When the lights came on again and bonfires burned

A superimposed picture of how the bonfire might have looked at the junction of Eastney and Bransbury roads, Eastney, outside the Fort Cumberland Arms and Fort Cumberland Tavern (Charlie Hurdles). Photo: Steve West.

A superimposed picture of how the bonfire might have looked at the junction of Eastney and Bransbury roads, Eastney, outside the Fort Cumberland Arms and Fort Cumberland Tavern (Charlie Hurdles). Photo: Steve West.

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Next Friday it will be 70 years since the lights came on again all over Europe. There was a three-month wait until August before they came on again all over the world when the Japanese surrendered.

There was, of course, much rejoicing in the streets of Portsmouth and many went wild lighting bonfires wherever it was safe to do so and sometimes where it was not.

Lily Rump who remembers Royal Marines setting fire to benches from a disused air raid shelter.

Lily Rump who remembers Royal Marines setting fire to benches from a disused air raid shelter.

The Guildhall, albeit a fire-bombed wreck, and its square became the focus of attention for many and shortly after midnight crowds began to gather.

The King’s speech announcing the end of hostilities and relayed through police loudspeakers, took place just after midnight when the crowd of at least 20,000 started uncontrollable cheering. That was the excuse to light the bonfires.

One, started on land at the junction of Commercial Road and Greetham Street, was the excuse for much vandalism, it was claimed. Boxes surrounding flagpoles in the square were ripped apart and some men even went into Victoria Park and carried out benches to use as fuel for the fire.

Sailors climbed the bell tower of the Guildhall and started to ring the bells.

Happy faces in Hilsea Crescent, Hilsea, singing around a decorated piano.

Happy faces in Hilsea Crescent, Hilsea, singing around a decorated piano.

But it was at first light that events really started with people who had kept flags and bunting stored for the duration started banging in nails and hanging everything from their houses.

For 30 minutes, starting at mid-day, the ships in the harbour sounded their sirens and hooters screaming out a chorus of joy. Many sounded the letter V (for victory) in Morse code – (dot dot dot dash – da da da daaa. Think the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony).

Soon after breakfast the streets were crowded with residents waving flags and those flagpoles flying flags of not only England, Great Britain and the Stars and Stripes, but of all the nations who had seen off the Nazi menace.

Girls were seen with patriotic hair ribbons and wore outfits of red, white and blue.

That evening was again the sign to restart bonfires and police had to form a line to again stop benches being taken from Victoria Park. But the large indicator board in front of the Guildhall showing the success of the war savings campaign was torn apart and used for firewood.

On the corner of Timpson Road and Lake Road an empty house was raided and a piano and furniture were dragged out and used to start a bonfire.

Later a bakery was ransacked with the doors torn off and flour bags baskets and wrappings used as fuel.

At the junction of Eastney Road and Bransbury Road, Eastney, outside the two pubs, Royal Marines used benches taken from now disused air raid shelters to light a bonfire.

Lily Rump, of Beecham Road, Kingston, then lived in Bransbury Road and remembers the occasion well. ‘It went on well into the early hours of the following day,’ she says.

Edna Cahill (née Harwood) was 14 when the war ended and she remembers many bombs dropping around the area where she lived in Rudmore Wharf Road, Stamshaw.

Edna tells me no one knew who was doing what, but most exiting was the street lights coming on again.

‘Right opposite us was the entrance to Sydenham’s timber merchants with a street lamp outside. About a dozen of us 12-16-year-olds gathered and started to sing and dance around the lamp post. A neighbour opened her front window and started to play the piano to accompany us.’

It was not only the children but also the adults. Edna adds: ‘Lots of parents poured themselves a glass of something and came to their front doors to watch and chat and join in the singing. I cannot remember what time I got to bed.

‘We had a street party later but nothing had the magic of that night and that street lamp.’

After a couple of nights of celebrations things quietened until that wonderful day on September 2 when the whole world was at peace once again.

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