VE Day: Lest We Forget

May 7, 2020 | Jenni Ashford

On Friday 8th May 1945, prime minister Winston Churchill addressed the nation to officially announce the end of the war in Europe. Churchill stated, “Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, Tuesday the eighth of May. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.”

75 years later, while the Coronavirus lockdown has meant abandoning the planned celebrations across the country to celebrate the anniversary, we will stay at home to remember and acknowledge the day Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies of WII and all those who sacrificed so much for our freedom.

Whilst enjoying a tipple and a cream tea, with your red, white and blue bunting blowing in the breeze, remember the individuals; your grandparents, great grandparents or even great-great grandparents and the part they played.

Read on for memories from Golf Members, Jim Dowie and Eddie Grant, along with a summarised version of past Club President, Jack Hughieson’s story of unrelenting determination, bravery and courage that bore witness to POW camps, the sinking of Lisbon Maru and the explosion and aftermath of Hiroshima, as while we celebrate VE Day, is it important to remember those whose battle to survive continued for months after.

timetable of 75th VE Day events

Exeter Golf and Country Club had a vibrant membership of golfers and tennis players before World War II. The photo album from the club’s arrival at Wear Park in 1929 (having moved from the Pennsylvania area of Exeter) is full of sepia-tinted memories of men and women, optimistic, positive and embracing their love of sport. The photos are particularly poignant given what lay ahead. With the age of national conscription stretching from 18 to 41, and 1.5 million men signed up by the end of 1939, you can’t help but wonder what became of the faces in the photos.

Like elsewhere in the country, the scars of war were etched into the foundations of the club from the people to the land itself. By the time Churchill made his announcement on VE Day 1945, life and landscapes had been transformed forever. In 1943, Exeter Golf and Country Club was chosen as the location for the largest US Navy Store Camp in the UK. Fifty acres of golf course land was stripped back to mud with huts, warehouses and roadways constructed to prepare equipment for the D-Day invasion. Wear Park house was used as a rehabilitation hospital for US service personnel.

wear park world war 2, wear park ww2, exeter golf and country club

wear park world war 2, wear park ww2, exeter golf and country club

wear park world war 2, wear park ww2, exeter golf and country club

Photos courtesy of Exeter Memories website

A nine hole loop of the golf course was retained for members, and those recuperating from injury and illness in Wear Park. Heavyweight boxer, Joe Louis visited while serving with the US forces during 1944.

Wear Park house and part of the land were eventually returned to the club. James Braid returned to redesign the new 6000 yard layout, 200 yards short of the original. The original 1st tee is now the 18th hole. New houses are now located on much of the land, which was retained by the military after the war as a MOD Naval Store.

We will never know how many of our members made it back and how many made the ultimate sacrifice. We are honoured to still have members who remember what life was like during the war years and after, so here are just a few of their stories as a tribute to all those who fought for the freedom we enjoy and often take for granted.

Jim Dowie
Past Seniors Golf Captain and current Golf Member

I won’t tell you how old I am, but I have a younger brother who is 85! I actually remember the war starting, hearing Mr Chamberlain (the Prime Minister) on our battery-operated Marconi radio saying, “We are at war with Germany”.

My first memory connected with the war was going with my mother and father to get our gas masks and National Registration Identity cards – my Reg No was SNMT/168/3. This would have been around November 1939. I was at school and you always had to carry your gas mask – mine was in a round tin carried with a strap around my neck.

We lived in a town called Greenock, situated on the south side of the river Clyde, 25 miles down river from Glasgow. Greenock was a very important town during the war because of all the ship building yards etc and the Firth of Clyde was an important anchorage for war ships and merchant Navy ships. Our cottage was situated just outside the town on the edge of the hill overlooking the shipyards.

From around 1940 we had frequent air raids and as this was before air raid shelters were built, if the raid occurred whilst we were at school, we had to lie on the floor with our heads under our desks until the “all clear” was sounded on the sirens.

