To mark VE Day 75 we set out to find a photograph which might give us a glimpse of what happened in Fetcham on that momentous day.
Thanks to Alan Pooley and the Leatherhead and District Local History Society we have a picture of this celebratory gathering in Cannonside.
We know it is 1945, but we cannot be absolutely certain whether it was taken on May 8th or soon afterwards. Alan tells us the photo may even have been taken around VJ Day on August 15th, but looking at all the coats and sweaters that doesn’t seem quite right. So let’s plump for what we would all like it to be, a rather chilly day in May.
These are the faces of those who really did keep the home fires burning. Making do and mending, the keepers of the ration book, and most importantly of all, raising a generation of children who would grow up to enjoy the freedom which came with victory.
But many of the smiles in this photo are probably brave ones. For many wives and families the anxiety isn’t over. The young men are still absent, the war in the Far East rages on, and Japan has yet to surrender.
If you can tell us more about this photo, and the one below, and can put any names to the faces, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is Alan’s account of Fetcham at war and on VE Day, and beneath that some brief reminiscences from others in the village old enough to remember, residents of Morley Court.
Fetcham on VE Day
By Alan Pooley, Archivist and FRA Treasurer
75 years ago, Churchill made his historic announcement that the war in Europe was about to be ended: VE day was declared. Fetcham residents, whilst still under the war time restrictions of food, clothing, timber and petrol rationing, plus many other limitations, were able to celebrate out on the streets and in their houses without having a 2m space between them!
The Council was concerned that it was not perhaps appropriate to celebrate when there were still hostilities in the Far East, many prisoners of war in enemy hands and service personnel abroad. But it agreed to light the lamps in the forecourt of the Council Offices on VE day, and allow staff two days holiday. However, there was a Victory Parade through Leatherhead and a bonfire in the town which I am sure many Fetcham residents witnessed or participated in.
Whilst in the Leatherhead & District History Society records there are various personal reminiscences of the war, little is recorded as to what, if any, celebrations arose in Fetcham village on VE day. However, there is a photograph of a Children’s Party held in Cannonside with the nearby Church’s chairs put to good use. It is undated and is thought to be just after VE day, but could also be after VJ day in August.
Fetcham had its share of bombing and some destruction. 13-year-old Ralph Mann, who lived with his mother in The Drive and two children evacuees, the eldest being a pupil of The Strand School removed to Effingham, kept a diary of the air raid siren warnings operated by the staff of Barclay’s Bank.
One extract shows how in the early part of the war, lives were disrupted. On November 5th 1940 the warning times were: 10.00am to 10.25am, 11.25am to 12.10pm, 2.50pm to 3.25pm, 4.15pm to 4.30pm 6.45pm to 7.50am. This last one was all night and he recorded that it was a “Bad night for bombs, 45 in Fetcham and 69 in Leatherhead”.
Mr Jewell, whose father was a grocer in Orchard Parade [now a pet shop], recalls when a string of eight bombs fell in early October 1940 across from Lodge Road, The Street, Orchard Close and Cobham Road. They damaged the party wall of a pair of bungalows (the occupants being safe in a concrete shelter) and left a six-foot deep hole at the back of the Post Office [now Tailor and Clean]. The end wall of the opposite block of shops was also damaged and remained shored up until the end of the war.
Things eased a bit as the war went on. Later, the area was awash with Canadians, and Fetcham Park House had part of University College London in occupation. But towards the end there was the threat from the Doodlebugs, or flying bombs. One came down in River Lane which blew out the sluice gates under the bridge over the Mole at the “Splash”. But Fetcham was spared the V2 rockets, an even more serious threat.
Eventually, in May 1945 the nightly blackout ended and light returned to the streets. Incidentally apparently if needed, the Warden tapped on a window and said “there is a light showing”, not “Put that light out!” Rationing was retained, and in some respects was even more severe. Food rationing did not end until 1954, when the final restrictions were lifted on sales of meat and bacon.
My own personal memory of VE day is rather vague, but I was only six years old. I do remember being in our kitchen at Southgate with my mother, throwing our slippers up in the air at, I think, that time. My father was still out in Burma.
Unfortunately, various plans to mark this anniversary have had to be abandoned but the media is full of suggestions as to how to mark it under lockdown, should one wish to do so. However, should anybody have any memories of events in Fetcham Village for either VE day or VJ day, August 15th or perhaps other apposite records, then I would be delighted to learn of them through the medium of the Residents Association.
Morley Court residents look back
By Nigel Turner, Trustee, Fetcham United Charities
Isabel Blake is Morley Court's oldest resident and has been living in River Lane for over thirty years. Seventy-five years ago she was living with her family in Brixton - having moved there from Vauxhall after being 'bombed out'. It was a busy time for her. On May 6th, two days before VE Day, she celebrated her 21st birthday.
On VE day itself, she had to go to work but she and her colleagues then spent a very enjoyable evening at the nearby 'Black Dog' pub in Vauxhall. It was a good celebration but the war had taken its toll. Two of Isabel's brothers were soldiers and never made it back home. The Black Dog is still there and is looking good, even if it has to be shut at the moment.
Alec Warne has lived in Morley Court for nearly ten years and runs the Mole Valley Veterans’ Band that practices in the Reading Room. He was ten years old in May 1945 and lived in Ipswich.
He recalls spending VE Day at a neighbourhood party that his mother had helped organise. This party wasn’t held in the street but in the field behind the houses. In the photo Alec is the older boy bottom left.
Pat Shorter has been a resident of Morley Court for fifteen years and before that lived in Hilly Field Lane. But in 1945 she was a girl of 14 living in Southgate, north London. She was in her last few weeks at school and would soon start work.
On VE Day, she and her school friend Margaret decided that it would be fun to see what was happening up in town. So, without their mums' permission, in the late afternoon, they took the Piccadilly Line to Leicester Square and started walking around. But it was all so crowded that they quickly decided to go home where a street party was being arranged for the evening. They had fun at that and never told tell their parents about their secret trip to the West End!
Gerry Fleming has lived in Fetcham for fifty years and is a recent addition to Morley Court. In May 1945 he was 12 years old and lived in Whitehaven in Cumbria. He can't remember VE Day at all, but he can remember the day before. That day he and his friend John were out on a bike ride. They saw a man and a woman putting up union jacks outside their house. The boys asked them: “Is the war over?” The reply was: “Not yet but it will be tomorrow!”