Residents in a North Yorkshire care home have shared their heartfelt memories of the war to mark 75 years since VE Day.
For many who lived through the Second World War, this is the first VE Day anniversary they can’t celebrate with family or friends because of lockdown.
But that hasn’t stopped staff at Benkhill Lodge, Bedale, one of North Yorkshire County Council’s elderly persons’ homes, working tirelessly to ensure the day is marked – and important memories are remembered.
Along with putting on socially-distanced celebrations and facilitating video calls with family members, Benkhill Lodge staff have noted memories from their residents to go on a VE Day display.
One couple with vivid recollections are Les and Doris Kelly.
Les, 100, and Doris, 99, have been married for 79 years, and met when they were just 10 and 11 at school.
Apart from the war, they’ve never been apart.
Les said: “When I left for war I felt the same as any lad really, I had my own feelings but I had a job to do.
“Doris didn’t like it when I left but she had her own job to do, she worked in an ammunitions factory in Thorpe Arch making the shells for me to use.
“I was based in Belsen, the town in Germany, and finding out the war had ended was one of the nicest days I’ve known.
“We were on patrol at 6am on the 8th, some of the lads heard about it the night before and were a little drunk!”
Les said he’s never forgotten some aspects of the war – including the sadness he felt upon finding three young British soldiers who were killed the day before the war ended, which has stuck with him for life.
Doris remembered her VE Day experience: “We bought a pair of stockings each, we had to queue for ages, they cost us a fortune – 5 shillings.
“It was very lively and exciting, it was noisy, lots of laughing, joking and merriment.”
After the war, Doris and Les had a daughter, Les worked as a decorator and Doris worked in Health and Social Security. The couple loved sequence dancing.
The pair have lived in Benkhill Lodge since December 2019.
Another resident, Carrie Watson, 93, said: “There were parties in the village, it was very exciting. The butchers let us have extra ham for the party.
Gladys Kaye, 95, added: “I worked that day, but went out with my friends and our boyfriends, we had a great day. My mother went to Stockport to meet my Dad who was coming home, I was very excited.”
Cllr Michael Harrison Executive Member for Adult Services and Health Integration said: “It’s so important that we continue to remember these wartime milestones.
“It’s heartening to see that despite lockdown, care home staff and residents across the county are making a special effort to mark VE Day and remember what people lived through.
“We must never forget the human impact of the war and the relief and jubilation once it was over. Key workers in our care homes and facilities really have pulled together to adapt in these unprecedented times to ensure the occasion doesn’t go unmarked.”
Sharon Moss, registered manager of Benkhill Lodge, has arranged socially distant celebrations, including a display with residents’ memories of VE Day displayed and a live stream of entertainment into the home.
The VE Day anniversary is also being celebrated in other County Council care homes and extra care scheme across the county.
For example, at Fernbank Court, Selby, the building has been decorated with bunting and flags. Staff have taken in a karaoke machine and will be inviting residents to open their doors and join the singing from the safety of their apartments. Social care coordinator Heather Spalding said: “We’re making the best of it in the circumstances. We want to bring a bit of joy and happiness and remember VE Day.”
Rowena Langdale, manager at The Orchards extra care scheme in Brompton, near Northallerton, has compiled a VE Day newsletter for residents with a quiz, instructions to how to make bunting and fantastic historical facts and memories.
Mary, who is 96 and lives in Harrogate, is currently being supported by the County Council’s reablement team and has shared her memories of VE Day.
She said: “I was 21 then, and mum got the bottle out as soon as we heard the news, and in the early evening I went with my boyfriend into Knaresborough and we had a couple of drinks and then we went into the castle yard, hundreds of us singing and dancing the night away, all relieved to think it was all over and happy in the knowledge we could relax a while. It was great.”