However, in April 1941 came the first night of the Greenock Blitz. I can still remember the noise; the anti-aircraft guns on the hills behind our house; the tremendous explosions from the high explosive bombs, and land mines. Something like 150 people were killed that night. We were lucky – our house only had all the windows blown out by the blast.

The following night was even worse, about 300 people were killed, fires all over the town and our house practically demolished by the blast from a nearby bomb, but we were OK – except we were all very deaf. When we got out, along with several more survivors, we were herded together and for the next two days and nights, we lived in a railway tunnel. Thankfully on the third day, we managed to get into temporary accommodation.

Sometime later we got back to school, not the one that I had been attending. That had been bombed. My new school, some distance away, fortunately had very large classrooms and had not been too badly damaged because there were 53 pupils in the class! I still have a photograph of that class. I cannot remember any further air raids.

Come May 1945, I was in the final class of my Primary school and on 8th May I was due to sit my Qualifying Examination, the equivalent of the English 11 Plus. The examination was postponed as it was VE day, so we were given three days holiday from school. The examination was set the following week.

On VE Day itself, I remember we, as a family (I had a younger sister by then, as well as a younger brother), walked into the town centre. Outside the Town Hall we joined a very large crowd where a brass band was playing and several men throughout the crowd were playing the bagpipes. The following day, someone in our neighbourhood (our old house had actually been made habitable by this time), had organised a street party – only it wasn’t in the street, it was on a bomb site where a house had been. No food of course. Rations didn’t permit that, but one of the old chaps played an accordion and there was a lady soloist taking off Vera Lynn.

Now to conclude, I live in a flat in Exmouth with lovely neighbours and on Friday 8th May, the 75th Anniversary of VE day, whilst observing all the social distancing restrictions of course, we will be having “a bit of a do” on our large lawn. There will be food, something to drink, but here is the coincidence – I will be leading a sing-a-long playing my piano accordion to accompany songs such as we would have sung 75 years ago, including The White Cliffs of Dover, Tipperary, and of course We’ll Meet Again.

Jack Hughieson
Club President 2005

Whilst the UK rejoiced on VE Day, for others the battle for freedom continued beyond Europe until 2nd September 1945.

The 2005 Club President of Exeter Golf and Country Club was one of those. His story is so incredible it has featured in many reports, books, news stories and a BBC Two documentary. Ruth Smith, who was Club President in 2007, was a friend of Jack Hughieson who had been a Golf Member at the club from his retirement through to 2014, when he sadly passed away aged 94.

His story has been recorded in a series of eight 30 minute interviews with the Imperial War Museum – you can listen to Jack describing his experience online:

listen to the interviews with Jack

Jack’s story began in 1938 when he joined the Navy. After being posted in Singapore and Hong Kong, his ship was destroyed on 16th December by a Japanese bombing raid.

Jack was captured and held in the Prisoner of War camp at Sham Shipou (Kowloon) surviving despite sadistic beatings, lack of food and water, and having witnessed the most horrific events. He was eventually put aboard the Lisbon Maru, transportation ship along with 1,800 British and Canadian prisoners of war and hundreds of Japanese military personnel. The POWs were held in appalling conditions within the lower hold, often showered by the diarrhoea of sick soldiers above.

On 1st October 1942, the ship was torpedoed by USS Grouper. The Japanese were evacuated, but not until they had battened the hatches on the POWs, who were left on the sinking ship. Eventually some POWs were able to break through the hatches, after realising most of the Japanese had abandoned ship.

Jack was one of the few who managed to escape the dysentery hell of the lower hold. There was a scramble to get out, and those who did were met by machine gun fire from the remaining Japanese on board. Those who made it to the water were then shot at by the Japanese destroyer alongside the ship. As Jack swam to the nearby island, underwater to avoid the machine gun fire above, he saw the ship’s final descent. As the water went up the funnel, Jack heard the trapped POWs singing, amongst the screams and enemy fire, as they went down with the ship.

He was in the water for almost two days, until he was pulled out of the water by a Chinese fisherman. He was taken to Shanghai where the Japanese seized the POWs once more. Jack was put aboard one of the Hellships to Moji in South Japan. From there he was taken by train to the Osaka Prisoner of War Camp. After slave labour on he docks, he was moved twice more, finally to Kobe Hospital – known as The Hellhole.

