Despite being in lockdown, communities across Shropshire and Mid Wales have been determined to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
While last night we were once again clapping for the heroes of the coronavirus battle, many are today hosting parties on front lawns and driveways, raising a glass, or at least a good old British cup of tea, to the heroes of the Second World War.
Among those paying tribute, the old and young in a village near Market Drayton have drawn on its history to make sure this year's VE Day anniversary, will be unlike any other.
Cheswardine has a special connection with VE Day – in 1985, on the 40th commemoration of peace in Europe after the Second World War, a band of military veterans marched through the village and planted a redthorn tree of remembrance at the end of Symons Way.
The tree grew tall around the heart of the village and today it is covered with colourful fabric.
Mother Samantha Griffiths and her son Bobby Moore decorated the tree with tie-dye strips to try and entertain the two-year-old and keep people smiling during the coronavirus lockdown, but to mark the anniversary of VE Day they have given the tree a new look with flags and poppies.
Cheswardine Parish Council has also funded a new plaque which has been installed on a stone cross under the redthorn tree, and the area around the village centre has been decorated with bunting and flags.
As part of the 75th anniversary plans, resident Jane Moore has been hard at work collating old photos and newspaper clippings from the day the tree was planted and other VE Days since.
She said: "I have displayed a collection of our VE Day-themed old photos in our old shop window covering the 40th and 50th anniversary celebrations and of course the tree planting and veterans march held in our village.
"I’ve also appealed on Cheswardine Chat [a village Facebook community] to see if anyone has any photographs or information of how VE Day was marked here in Cheswardine in 1945.
"We also have a photo of Cheswardine home guard in the window, some wartime recipes et cetera and a photo of our Second World War memorial, which is the cemetery gates and plaque, being dedicated in 1952."
The veterans who were involved in the march and the planting of the tree on May 8, 1985, included Jim Rochelle, Ted Whitehouse, Colin Millington MBE, Ben Williams, Geoff Tipton, Rev Brian Morris, Arthur Massey, Ted Butler, Andy Moore, Ray Turnbull, Tom Bailey, Curly Bailey, Sam Glover, Jack Averill, Cyril Forester, Alf Whitehouse and Edna Sambrook (of the Women’s Land Army).
Of the 17 veterans who marched on that day, Geoff Tipton is the lone survivor today. He always takes a wreath to the village church on Remembrance Sunday and is pictured here with his grandson Matthew Tipton, who served in Afghanistan.
The United Benefice of Cheswardine, Childs Ercall, Hales, Hinstock, Sambrook and Stoke-On-Tern plans to hold a VE Day service online this Friday from 10.30am. Visit theunitedbenefice.com/ to learn more.
Special teddy bear marks special day
To celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, Britain’s last remaining teddy bear factory, in Shropshire, has joined forces with renowned medalists Award to create a very special bear.
‘Victor’ The Victory Teddy Bear has been made at Merrythought in Ironbridge which has been making bears since 1930.
Only 250 Victor bears have been made at the Shropshire-based factory, with proceeds from each bear sold helping to raise much needed funds for SSAFA – the armed forces charity.
Sarah Holmes, managing director of Merrythought in Ironbridge, said today: “I am very proud that Merrythought has collaborated with Award to bring Victor to life, and celebrate such a pivotal occasion in history which means so much to so many.
“The fact that Award and Merrythought are based just a few miles away from each other in Shropshire also makes this project particularly special.”
Victor has been made using soft golden brown mohair and features a Victory & Peace ribbon sash adorned with an exclusive Victory & Peace 75 badge. He also proudly wears a genuine Victory & Peace Medal.
The badges have been hand stitched onto the paws, making them an exceptional collectable item.
Merrythought has a rich British history and even helped in the war effort in 1939, when at the Government’s request staff produced textile items such as chevrons, helmet linings, igniter bags, gas mask bags and hot water bottle covers.
Award, the medalists company, set up a showroom in the centre of Shrewsbury in 2012, situated in the Shrewsbury Antique Centre.
