VE DAY 70th anniversary: ‘Falkirk gave what we were called to give’

The Falkirk Herald's page 1 on Wednesday, May 9, 1945
The Falkirk Herald's page 1 on Wednesday, May 9, 1945

The bomb shelters in Newmarket Street were used – not as protection against enemy action as was their purpose – but as grandstands and dancing platforms.

At the Cross in High Street joyful crowds gathered to sing and dance “merrily till midnight to wireless music amplified from the Steeple” as Falkirk folk celebrated VE Day in 1945.

Nettie Miller from Bantaskine volunteered for the ARP ambulance section during WW2

Nettie Miller from Bantaskine volunteered for the ARP ambulance section during WW2

Tomorrow marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day – one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the country.

The day triumphantly marked the end of the Second World War, won by Britain and its Allies – a bloody battle against the murderous Nazi regime, led by Adolf Hitler, and intent on global domination through its brutal, evil and twisted principles.

A Roll of Honour in the Falkirk Archives at Callendar House lists the names of 674 people from the Falkirk area who perished during the conflict which raged on from 1939 to 1945.

The Falkirk Herald printed a booklet called ‘Falkirk and District In The War – Record of Service and Sacrifice’ in its Victory Day issue.

Residents from Grangemouth gather round a bonfire to celebrate VE Day and spread some light after the blackouts during the war

Residents from Grangemouth gather round a bonfire to celebrate VE Day and spread some light after the blackouts during the war

On page one it read: “It was the lot of this busy little township, with its smoke-grimed buildings and crooked streets, to work; to work through the dark days of air-raids and defeats, to work harder as the weight of the military superiority that our industry had helped to build began to break down the enemy’s defences.

“We gave what we were called to give – the blood of our young men, the toil and sweat of our workers, and the tears of our wives and mothers as they carried on in the factories and the homes.”

To celebrate the victory towns and cities across the UK partied into the wee sma’ hours with dancing, bonfires, music and street parties.

All over the district children busied themselves collecting material to build bonfires with effigies of Hitler and Goering on top and set ablaze as darkness fell on May 8, 1945. Residents sang “lustily” to music from accordions and harmonicas as they danced round the flames.

Former primary school teacher Nettie Miller (93), of Bantaskine, volunteered for the ARP ambulance section, based at the Dawson Park School, as a first aider during the war and remembers when it came to an end.

She said: “It was a great relief for us all when the war was over. I think I remember there was a street party up here. I remember the blackouts and the rations. You just came home and got whatever your mother gave you.

“It seemed like there was not a man at home, they were all away fighting. I had a friend who lost a brother. He is on the church memorial at St Andrew’s.

“I think I am the only surviving member of the first aid crew because they were all mostly older men, including my uncle Lawson who had asked me to volunteer. We were all very keen to put our first aid skills to good use but thankfully we didn’t need to.”

Falkirk Provost Pat Reid, who was three on VE Day, said: “I vaguely remember that it was a strange time. It was a time of rejoicing and a time of sadness.

“The end of the war brought relief but lots of men died from across the Falkirk area.

“Everyone rejoiced but there were tears for those who didn’t come back.”

SPIRITS TESTED ON THE HOME FRONT

On the Home Front during the Second World War the spirit of local residents was to put to the test early on with the whole world watching the outcome.

As we gear up for today’s General Election result, the outcome of war-time’s first by-election was to be fought out in the district following the death of the local MP.

Politicians from across the globe were watching the constituency as the result was indicative of the mood of the country.

According to The Falkirk Herald at the time, the result “...would be indicative of the mood of the country. If the enemy hoped to find that we were not solidly behind the war effort, they must have been disappointed.”

The by-election campaign was “vigorous” and resulted in the “decisive rejection of the policy of pale appeasement and the forfeiture of the peace candidate’s deposit.”

The war-time spirit was indeed high in Falkirk as the men, women and children showed their ability to lead the country in other domestic matters.

Dissatisfied with the precautions that had been taken to ensure their safety during air-raids, tenants in houses took part in spontaneous communal efforts to secure their own safety.

A meeting was held by residents in Oswald Street where it was decided they would build a communal air raid shelter. Inspired by the example set in Oswald Street, other districts began doing the same.

The Falkirk Herald wrote: “The most important feature was the essentially communal nature of the undertakings, whole streets getting together to elect councils of action to organise their efforts.

“Women and children took a share, the women sewing up materials into receptacles for sand and the children helping to fill them. We can thank God the effectiveness of their precautions were never tested.”

V-SIGN IN THE SKY TRIGGERED THE END OF BOMBING RAIDS

During World War two Falkirk endured 20 bomb siren alarms, however, none fell on the town.

The first German planes were seen overhead on a starry night in June 1940 when people rushed out into the streets to see them instead of running to shelters.

During the first raid a German plane was shot down in Fife after dumping its load of bombs near Bathgate where a woman and child were killed in their cottage.

In November 1940 the area experienced its heaviest raid. Two bombs fell at the Colony at Larbert, one blocking the ‘Denny Back Road’.

The same night two bombs were dropped at Yonderhaugh, Bothkennar at Towncroft Farm, one at Provost Pit, Carronshore and another two at Carronside.

At the end of bombing raids, the people of Falkirk saw safety through twin searchlight beams from Grangemouth tracing a V-sign in the sky.