was pointing to quarter-to-eleven. He pulled it back to 10.30, draped it with a bright blue lady’s garment which is not usually displayed in public and returned the hand to the quarter-to position.
“Rising to the occasion, the clock ignored its rough handling and continued to tick out the minutes with the banner still hanging to the minute hand! Later it revolted and time stood still.”
The celebrations in Downham had started at dusk on the Monday [May 7th] when a large crowd gathered in the Market Place and there was impromptu dancing to bugle music provided by some lads of the ATC band who had earlier been on a parade.
The Lynn Advertiser reported: “The crowd included many airmen and WAAFS from Downham RAF station, whose existence may now be publicly mentioned, as well as British and American troops and a representative or two of the Senior Service.
“From the roof of an Army truck cheers for Churchill, Truman and Stalin were called for and enthusiastically given and there was another cheer when hundreds of coloured lights on the Castle Hotel were switched on.
“Breaking into song, the crowd gave enthusiastic, if not too musical, renderings of ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and all joined hands for ‘Auld Lang Syne’.
“Street lights were turned on for an hour and the front of the Howdale Home was well illuminated. Two searchlights on the aerodrome maintained a “V” in the sky over Downham.”
On VE-Day morning, townsfolk were busy putting up flags and bunting before hundreds attended services of thanksgiving at church and chapel. Three services were held at St Edmund’s parish church, two at the London Road Methodist Church together with special services at St Dominic’s Roman Catholic church and the Salvation Army hall.
A united open-air service originally fixed for 3pm was postponed for an hour in view of Winston Churchill’s broadcast to the nation. The service on the playing field of Downham Secondary School attracted an estimated 1,500 people
The rector the Rev W Dorman, joined by the Rev J Leonard, Rev G Hillyar-Russ and Rev E Mortimer all took part and the singing was led by the choir conducted by Mr T Harris, with Mrs G Hartley the pianist.
In his address, Mr Dorman looked back to 1940 and said: “It is perhaps only now that we can realise in what dire peril we stood at that time. We knew what had happened in other parts of the world that had been overrun.
“If this country had fallen, Downham Market would have been under the heel of the Germans and there was little doubt that the occurrences of the other occupied countries would have had their counterpart in Downham.
“When we think of what we have been spared we may well give thanks to God this afternoon for our deliverance. There is also great cause for gratitude that Downham had been spared the horrors of bombing as the town had no scars and really had not had any incident.”
The bells of the parish church had been rung for 15 minutes in the morning, again for an hour in the afternoon and there was more bell ringing at night. The ringers also found time to visit Stow church where they rang for half-an-hour.
An extension of licensing hours until 11pm was granted in Downham for VE-Day, but before closing time a number of licensees had run short of supplies.
When dusk fell, bonfires were lit around the town, notably one at the Retreat Estate and another in Mr Raby’s Paradise Road field where children gathered and cheered when an effigy of Hitler was burnt. Fireworks saved from pre-war days were also enjoyed.
A large crowd gathered on the Market Place after dark and joined in singing and dancing. Music was provided by Mr H Mann and members of his dance band and there was illumination from two powerful floodlights from Messrs Fell’s shop.
A large Union Jack at the top of the hose-drying tower at the fire station was lit up by the searchlight from the tender.
During Wednesday [May 9th] the East Anglian Electric Supply Co. fitted 300-watt bulbs in the street lamps near the Clock and also arranged red, white and blue floodlights on the front of the Electricity showrooms and these, with Messrs Fell’s floodlights brightly illuminated the Market Place at night.
As darkness fell, a large crowd estimated at 1,500 gathered for dancing and singing which continued until well after midnight. Music was supplied by amplifier provided by Mr Hubert Mann who was “heartily cheered”.All the fighting services were represented in the crowd, as well as fighting men from the dominions.
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The bells of St Mary’s church at Denver were rung on VE-Day, immediately after Winston Churchill’s broadcast announcing the end of European hostilities. The ringers were Messrs H Hassock, P Peckett, J Pearce, W Chapman, W Howlett and A Dungay. In the evening the rector, the Rev A Lester, conducted a service of thanksgiving and the bells were rung again.
Also in the village, workers at the Denver Munitions factory held a VE Day celebration.
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On VE-Day a service of thanksgiving was held at Stow Parish church of Holy Trinity, conducted by the vicar, the Rev G Quinton. The offertory amounted to £1 / 17s, for the Red Cross.
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A thanksgiving service was held on VE-Day at St Andrew’s Church, West Dereham, conducted by the Rev A Brodie. The collection of £2/2s was for the restoration of churches in Europe.
The following day a service was held in Station Road chapel, conducted by the Rev J Heath Burgess of Stoke Ferry.
West Dereham dancing club invited members of Fincham youth club to a dance in the school, and a subsequent dance at the school was held in aid of the “Welcome Home” fund.
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There was a large congregation for a VE-Day thanksgiving service at Southery Parish Church, conducted by the rector, the Rev E Morton, while a well-attended service was also held at the Methodist church conducted by Mr Willis Griggs.
On the Sunday (May 13th) afternoon members of the Home Guard, Civil Defence and other organisations marched through the village to the parish church, which was crowded for a service conducted by the rector. The collection amounted to more than £18 for the Red Cross.
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VE-Day celebrations at Crimplesham began with the church bells pealing by a band of youthful enthusiastic ringers led by Mr J Jarvis. Flags and bunting decorated the houses. In the evening the vicar, the Rev C Reed conducted a thanksgiving service.
On the following day a bonfire was lit in the hall grounds and sporting events arranged for the children.