My grandparents' diaries - VE Day 1945 | Jabbering Journo column
On May 8 1945 (VE Day) 75 years ago my grandfather Peter ‘Dinga’ Bell, then stationed with the RAF in India and Malaya as a pilot, awoke to aircraft flying close overhead.
It was, he wrote in his diary, a ‘very strange’ day.
He flew sorties at both 2.10 hours and 10, clocking up more than 10 flying hours in total.
Then at 7.30pm - UK time - Churchill spoke from London on the radio and announced what grandpa described as the ‘cessation of the war with Germany’.
He did not stay up to hear the King, he explained, but was very glad the war was over.
There had been no partying for him, regardless of the war ending.
‘Everybody’, he observed, ‘was very quiet’.
The next day he flew again -his missions as mysterious as ever - but with some glee explained they were preparing to leave.
That night he flew back to base where he enjoyed drinks with Canadian officers.
Meanwhile, over in Cawnpore, India, where my grandmother and her family lived amidst the ex-pat cotton industry community, my grandmother was also writing in her diary, wondering about her betrothed on this extraordinary day.
Despite being bedridden with flu, ‘It’s VE day’, she proclaimed in her diary, describing the day of rejoicing on the radio while lying in bed.
‘I wonder if Dinga has heard yet?’ she ponders on paper.
The diaries are an extraordinary insight into a day in time for my family - but just a drop in the ocean of the shared VE day experience for those who were there - many who are now gone.
It’s hard to understand the depth of feeling and celebration that day must have brought Victory in Europe, a day many who had fought, suffered and lost through a brutal four years thought would never come.
Three quarters of a century on, while we are fighting this new and extraordinary battle of the pandemic, we need to remember what that generation gave us - and try and remember they were people like just us.
And that finally, tentatively, they were free to imagine lives without war.