The Royal British Legion: read the veterans’ stories

In their own words

Ray Smith

Ray Smith

Ray Smith, 93, from Northampton, joined the Navy at 17, serving on board HMS Middleton during the Second World War.

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    His role was escorting Russian convoys and he served during D-Day escorting landing craft to Sword Beach and spending a week shelling German positions on the beach.

    On VE Day the HMS Middleton docked in Portsmouth and Ray was given leave to celebrate in London with his comrades.

    They headed to Trafalgar Square and celebrated all day. Ray ended VE Day sleeping in the doorway of a shop after meeting up with a group of WRENs.

    Ray said: “It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. VE Day was truly a day of celebration! We docked and learnt of the surrender of Germany when we arrived back into port.

    “We were all given leave which was met with exhilaration and relief, we wanted to be out and about celebrating with everyone else.

    “We went to London and joined in the celebrations right in the middle of Trafalgar Square, we partied all day long, meeting some lovely WRENs along the way.

    “We all ended up sleeping in a shop doorway as there were no hotels available but we didn’t care, it had been the best day ever!”

    After VE Day Ray travelled on HMS Middleton to Simonstown in South Africa where the ship was refitted to be sent to the Far East.

    Michael Clarke

    Michael Clarke, 89, from Bedfordshire was a teenager during the war and was twice evacuated to the countryside.

    He watched the Battle of Britain fought out above his head in the skies. He recalls a German plane dropping a land mine and it blowing-out all the windows in the street.

    Michael later completed his National Service serving from 1949 to 1951 as a Sapper with the Royal Engineers.

    Michael was 14 when he heard the news about VE Day on the radio; everyone on his street was outside celebrating. He joined them outside in his pyjamas.

    Michael said: “Like most children I was evacuated from London at the outbreak of war. I went to East Hagbourne, near Didcott for six months.

    “Here, I was placed in a small thatched cottage, we had oil lamps but no gas or electricity and the water outside the back door. 

    “The second time I was evacuated was during the Blitz. I remember picking up shrapnel and lots of silver foil tape (to deter radar) on the way to school.

    “There was an ack-ack gunsite at Sweep’s Nursery, off Oakleigh Road, N20, so not far from us, which opened-up with a frightening noise, way before the sirens sounded.

    “We watched the Battle of Britain in the skies above and just couldn’t wait to read the Evening News headlines just to know how many enemy planes had been shot down each day. I used to shiver with fright under the stairs during the air raids, always thinking that the next bomb was going to fall on our house.

    “I was at home on VE Day. I heard the news on the radio, everyone on my street was outside celebrating. I went outside in my pyjamas in the evening to see the celebrations in the High Street in Whetstones.

    “There were plenty of people out celebrating, singing and dancing, everyone was so happy and joyous. It was really wonderful to witness. We were all so relieved that at long last it was all over.

    “I prayed for months and months for the war to end, everything was rationed and we were always hungry.

    “It was a great time for rejoicing; the air raids had scared us to death.

    “After all the horrors of bombing London, Coventry and many other places and the loss of so many young lives of airmen, sailors, merchantmen and soldiers, ecstatic would be a gross understatement of our joyous feelings.”

    Betty Morris

    Betty Morris, 95, from Northamptonshire was born in 1925 so was still at school during the outbreak of the Second World War.

    However, she left school shortly after the beginning of the Second World War and spent her teenage years working in a munitions factory.

    Betty worked long hours every day, including weekends, often having to walk several miles there and back in the blackout, in all weathers when transport was disrupted.

    At home she would sleep in the dark, damp air raid shelter. Betty remembers going out with her friends from work to celebrate VE Day in their town centre.

    Betty said: “I worked on the furnace making 303 bullet cases. I was engaged to John Morris who was away fighting in the Army and still lived at home with my family in Oldbury in the West Midlands.

    “On VE Day I went into the local town centre with my friends from work to celebrate.

    “I remember it was a marvellous night, there were bonfires and music and dancing in the streets. Everybody was just so happy.

    “The thing I remember most now is how bright it was, with the bonfires and lights on everywhere, it was such a change after years of the black out.

    “I think I was a bit tiddly and it was quite late when I got home.

    “My mother was waiting up for me, she told me off for staying out so late and told me to hurry inside as someone was there to see me.

    “When I went into the kitchen I saw an army jacket on the back of a chair - my fiancée John had got last minute leave and had come to surprise me. We were able to go out the next day to celebrate together and he forgave me for not being at home to greet him.”

    Joan Hall

    Joan Hall in service
    Joan Hall

    Joan Hall, now 95 from Fairford, Gloucestershire, was 17 when her father gave her permission to join the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF).

    She ended up serving for four years.

    Joan celebrated VE Day in Trafalgar Square, she remembers the jubilations of people coming together and dancing all day.

    Joan’s role in service involved working in the WRAF Officer’s mess at coastal command in Middlesex. She and her friends used to travel to Watford and London’s West End on the train during days off to attend dances and meet with American soldiers.

    Joan said: “I really enjoyed my time in service. As an only child it was such a novelty to share with 20 other girls and it was completely different – fortunately I liked the company.

