VE Day Memories from across Jewish Care

08 May 2020

Jewish Care volunteers, clients and residents have been sharing their memories of the War and VE Day as the country prepares to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

Residents across Jewish Care homes will mark the day with war time sing-alongs of classic songs from the 1940s and screenings of a Vera Lynn concert. There will be one to one singing for residents in their rooms. Reminiscence and shared memories will be part of the VE Day experience.

Harry Karker, a resident at Jewish Care’s Clore Manor home, who recently celebrated his third Bar Mitzvah, remembers, “VE Day was a happy occasion! I was in Paris, there were lots of drinks and chocolate and we went to a huge party in a hall. I was in the Royal Engineers but had stopped working. I spent a lot of time in Paris, waiting for my family and I had a job finding them. There was great rejoicing. When I did find my parents, they were dancing in the streets.”

Volunteer, Harry Nash, was just 5 when the war ended and like many, remembers “diving under the kitchen table when the Doodlebugs were falling, running to shelters in the night time and standing by the window in my parents’ bedroom looking out at night on the silent film shows with Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.”

Naomi Harris, Volunteer Specialist Worker at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre Shalvata therapeutic service, says, “My strongest memory of VE day is that we moved house on that day, my parents, my sister Judy and me, from a rented flat into a new home in NW4, my parents’ house having been bombed in Stepney so that we had moved around a lot.

“When the car drove up the road, flags hung from every house and lamp post, people were congregating in the street and, aged 5, I thought the celebration was that we were moving in!”

Miriam Fugler, 95, was a volunteer for Jewish Care for 24 years is now a member of Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre at Stepney Jewish Community Centre at Raine House. She says, “I love the Centre as it’s real East End and that’s what I am. We lived in Shoreditch when I was growing up and I was a teenager when the siren went on the first day of the war and I ran home, scared.

“I was one of four sisters and four brothers and I had the happiest but the poorest home. I have no idea how but my mother had a piano, my brother Tony was fantastic with music and later wrote the song Eurovision ‘Save All Your Kisses For Me’. My sister did impressions and I was shy but I used to sing and tap dance. We had such a happy home.

“I started working when I was not quite 14 on Charterhouse Square making forest caps for RAF and the Army. The bombing was terrible during the War but on VE Day I remember me and my friends went up to Trafalgar Square and there were soldiers there from every country.

“That was the best day of our lives, the war was over, people were singing and playing music all the war times, everybody was singing and clapping and kissing. My mother made a VE Day party, we lived on the ground floor of Cookham Buildings, everybody put tables out everywhere, people were singing ‘On Coronation Day, We’ll Meet Again’ and everyone sang the old Cockney songs and people were so happy. VE Day was the most magical day. I love Churchill, he won the war for us. I am a great Royalist too and I love Vera Lyn.

“I got married after the War and my husband had been in the RAF in Malta, he was awarded medals and the fighting there was terrible. Now I’m very lucky because I live on the eighth floor of my building and I have the best view of the reservoir. My sons phone me up all the time, and I have a lot of grandchildren and great grandchildren.”  

Freda Ziff, who is 87 and lives in Whitechapel, is also a member of the Jewish Care community centre in Stepney. She remembers, “During the war my mum worked in the cigarette factory and I looked after the kids. We’d go to the shelter in Whitechapel and you knew everyone. My dad was in the army serving in France and Belgium, he was wounded and taken to St Thomas’hospital for soldiers in London. I remember taking a steamboat across the Thames to go and visit him.

“It was my mum’s birthday on May 8, VE Day and I’ll never forget it. Shoes were flying off people’s feet, the gas lanterns were on all night and people tore down the blackout blinds. It was lunchtime and there were loudspeakers in the street and everyone was shouting war is over!

“The celebrations carried on all weekend with parties in the streets, halls, churches and shuls. The women brought food and put tables out and decorated the streets. Most of the men were still at war. Mum had been a cook for weddings before the war and she’d always say “When the War is over, I’ll make you a great big party for your birthday”. My birthday is on 28 May and as the War had ended my Mum did make me a big birthday party and somehow managed to find everything to bake a lovely cake so we could celebrate with all our friends and family and my younger sister and brother and all the people who had been evacuated came home.

“I thank G-d I’m here today, though it’s hard not to go out. I love it at the Jewish Care community centre. I have family to look after me and I keep in touch with my friends there but it’s not the same. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again.”

Maurice Bennett CBE, retail industry entrepreneur and befriending volunteer for Jewish Care and The Mayor of London, remembers the start of the War, he says, "After the announcement of Neville Chamberlin declaring war on Germany we had the phoney war where nothing really happened for a year. We were living near Temple Fortune and I was 6 when a huge landmine dropped on Ashbourne Parade and I remember going to school picking my way through the rubble and debris passing smashed up shops and collecting up bits of shrapnel to take to school as part of the war effort so they could reuse them.

"We had no shelters on Chessington Avenue so I was put at the back of the shoe cupboard when there was an air raid and my brother and sister squeezed in behind me. It was no protection and houses that had hits from bombs in our street were destroyed and everyone was killed. An incendiary bomb landed in our garden and was tackled by local air raid wardens. we were having lunch at my grandma’s flat in Hackney when a V. 1 flying bomb landed in Victoria Park and killed many people.

"During the time of rationing, there was nothing in the shops and people became really creative and found ways to make toys out of what they could find. It was clear to my family, when the War was coming to an end and we were all given a holiday for VE Day and had the day off school. I went to the Bohemia Cinema in Finchley Central to watch a film with Marlene Dietrich in it to celebrate. When the war in Europe ended it was difficult to be too lavish because there was still rationing, people were just relieved it was over and it took a while to recover. Those fighting slowly started to return and be repatriated and war really ended finally with victory over the Japanese. I remember the following year that the celebrations were huge on VE Day and we really went to town.”