Friday 8th May will mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Even during these strange times it’s important to remember what a momentous event this was after years of conflict. In this blog we look not only at the street parties that marked the end of the war but also what it looked like for The Black Watch soldiers.
Celebrations took place across Britain as almost 6 years of war in Europe ended. Street parties were held with bunting and Union flags hung from lampposts and in front gardens. Families had become increasingly inventive in making food as rationing reduced basics like meat, butter and sugar. Despite this the tables groaned under food on VE Day. A pie recipe promoted by Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food during the war, made from vegetables and a potato crust but with no meat received mixed reviews! However one cake recipe that was incredibly popular was the carrot cake. This would have appeared on many VE Day street party tables. The large number of carrots being grown helped this cake move from relative obscurity to something that even today we see regularly in cafes.
But what was VE Day like for The Black Watch soldiers? They were not having huge parties in Germany. For many it was a relief; a strange feeling to be marching down German streets past defeated soldiers.
‘No longer was I listening for bullets and shells and mortars coming in my direction. No longer was I looking for enemy strongholds that were going to be sniping at us. No longer was I smelling the cordite that you get when shells explode around you. That was gone.
I was listening to the birds; smelling the flowers; enjoying the scenery; just looking at the beauty of the world and what a contrast it was – from one extreme to the other. And you felt that you had been born again.’ – Lieutenant Tom Renouf
The 1st, 5th and 7th Battalions were part of the 51st Highland Division that was in Germany on May 8th 1945. For some the celebrations were simply marked with an extra ration of rum. Four days later the Massed Pipes and Drums of the 51st Highland Division took part in a Victory Parade at Bremerhaven alongside US Naval and Military forces.
These simple celebrations reflected that the job did not finish on May 8th. 75 years later its easy to forget that the end of fighting did not mean soldiers immediately returned to Britain to be with families. They still had to do work checking German identity papers for fleeing high ranking Nazi officers and guarding important strategic locations.
‘I was given a whole regiment of Panzergrenadiers to look after. You had to check that they were who they said they were… And of course they were then processed, these people, and a whole lot of them were sent back into agriculture and forestry and so on. And then, of course, a lot of them were put through the de-Nazification process, whatever that was.’ – Colonel Ian Critchley
For many of the soldiers it gave them time to think about what they had been through. Some were based a short drive from Belsen and visited the concentration camp – empty but no less shocking to realise what had taken place.
While we remember the joy at the end of fighting in Europe it did not finish on May 8th for all Black Watch soldiers. Fighting was still taking place in East Asia where the 2nd Battalion was stationed. They were given a two day holiday but were soon moving to India and receiving jungle training in preparation to invade Malaya and fight the Japanese. For these soldiers and their families the war did not finish until August 15th.