Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A DARWEN KNEES UP! (Carol Tapp)

Thankfully the weather over the recent May Bank Holiday weekend was, on the whole, sunny and bright. However, the elements were the last thing on the minds of our senior citizens as we look back to arguably one of the major national announcements which came at 2.41 a.m. on Monday, May 7th, 1945 declaring that the war in Europe had finally ended. Churchill, informed at 7am that day, set about telling the nation that official celebrations would begin the following day, 8th May.

Darwen, like the rest of the country, had experienced six years of austerity and rationing. Five inches of bath water, few eggs and certainly no bananas were just some of the measures taken.

Neither had the town escaped bombs. For example, one weekend in 1940 we were bombed twice and a double decker bus, travelling up Marsh House, was sprayed with bullets.

Quickly after Churchill's speech two typically 'stuffy' announcements to the nation followed. The first, from the government:-

"Bonfires will be allowed, but the government trusts that only materials with no salvage will be used."

The Board of Trade issued the following instructions:-

"Until the end of May you may buy cotton bunting without coupons, and it must not cost more than one shilling and three pence a square yard."

To the delight of the nation, Churchill later appeared with the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace where he announced to the crowd below "This is your victory - Advance Britannia."

As to government instructions, do Darreners ever take any notice of officialdom? Trestle tables were quickly assembled, schools throughout the town closed and consequently a glut of vegetables became available from the Duckworth Street canteen. Word soon spread and the towns folk turned up with buckets, wheelbarrows and anything else they could lay their hands on to help the party along. Never mind that no money could be had. Never mind that their men folk were thousands of miles away, all ages were quickly put to work ensuring that V.E. Day would be one to remember.

Page two:

Neighbours dashed in and out of each other's homes to hastily sort out who was doing what in the catering department whilst sharing their ration coupons. A sea of red white and blue adorned everybody and everything, from hair ribbons to bunting. Pianos, quickly hauled out of barely-used front parlours, helped sing songs throughout the town and 'Knees Up Mother Brown' could be heard for miles around.

Later that day Darreners also congregated in the town centre, and a stream of dancers formed various lines to conga through wherever they could find an opening! Presumably the following day the majority of the adults were suffering extraordinary hangovers, that's if the pubs didn't run out of beer first, but it had been worth it. (Young Darreners take note - you're not the only ones who can party until all hours).

Here's a picture of one held on Sudell Side Street which features some of my family - can you spot any of yours? Do you have any memories or photos of that day? Darwen Days would love to hear from you and see those black and white shots.

Finally, I've been asked by one of my relatives featured in that photo if anyone has, or knows of, any photographs of Darwen when there were thirty or more factory chimneys belching out enough CO2 to smother China. Hardy lot, aren't we - both then and now!