VE Day in Hornsey: ‘Profound relief the dominant note’, as 1945 saw pianos hauled into the streets during celebrations

Bombed out houses in wartime Haringey. Picture: Hornsey Journal/Hornsey Historical Society

Bombed out houses in wartime Haringey. Picture: Hornsey Journal/Hornsey Historical Society - Credit: Archant

“Now that the tumult of rejoicing has died down, let us spare a moment to remember the men – and women – who won the battle for us.”

The May 11 1945 Hornsey Journal. Picture: Hornsey Journal/Hornsey Historical Society

The May 11 1945 Hornsey Journal. Picture: Hornsey Journal/Hornsey Historical Society - Credit: Archant

In its first edition after peace was declared, the Hornsey Journal’s editorial column was a prescient one.

While its news pages described in vivid detail the celebrations that took place across Highgate, Crouch End and Muswell Hill, the paper took care to consider the sacrifices of those who had fought in the Second World War, too.

Stan Cole, who edited the Journal for much of the latter half of the 20th century wrote on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of VE Day: “Battered and bereaved after six years of bombardment, Londoners gave thanks for deliverance.”

Reading through the newspaper’s May 1945 editions, relief and gratitude are underlined on every page.

In the same May 11 edition which provided the above editorial, a page relates the celebrations that took place all over the then-borough of Hornsey.

“Pianos were hauled into bonfire-lit streets”, and street parties saw people do “what they had all dreamed of doing through nearly six years of war”.

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“Alexandra Palace was transformed into a vast amusement centre,” the Journal reported, and while Highgate, Hornsey and Crouch End were raucous, Muswell Hill was noticeably quiet.

The copy continued: “Fireworks of all descriptions went off throughout the evening and rockets shot up from the Palace grounds into the star and searchlight-studded sky.”

Why Muswell Hill was quieter than its neighbouring suburbs is unclear, but the newspaper reported: “Almost all correspondents attended thanksgiving services in their respective churches.”

The newspaper heard valedictory words from vicars and priests across its patch, but it paid attention to the working men and women who were, finally, breathing a sigh of relief.

It quotes “a housewife”, who said: “The two children and I have slept down the tubes for the past twelve months during the flying-bomb and rocket attacks. It is a pleasure to be able to sleep on a mattress again after so long.”

The paper also spoke to a “land girl” who explained she “would be one of the first to volunteer” to help with the harvest after enjoying her war-time work so much, but a postman worried about the toll of the war, saying: “I often wonder just what proportion of happiness and misery I have dropped through letter-boxes during this war.”

The Hornsey Historical Society has in its possession a remarkable diary, written by a woman named Dorothy Ruth Noyes, who lived in Cranley Gardens, Muswell Hill. Daily notes show news of the war’s impending end spread as May 1945 began.

On May 1, she wrote in excited capitals that the “world awaits developments”, and then, on a “horribly cold” May 2, “Hitler said to be dead, end of air raid warnings”.

Over the following week Ms Noyes writes first of the Germans surrendering in Italy, and then of the fall of Berlin, Hamburg and Rangoon on May 3.

Friday May 4 was a “rather better day”, she greeted the surrender of Germans “everywhere” as “stupendous news”.

In both Ms Noyes’ diary and the Journal we can see a city and its villages collectively exhaling.

And in the newspaper, this wasn’t limited to the copy. Advertisers including Jelks, a Holloway Road furniture shop, John Trapp, a Crouch End theatre agent, and Laughlin of Crouch End, a glass and china merchant, bought space to thank the armed forces and appeal to what the latter company called the area’s “freedom-loving peoples”.

Of course, VE Day wasn’t a celebration for all. After the reports of festivities and ceremonies, came the notes marking the deaths which continued right to the war’s conclusion.

Under the heading “tragic news on the eve of victory”, the paper chronicles how Private Albert Thorpe’s wife had been preparing for his return, “thinking that the war in Europe was nearly over”.

Ultimately though, the Journal’s main headline said it all: “Profound relief the dominant note”.

This feature was produced with the help of the Hornsey Historical Society.