VJ Day – 15th August 1945

VJ Day – 15th August 1945

On the eve of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, we are looking at how the occasion was marked across Northern Ireland.

The coverage in newspapers was much less than that of VE Day earlier that year. On VJ Day itself (15th August 1945) the Northern Whig carried the headline ‘PEACE’ and reported that the day and the next were holidays.

On the 16th the Belfast Telegraph described the night of revelry as ‘unforgettable’ as thousands of men, women and children sang, danced and played games in the glow of bonfires which encircled the city. Just as on VE Day, City Hall was the centre of the party.

A British sailor was reported to be conducting the singing from atop the statue of Queen Victoria before he was persuaded to climb down for fear of causing damage. He was then immediately replaced by an American soldier, who in turn was joined by the sailor and they were only convinced to come down under threat that the music would cease until they did so!

The first photo below shows some of the crowd, including servicemen dancing in the grounds of City Hall on VJ Day (credit @BelTel_Archives).

The paper continues to state that nowhere was the day celebrated more enthusiastically than in the American Red Cross Club in Chichester St where a victory dance was held with a broadcast sent back to the States.

Parties, with music from pianos or gramophones, were arranged for children who received treats such as lemonade, ice cream and tomatoes and ice cream vendors are reported as having done a ‘roaring trade from morning till dusk’.

The Northern Whig carried the below photo (second photo) of one such street party, an image that today is often confused for VE Day, on Battenburg Street.

The caption reads: ‘With tables laden with home-made apple-tarts, cakes and other good things to eat, in what better way could these kiddies rejoice in and remember VJ Day? The party was held in Battenburg Street, Belfast, and was organized by Mrs R. Averell and Mrs. E. Ball, assisted by the neighbours who baked and waited on the children.’

The day is also remembered by participants from our ongoing oral history project.

Harriet Smyth recalled that ‘it wasn’t as big as the VE Day just, I remember there was street parties as well as that but not on as big a scale as the other one like y’know’.

Whereas William Guiney had fonder memories; ‘It was the same again, but we were comparing how many got the most kisses on VJ day. Aye it was the same kind and it was around the City Hall it was, but then of course the best one was all the pastry and all they cooked and baked and whatnot and everything. And we had a nice time that day.’

Eileen Taylor was on holidays in Portstewart at the time and remembers ‘lots of people celebrating out along the promenade including Belgian sailors. My mother had a bit of a French so she was able to talk to them a little bit which I think made them feel a wee bit more at home to have somebody to talk to’.

In Bangor, Colin Walker remembered vividly the VJ Day celebrations; ‘I remember going with my father round to a bonfire at Luke’s Point in Bangor where there’s a huge bonfire to celebrate the ending of the hostilities of the war entirely and on top of the bonfire was they put an effigy of General Tojo who was the commander, a very notorious commander, of the Japanese forces‘.

Tomorrow, Saturday 15th August the Northern Ireland War Memorial (NIWM) will commemorate the 75th anniversary of VJ Day.

A small closed ceremony will be attended by Austin and Mandy Harper, son and daughter of Hugh Harper (1918-2000) who served with the RAF during the Second World War and was a Prisoner of War of the Japanese. They will be joined by Trustees of the NIWM and Reverend Albin Rankin from Stormont Presbyterian Church.

Austin Harper will lay a poppy wreath on a granite plinth within the museum which contains a Roll of Honour for the fallen in the First and Second World War. The Rolls of Honour stand in front of a memorial wall which bears the following inscription ‘Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten’.

A 2 minute silence will be observed at 11.00am. The silence will then be broken by a Piper performing ‘Battle’s O’er’. The performance will take place outside the museum owing to the current pandemic restrictions and we hope to share footage of this with you tomorrow.

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