While the celebrations marking the end of the War in Europe swept across the country, there were many who were still waiting to hear news from the men fighting in the east.
“Although the European War was over, it didn’t really affect me. All the jollifications. My husband was still fighting, I was still upset. It was very hard for us, with our husbands in Burma. We had the street parties for the War ending in Europe, and we had to join in with the children all around, but to us it was still a very sad time, because we didn’t know how long it was going to on. Anything could happen. A lot of them were killed even after it was over, but my husband was lucky.” [Mrs. P Turner – North Devon at War D940/1939/NOR]
Much of the Devonshire Regiment, including the local Yeomanry had fought in Europe. However, the 1st Battalion and members of the 6th Battalion (many of whom came from North Devon) had been sent to the Far East and Burma. So while friends and family back home were celebrating the end of the War in Europe, they were still fighting through the jungles of the Far East.
Several months later, in a camp near Kalader in the Far East members of the 6th Devonshire Regiment were preparing to go back into Malaya. Barnstaple boy, A T Turner recalls “we were all prepared to go and we could have been going at any time and then they dropped to atomic bomb, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and they stopped us then, you know…they didn’t know what was going to happen. And all the chaps was talking about was going to happen; same in the Sergeants Mess (because we’d go back to the Sergeants Mess business by then) and they said “It’s going to finish right away!” I said “no, it isn’t going to finish until the 15th August” and they said “Why 15th August?” and I said “Cos that’s me birthday! It started on me brother’s that’s 1st September. I left Barnstaple on me sister’s; and I’m going to finish the War.” And it did, finished on 15 August.” [Mr. A T Turner – North Devon at War D940/1939/NOR]
At 11pm on the 14th August an announcement was made to expect an announcement…and at midnight the word went out, Japan had surrendered and the war was finally over.
While the men in Burma were given a day off, their friends and family back home celebrated. Bells rang out, services of Thanksgiving and street parties held, boats in Bideford decorated, the Long Bridge in Barnstaple lit up with fairy lamps, and dancing in Braunton went on into the small hours.
“All’s Well: Midnight Cries
Rumour and denial for several days, “They will,” and “They won’t” rather took the edge off the official intimation of the surrender of the Japanese. Many Barumites in a spirit of expectancy burnt the midnight oil on Tuesday in the hope of hearing the great news. They were not disappointed, and then emulated the “All’s Well” perambulations of the night watchman of a past generation, knocking up neighbours and friends to impart the glad tidings.
Meanwhile the borough was invaded by Lorry-loads of service men from the adjoining camps and barracks. They made the ring with song and mirth.
Many Barumites yesterday morning unaware of the enemy’s capitulation, turned up to work, only to find that factories and workshops were closed for two days.
Barnstaple’s streets quickly took on a gay appearance, flags and bunting spanning the streets and hanging from the windows of houses. High-street was a blaze of colour.
The Long Bridge was spanned with coloured electric fairy lamps, and as darkness fell last night these presented a pretty scene, the waters of the River Taw reflecting the varied hues. Many of the principal buildings were flood-lit.
Church bells rang merry peals throughout the day. Hand bells were rung in the street, and many fireworks were discharged. [NDJH 16th August 1945 p 5]
However, there was also a time for reflection. The North Devon Journal-Herald editor wrote “The struggle has been won at the cost of many lives and much desolation and suffering, and this time we must ensure that the sacrifice has not been in vain. Let us hope that the lesson has been learned, and that the futility of war as a means of settling international disputes is recognised by all peoples of the world” [NDJH 16th August 1945 p4]
The newspaper also highlighted the words of one of the local vicars…“We see how science has far outstripped the moral and spiritual development of man, and it is only through such moral and spiritual development that you can get control of the awful powers that man now possesses.” – The Vicar of Barnstaple (the Rev. Denis James) at the thanksgiving service in Barnstaple Parish Church on Sunday. [NDJH 23rd August 1945 p4]
The War may have finally been over, but it took some time for loved ones to return.
“I can remember him coming home. The war finished in the August, but he didn’t come home until the following March. He had to wait. They couldn’t send them home just like that. The letters were coming – I knew he was alive. I still have the telegrams from Burma and Devonshire Christmas cards. He wasn’t a prisoner, he went through the jungle. It took a long time to get over. You didn’t know what to say. It seemed strange. And even though it was summer, he was wearing a big great coat all the time, he was so used to the heat out there, compared with here. It was strange for quite a while.” [Mrs. P Turner – North Devon at War D940/1939/NOR]
“To get back to civilian life was very hard. It seemed harder for me to get adjusted to civilian life than what I did get adjusted to Army life when I went in. Then, you got all your life…you got to see about getting a house. I was living with me mother, I was married, and we had a daughter…there was nine of us living in one house…Until we got a council house. And then we had the ration…Yes, you had to build your life again.” [Mr. A T Turner – North Devon at War D940/1939/NOR]
Discover more about VJ Day and the War in the Far East on our shelves:
North Devon Journal Herald August 1945
North Devon at War D940/1939/NOR
The Devons – A History of the Devonshire Regiment 1685-1945 by Jeremy Taylor D355/TAY
The Bloody Eleventh – History of The Devonshire Regiment, Volume III: 1914-1969 by WJP Aggett D355/AGG
We also have a large selection of books on World War Two in our general collection of the library and a large collection of War Office and Ministry of Information Images which you can search on via our catalogue https://northdevonathenaeum.org.uk/catalogue/