At The Hellhole, the POWs were split into two; those who could walk and those who could not. Jack was amongst those who could walk – and was taken to the Miyoshi POW camp. It was there, just 20 miles away from Hiroshima, that Jack witnessed the first atomic bomb, the mushroom cloud and the subsequent devastation.

Jack remembered it was a cloudless blue sky, yet suddenly and inexplicably, lit up. Seconds later, a horrendous rush of hot air almost took them off their feet, as if in front of a furnace. He saw the top of the cloud, not knowing the enormity of what he had just experienced.

The next morning, Jack and eleven POWs were taken into Hiroshima. Reaching the outskirts, they were made to pick up dead bodies. Instructed not to touch anyone living, Jack remembered lifting charcoal bodies into trucks, the charred remains barely resembling the human form. He was there for three days, but the memories and the physical trauma lasted his lifetime.

After the Japanese surrender, Jack and his fellow prisoners were enlisted by the US 8th Army to assist with the repatriation programme. He spent time in various hospitals in Okinawa undergoing treatment and medical evaluation of his exposure to the Atom bomb. He was told that despite surviving the atomic bomb, the radiation had left him unable to have children. More medical evaluation and testing took place in Manilla, Pearl Harbour and in Singapore. Finally, Jack returned to the UK on a hospital ship.

Jack suffered for many years from his experiences but went on to have a very successful career worldwide with the Diplomatic Wireless Service [GCHQ]. He met and married his wife Pat and raised a family, with three step-children. Later he moved to Exeter for retirement and was a key figure at the Exeter Golf and Country Club, where he was a well-loved and respected member for many years.

Ruth recalls a final twist to Jack’s fascinating story, “When Jack was retired in Exeter, a man came looking for him…as he was actually Jack’s son. It turned out that before Jack was sent to the Far East, he was engaged to a nurse who, without Jack knowing, was pregnant. Jack had had a son for all those years without knowing – I remember when Jack heard and it was just amazing.”

Eddie Grant
Club President 2014

My lasting and vivid memory of the war was the chilling sound of air raid sirens. It was quite frightening as a child. The sound was the signal to exit the bed and dive down to the cupboard under the stairs and listen to the horrible sound the bombs made. Sometimes we would go to the air raid shelter in the allotments at the end of the garden.

Other memories include the barrage balloon station at the end of the road and my Mickey Mouse gas mask. This was changed for a different model as I got older. I had to take it with me to school every day.
I went down with acute appendicitis near the end of the war and spent three weeks in Yeovil Hospital. When the sirens went off, we had to get under the bed, until the all clear.

‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’… Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.
Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister, House of Commons, 13 May 1940

from the BBC

  • 10:50 BST – at a service in Westminster, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle will lay a wreath on behalf of the Commons. Lord West will lay a wreath on behalf of the Lords
  • 11:00 – a national moment of remembrance and a two-minute silence will be held
  • 14:45 – in a special programme on BBC One, extracts from Churchill’s victory speech to the nation announcing the end of the war in Europe will be broadcast
  • 14:55 – solo buglers, trumpeters and cornet players will be invited to play the Last Post from their homes
  • 15:00 – as Churchill’s speech is broadcast, people will be invited to stand up and raise a glass in a national toast, saying: “To those who gave so much, we thank you”
  • 20:00 – another BBC One special will feature Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins, actor Adrian Lester and singer Beverley Knight, who will be performing some well-known songs from the 1930s and 40s. The programme will culminate in the nation being invited to sing along to a rendition of wartime classic We’ll Meet Again
  • 21:00 – the Queen’s pre-recorded address will be broadcast on BBC One at the exact moment her father, King George VI, gave a radio address 75 years ago. It will be her second televised message during the coronavirus outbreak after a rare speech to the nation last month
  • 21:30 – Spotlights will light up the sky in Portsmouth to recall the experience of blackouts during the war. The local council says the lights are also to remind people “that lighter times will come again”

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