    “Me and my friend used to go out dancing in the city, we used to attend different dances with the Americans and had a right jolly time with them!

    “I thoroughly enjoyed my time in service – it was exciting, allowed me to travel out of my home city of Birmingham down to the big smoke of London and I met some wonderful people.

    “On VE Day, I was allowed to leave to celebrate in Trafalgar Square. I remember you couldn’t move for people in London and when we got to Trafalgar Square everyone was hugging and dancing in celebration, relieved that the war was over in Europe.

    “It was a once in a lifetime feeling of jubilation, the crowds and noise is like nothing I’ve ever experienced since and I just remember seeing all these different people joining together as one in happiness and excitement.”

    After the war, Joan moved back to Birmingham, eventually marrying her husband who she met in the record shop.

    However, she always remembers how lucky she was to have come home safe.

    She said: “I was very lucky. Where my parents lived in Birmingham never got bombed and as I was an only child I didn’t have any siblings sent off to war and father didn’t go away either.”

    At the age of 95, Joan still dances twice a week.

    Fred Duffield

    Fred Duffield in service
    Fred Duffield

    Fred Duffield, 94, is a Second World War veteran from Leek in Staffordshire.

    Fred was called up in 1944 when he was 18. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps’ Parachute Regiment as a medic until his demobilisation in 1947.

    Fred was travelling through Germany with his regiment when he heard the news that the war was over in Europe.

    He and his comrades celebrated but were then told that they would be sent to the Far East once their leave was over to support the war effort there.

    Fred trained in Shrewsbury and initially transferred to the medical corps before volunteering for the parachute regiment.

    After spending time in Ardennes, Fred and his regiment parachuted into Germany on March 24, 1945.On landing, three of his comrades were gravely injured, including his Lieutenant whose leg had been blown off. Fred applied a tourniquet to the leg before being forced to leave his comrades and continue on through Germany as they were being pursued.

    He would later find out that he saved the man’s life. They later became friends and Fred still keeps in touch with the family today.

    Fred’s regiment headed through Germany to the Baltic Coast, on the way they met with hundreds of refugees fleeing Russia and were stopped on their path on 7th May 1945 at Wasmar, where they commandeered a small village.

    The next day, on VE Day, Fred’s battalion collected 3,000 German soldiers who had surrendered knowing the war was coming to an end.

    Fred and his comrades received a newspaper which declared Victory over Europe.They celebrated by having a huge bonfire and riding horse bareback and having races.

    Fred said: “There was nothing to drink in the small village but we still celebrated however we could. Although VE Day didn’t come as a surprise to me, it was a great relief not to be shot at anymore. I was shot at a lot travelling through Germany and count myself very lucky to have made it.”

    However, the relief didn’t last long as Fred’s regiment were soon told that, after their month’s leave, they were to travel to the Far East.

    He said: “We called ourselves the ‘BLA’ Burma Looms Ahead.”

    Fred came ashore at Port Dixon in Malaysia and travelled down to near Changi jail in Singapore, although he didn’t directly liberate the Prisoner of War camp.

    Bernard Morgan

    Bernard Morgan in service
    Bernard Morgan

    Bernard Morgan, 96, is a Second World War veteran who lives in Crewe.

    D-Day veteran Bernard was a codebreaker during the war. He landed on Gold Beach at 6:30pm on D-Day, the youngest RAF sergeant to land in Normandy.

    Two days before VE Day, Bernard received a telex to say “German war now over, surrender effective sometime tomorrow”.

    On May 8 it was confirmed that the war in Europe had ended. Bernard had a big party with his comrades – they lit a huge bonfire and celebrated late into the night.

    He still has the original telex which he received two days before VE Day to tell him that the Germans were surrendering. Bernard has refused to hand the document to any museums and kept it secret for 50 years.

    Bernard left the RAF in February 1947 having originally volunteered on his 18th birthday in February 1942.

    Since the war, he has worked at Crewe Alexandra as a turnstile operator – for 57 years. He still sells programmes at Gresty Road, where he has been given a season ticket for life.

    Bernard was a talented sportsman, and narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 1,500m at the 1948 London Olympics, losing to Bobby Davro's dad Bill Nankeville.

    He regularly speaks to schools and colleges about his wartime experiences and recently gave a talk to Liverpool FC’s Academy.

    Bernard said: “It’s so important that we make the most of these opportunities to remember what happened, not just to celebrate the achievement, but also to ensure that such horrors never happen again.

    “I feel very privileged because I got advance warning that VE Day was coming back in 1945. I was stationed in Schneverdingen in Germany when I got the telex to let me know that the War was ending and that the German surrender was imminent. I remember VE Day very well, the drinks just appeared from nowhere and we lit a bonfire and had a big party!

    “I am always keen for the younger generation to know exactly what went on during the War and to appreciate the sacrifice that those lads made so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.

    “Gold Beach was one of the better landing points on D-Day, but I can still vividly remember seeing dead bodies scattered all over the beach as I came ashore, and that is a sight that will stay with me forever.”