A few weeks ago, on 8th May 2015, Britain commemorated the 70th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). This was not the end of World War Two, which continued in the Pacific, but the end of hostilities in Europe. In World War One, Britain had experienced a few raids by air and sea, but in World War Two the conflict was brought right into the British Isles with the bombing, the shortages caused by the war at sea disrupting supplies, and the constant threat of spies, raids and invasion. VE Day was therefore particularly significant for everyone.
Very few people in Britain had an easy life during World War Two, but it could be particularly gruelling for those in the munitions factories, as one young woman found. Ivy Clarke was a teenager who had not long left school when the war broke out. She took a job at a munitions factory in Maidenhead, working on machine lathes that cut and shaped metal castings, eventually being promoted to supervisor in charge of four machines. It was work that she came to enjoy, but it was hard, with shifts of 12 hours at a time, 7 days a week, with one month of night shifts, then a month on days.
The only time off was at the changeover from nights to days (or back again), when the shift workers had a weekend to themselves. Ivy was also part of the Local Defence Volunteers, better known by the initials LDV – which cynics said was an abbreviation of ‘Look, Duck and Vanish’. She was given training in fire-fighting and had a specific area to patrol when the air-raid siren sounded.
On shift work and in the LDV, Ivy had little spare time but managed to teach herself to play the accordion, performing in local concerts. She also made little ‘mascots’ that were regarded by some as good-luck charms, which she sold in aid of the war effort, as she herself wrote:
‘In my spare time, which was not much, I knitted very small socks in khaki, navy blue and Air Force blue, on needles the size of darning needles. I then sewed a small safety pin on back, and a bow of red white and blue ribbon, and sold this for 2/6 a time at social dances, to give to Battle of Britain weeks. I think that over a period of time, I must have collected £25 – a lot of money.’
One of Ivy’s ‘sock mascots’
Receipt for money collected by selling ‘sock mascots’
Ivy Clarke’s experiences during World War Two is just one person’s part of the hard work and hardship that the people on the ‘Home Front’ in Britain had to endure, so it is not surprising that when peace in Europe finally came on 8th May 1945, there were widespread celebrations. Mindful that the war with Japan was not over, Winston Churchill may have cautiously said ‘We can allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing’, but everything had changed for the people in the streets. They were looking forward to an end to war work, an end to rationing and the prospect of their loved ones returning home.
With Austerity following on from the war and with rationing set to continue for nearly a decade, until 1954, the brighter future everyone looked forward to in May 1945 was actually a very long time coming.