Victor is presented in a luxury, bespoke gift box and is priced at £149.50. He is available from awardmedals.com or call 01952 510 053.
Wreath-laying film is produced to help town mark war anniversary
Market Drayton’s Royal British Legion and town councillors have created a film to ensure that the town pays tribute on the 75th anniversary of VE Day.
Mick Hughes, chair of the town’s Royal British Legion (RBL), has been working hard alongside town crier Geoff Russell and town councillor Mike Smith to produce a film.
Mr Hughes said: “I came up with the idea of holding a full wreath-laying ceremony at Market Drayton war memorial, but having all the individuals who would be involved filmed playing their own part and having live filming of just two wreaths being laid at the memorial [on VE Day]: one wreath being laid by the town mayor representing the town folk and the 49 men from the town who lost their lives serving their country in World War Two; and another wreath being laid by the chairman of the Royal British Legion representing the British Armed Forces.
“I then contacted Mike Smith to carry out all of the filming and to this he very kindly agreed.
“ I then produced the full programme and contacted everyone involved and arranged a time, date and venue for filming all of the individuals playing the part that they would carry out as if it was a live performance.
“Mike has now completed all of the individual filmings – including the town mayor, the town crier, bugler, bagpiper, church representatives, Market Drayton RBL representatives, a poem reading, St Mary’s Church clock striking 11 and two-minute filming of prominent buildings within the town.”
The film will be available on the Drayton Crier Facebook page.
Charity tribute to hero animals
Telford based vet’s charity PDSA was today paying tribute to the heroic animals who helped save countless lives during the Second World War.
The charity, which has its headquarters in Whitechapel Way and provides medical care for pets, is marking the 75th anniversary of VE Day by sharing exclusive electronic books which tell the remarkable stories of animal heroes honoured with the PDSA Dickin Medal.
These include the story of messenger pigeon, Duke of Normandy, who flew for 27 hours through bullets and bombs to deliver vital, life-saving intelligence to Allied Forces.
The prestigious medal, the Victoria Cross for animals, is awarded for outstanding acts of gallantry and devotion to duty.
It was the brainchild of the charity’s founder Maria Dickin with the approval of the War Office and Imperial War Museum, to raise the status of animals and acknowledge the remarkable roles they play in society. The first medal was made in honour of a messenger pigeon named Winkie on December 3, 1943.
Bugler will be streamed live
Colourful bunting, nostalgic music and a commemorative bugle call will all be part of a Shropshire town’s VE Day celebrations today.
Wellington Town Council has adapted its plans to mark the 75th anniversary to comply with social distancing regulations – but is determined to observe the milestone despite lockdown.
Caroline Farrell, communications and events manager at the council, said the town was determined to observe the milestone despite lockdown, and that Sky Television would be anchoring its news programme in the town for the day.
She added: “Hopefully it’s going to be a special day for Wellington residents.” A range of events will still take place in the town, all observing social distancing regulations. The Town Crier will announce two minutes of silence in Wellington Peace Garden, followed by a bugler playing the Last Post which will be streamed online.
Online party to replace events
A North Wales town is to stage a virtual celebration to commemorate the day the Second World War ended 75 years ago.
Earlier this year, with the blessing of Llangollen Town Council, a small group from the town began planning for a party to celebrate the milestone anniversary of VE Day today.
The aim was to put it on at the town hall and to include a tea dance and music of the era. The coronavirus lockdown appeared to put an end to the project, however the group has decided to stage the celebration online instead.
Today the group will be live streaming its VE Day Stay at Home Party programme via Facebook to what it hopes will be a large social media audience.
Deputy town mayor Councillor Richards said: “When the lockdown began we immediately cancelled our planned party at the town hall but then we decided that a version of the event could be streamed on social media.
“We have been extremely fortunate in having a professional programme maker who is based in Llangollen as director on the production.”
Additional contributions by Charlotte Bentley, Deborah Hardiman, Rob Smith, Daniel Morris and Harriet Evans