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How Newmarket celebrated VE Day 75 years ago

Excitement began to build in Newmarket throughout Monday, May 7, in anticipation that the official announcement that the war in Europe was over would be broadcast the following day.

In the Newmarket Journal of Saturday, May 12, 1945, the editor wrote movingly of how the news of peace had been greeted by soldiers on the wards of the town’s White Lodge Hospital many of whom, he recalled, had ‘seen the horrors of prison camps and lived the lives of captives in the midst of the Nazi evil’.

“Some of the men stared at the ceiling, others, resting on their elbows gazed at the floor. Their faces were set and grim and I wondered at the memories flooding through their minds as Mr Churchill recounted the course of the war and came to the stirring call with which he ended his address. The far-away looks in the eyes of those men did not call for the art of a mind reader to tell what they were thinking. Surely there was no spot in the world where the Premier’s words carried more meaning than in the peace and quiet of that hospital ward.”

The children of Lowther Street, in Newmarket, would long remember their VE Day party when they each received two shillings.
The children of Lowther Street, in Newmarket, would long remember their VE Day party when they each received two shillings.

In the town, the mood was altogether more raucous and the celebrations began during the evening of May 7. Crowds had flooded in for the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas which were being run that week, and racegoers and servicemen and women swelled the throng in the High Street where flags began to appear.

“Two or three hundred servicemen and women joined forces and sang and danced to their hearts’ content,” reported the Journal. “It was good natured revelry and vehicles had to proceed slowly through the cheering mass and weird dances were performed in the headlights.”

Newmarket Journal VE Day headline. Picture: Journal archives
Newmarket Journal VE Day headline. Picture: Journal archives

Tuesday, May 8, dawned with the High Street busy from very early with the demand for flags and bunting exceeding supply.

“Rarely has the High Street presented a busier or more crowded spectacle and flags sprouted from practically every building,” said the Journal.

Back at the hospital, patients celebrated with singsongs, a glass of beer allowed for every man, and a lunch of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, plum pudding and custard.

At the racecourse, huge crowds watched the first two Classics of the season and in the town’s churches large congregations took part in services of thanksgiving. At All Saints’ Church, the vicar, Canon T R Browne, said: “It looked as though God chose this country as the nation to stand firm against the powers of the aggressor and to defend the ideals of liberty.”

Later that night the crowds were back in the High Street with singing, dancing and a band of drums provided by the banging of dustbin lids. “After dark the crowd numbered well over a thousand and great cheers went up as coloured Verey lights rocketed into the air. The street lamps returned to their pre-war power and many youngsters gazed in bewilderment at their brightness,” reported the Journal.

It was on Wednesday the celebrations reached fever pitch. “Nearing midnight it was discovered that there was burnable material in some of the bombed out derelict premises. It was hauled into the street and soon a bonfire was raging near the entrance of Wellington Street,” reported the Journal. “The noise and general excitement of the crowd knew no bounds.”

By the weekend more organised celebrations were taking place in the town. A ‘parade of parades’ nearly 2,000 strong took place in the High Street followed by an open air service of thanksgiving at The Severals but there was some criticism that the town’s leaders had not done more to organise a proper town celebration.

However that did not stop streets in the town organising their own victory celebrations. In Lowther Street there was street tea party for the children with each child presented with two shillings thanks to donations from residents and racegoers, while in Newton Terrace residents celebrated with a bonfire on which they burned an effigy of Hitler. A collection of just over £8 paid for a tea which included lemon tarts, doughnuts, chocolate, jam sponges and as much lemonade as the children could drink.