It is now 75 years since VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, which marked the end of the Second World War on the Continent. Catherine Troiano, Curator of Photographic Collections at the National Trust, explains its significance:
'After almost six years of conflict, the Allied Forces accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May 1945. Wartime had generated widespread social change at home as well as on the front lines. VE Day signalled a shift back towards ‘normal life’ for those who had taken up temporary roles as part of the war effort.
'Over a million people went out onto streets across the nation to celebrate VE Day. In London, crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and along the roads to Buckingham Palace, where Churchill appeared with the Royal Family. Such was the joy of this occasion that Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret were even allowed to go out in disguise and enjoy the celebrations among the masses. But for many VE Day was bittersweet, as they mourned those lost in the war.'
Many people associated with the places we look after fulfilled important duties during the war, and this is reflected in our collections. Letters, pictures and trinkets sent to and from soldiers at the front show the scale of conscription and the emotional turmoil of being separated from loved ones. Photographs at Castle Drogo and Lanhydrock show what life was like for evacuees housed there during the Blitz. And objects such as gas masks, army helmets, blackout blinds and rationed food tins quickly became essential to daily life.
This card game in the Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire, called 'Vacuation', was produced around 1939. Its design was based on the British government’s evacuation plan.
This gas mask at Dunham Massey, Cheshire, still has its original box. Everyone in Britain was given a gas mask. Carrying them was compulsory and people were fined if they were caught without one.
Lanhydrock, in Cornwall, was used to host evacuee children. Here, a group of children pose near the estate's gatehouse, whilst taking turns to ride a horse.
VE Day cartoon
This sketch of Hitler, Himmler and Göring by Peter Way and Marshall Cavendish Partworks Ltd was published on VE Day in ‘The War Papers’. It is held at the Museum of Childhood, Derbyshire.
Helmets, such as this one at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, were designed to protect against falling shrapnel. They were called ‘Brodie' helmets, after a type made by John Leopold Brodie in 1915.
Properties themselves were also essential to the war effort, with many requisitioned for wartime purposes. Here are just a few of the places in our care that have a Second World War story to tell.
Listen to our podcast: Upton House and the Second World War
Lord Bearsted of Upton House helped to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany during the Second World War on the ‘Kindertransport’. Historian Bettany Hughes investigated the story in our Ten Places, Europe and Us podcast series.
The wartime exploits of a National Trust volunteer
The wartime stories of our places are brought to life by personal memories, such as this one from Emma Thomas, General Manager of Seaton Delaval:
'My great aunt Mary Terry (née Hodgkinson) (1920-2016) joined the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) close to the start of the Second World War and was posted to Dover Castle. She worked for Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who was responsible for overseeing the defence of the Straits of Dover and protecting cross-channel military traffic.
'Much of the operations took place in the chalk tunnels and chambers under the castle. It was from here that several famous events were controlled, such as Operation Dynamo, the Dunkirk evacuation in which 338,286 British and Allied soldiers were rescued over 9 days and including Mary’s brother Jim.
'In later years, Mary volunteered for the National Trust at Mompesson House, Salisbury and certainly influenced my decision to join the National Trust at Seaton Delaval Hall through her love of history.'
Mary Terry (née Hodgkinson) in her Wren's uniform (© Thos. Fall 22 Baker Street)