Friday, May 08, 2020

My VE Day Memories

Towards the end of the Second World War at the age of 19 Dennis Donnini from Easington Colliery became the youngest soldier in the Second World War to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He was killed during his act of bravery. Locally where I then lived his family were exceptionally well known as his father ran a popular ice cream parlour situated in Easington's main street of Seaside Lane. After my father retired as a miner, my parents moved into sheltered accommodation named in memory of Dennis as “Donnini House”. Details about Dennis can be found here -

    On VE Day on 1945 I was an 8 year old living at Easington Colliery in County Durham on a Council Housing estate where the bulk of the men were local coal miners. Although it was part of a large estate, our street only had ten houses and there were a similar number in the street opposite us. Tables (with chairs) were taken from both sets of houses and placed from end to end in our shared road. We held a fine celebration with food and drinks. Similar festivities took place across the rest of the Council Housing estate as well as in the colliery housing area for miners and their families. Like most of the men around us, my father worked at the local pit. His extra contribution to the war effort having been to serve as an Air Raid Warden.
    The main war time attack on Easington occurred when I was only 4 years old when 50 colliery houses close to the pit were hit, with 14 people being killed, 30 injured and some 300 being made homeless. I remember nothing about this as I lived in a different part of Easington at the time and was probably asleep. The matter would be kept from me. (Link into the start of this key article  by Mary N Bell on such attacks. The rest of the 56 pages is also well worth an examination  - Click here )
    It was not until near the end of the war that I became aware of what had happened. For my father took me by bus to Hartlepool to see a German fighter plane which had been shot down. Then as we passed the area near Easington pit, he pointed to the pock marks from enemy gun fire on the side of the Trust Hotel which had occurred during the attack.  
    We had moved into the street where our VE Day celebrations were taking place just before I was due to start school as a 5 year old. Our house was only four doors away from where my Grandmother and Uncle Bill lived. As my grandmother was an invalid, my mother and I spent a great deal of time in their house. Air raid sirens often went off in the evening and my mother and I would dive under the table. But my grandmother would not budge from her rocking chair.
    These raids did not hit Easington, as they were mainly directed at Sunderland to our north and sometimes at Hartlepool to our south. From our back garden I could see protective barrage balloons over Hartlepool, some 10 miles away. Sunderland being just a bit further to the north.
    When we arrived at our Council House near my Grandmothers, we had an air raid shelter in our back garden. But as it was flooded it was removed. A brick air-raid shelter was later built on the road where our celebrations later took place, but it was mainly an unused building and its condition degenerated.
    In fact there was only one local air attack I recollect. Near the end of the war a German plane was being pursued by British fighters. It fired its guns as it retreated. My mother rushed into my bedroom placing herself on top of me for my protection. The plane's shots hit one man on our estate in his house on the arm and other shots dislodged tiles at the nearby Secondary Modern School.
    In my early years at school I had a gas mask for a period and also picked up matters about the war from family discussions, but it was only really a couple of years later as the tide started to turn in Russia in 1943 and then we entered Normandy in 1944 that my knowledge of war events grew.
    Aged 8, near the end of the war my parents took me to the cinema as they wanted to see Pathe News showing the allied troops entering the camp at Belsen. I was made to duck under the seat in front of me when the item emerged. But I could hear the commentary and have seen its horrors many times since.
    I was able to participate fully in events on the 50th Anniversary of VE Day. As I was then the MP for North East Derbyshire I arranged for my wife and her late mother to accompany me to a commemorative event addressed by the Queen in Westminster Hall in the parliament building. As my mother-in-law was in a wheel chair, we were given a rather good spot. Then the same happened when we next visited the fly past outside of Buckingham Palace. 

Here is an item I wrote about my Easington Colliery 10 years ago. Click here.

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