A Knight’s Tale (5: That Heady, Optimistic, Summer)

VE Day was just two months before my third birthday. In fact I have no memory of the original event, but I do have photographic evidence that Chris and I were there.

This photograph depicts a street party celebrating Victory in Europe at the end of that sphere of World War Two.  For anyone below the age of about 75 to imagine the jubilation of that heady, optimistic, summer is virtually impossible.  

Chris and I are in the centre of the front row.  My chubby little brother, then not yet two, looks, as would any other toddler, as if he had no idea what was going on or why he was there.  I, on the other hand, seem to be harbouring particularly pleasant thoughts that I am not sure I ought to have had. A little girl proudly holds my hand. She smiles broadly.  I try to suppress my glee.

Mum, as she always did, would have made our outfits from scratch.  She continued to do this until she could afford not to.  Our first Wimbledon College blazer badges were embroidered by her own hand.

It wasn’t until secondary school that most boys in those days gravitated to long trousers. (I proudly wore my first pair up to the common and ripped them whilst climbing a  fence.  That must have been a pecuniary disaster.)  Shorts worn with long grey socks were the norm.  The hose were held up by elasticated garters. One or two of those in the picture have slipped a bit. The older members of the group could probably share their parents immense relief that they were able to celebrate the end of six long years of war.  That the people were able to dress up at all, albeit in a sometimes strangely fitting assortment of clothes, is a tribute to their fortitude.  Garments continued to be rationed until well into the 1950s.  As can be clearly seen here, designer clothes and trainers were a thing of the far distant future. But look at the shine on the boots and shoes.

This party took place in Carshalton, then in Surrey but now part of Greater London, in the street of Mum’s cousin Ivy Wilson, whose two children, Audrey, third from left in the back row, and Roy, second from left of the middle row, were present.  These two are the link with the first Holly in our extended family who will feature later in the story.


  1. Each of these photos is wonderful. Born in 1946, I didn’t experience any of the war, but I was close enough to it that the tales told my the adults in my life were vivid. I especially enjoyed the photo I assume to be you and your brother. As boys, you had that angelic look about you, but the expression on the stuffed toy (a dog?) between you is priceless. It seems to know something unsettling about what the two of you were capable of!

      1. Welcome. It was interesting to read about the shorts. I’ve seen photos of my father as a young boy wearing them, but didn’t think anymore of it. He too, hailed from GB

  2. It is still common here for boys to wear shorts until they reach secondary school. Funnily enough, I was reminiscing about elasticated garters only the other evening, noting that while my brothers wore them, my sons had no need to. My mother used to sew our clothes too, and I continued making my own dresses until my family was complete.

  3. Fortitude is right. Plus a huge dose of resilience and creativity. Hats off to your mom, Derrick! I really like seeing the pictures and the stories from what is, in effect, a time gone by, are fascinating. Reminds me a bit of the stories my friend Esther used to tell me about growing up in rural Maine in the 1940s. She was born in 1937, so a bit older than you. Heck, I feel old enough so that my youth also seems as though it was in days gone by.

  4. I remember the VE celebration photo. It’s wonderful that you have such photos. It seems that you overcame your premature birth–you look big for not quite three. I agree about that stuffed dog’s expression.
    I think there are photos of my dad as a young boy also in short pants. In previous centuries, as you probably know, both boys and girls wore dresses, and then at about age 6, boys were breeched.

  5. I can imagine the challenge that mothers faced in those days to feed, clothe, and keep their children safe. What an adorable pair you are! The two of you must’ve made her proud πŸ™‚

  6. I love all the details, Derrick. It’s wonderful that you have these photos. I’ve read so many books about the war over the years, mostly fiction. Many were beautifully written and at times, hard to read. My Aunt Alys lived in England, and took part in the war effort by bringing clothes to people who’s homes had been destroyed. My father was stationed in India and worked as a translator. I wish I had more details. I was so young when he died. You’re a terrific writer.

  7. You are a wonderful writer, Derrick, and these are great stories. I think we will see a return to older ways of resourcefulness and conserving resources in the not too distant future.

  8. I didn’t know clothes were rationed; it’s not something that happened in Russia where ration cards meant food. I wonder whether most ladies of those times were as handy with the needle and thread as your mother, Derrick.

  9. These photos are a treasure! I’m sure when people took photos they never thought about how much meaning they would have decades later. You and your brother were cuties! And your precious Mum was such a good mum! The little girl holding your hand…I bet she grew up to be a good mum. She was obviously “mothering” you with joy. πŸ™‚
    (((HUGS))) πŸ™‚
    PS…I wonder where the stuffed-animal dog ended up. I have a VERY similar looking dog that belonged to my maternal grandma. She had it from childhood, passed it on to my mom, and my mom passed it on to me. πŸ™‚

  10. I’ll file your words “the jubilation of that heady, optimistic, summer” alongside some of the stories Mum and Mama (her mum) have told me over the years. They have often talked of celebrating in the streets.

  11. I’ve never felt it, but having read a lot of books about what England was like during WWII, I am sure imagine! What great photos. You two little cuties. How wonderful to have a mother who put all that care into your clothes.

  12. You may have no conscious memory of the original event, but I bet you felt some of that heady optimism. Great photos!

  13. Oh, I love that photo of the girl holding your little hand. You had posted it before, I think. I remember thinking she looked quite pleased with herself. Your stories are so well told. It’s good to hear stories of what people lived through not that long ago.

  14. It is just a joy to read your reminisces about your life. Most of us love to hear the stories of other folks. You and your brother were such little cuties, and well cared for for by your lovely, loving mother. I like your pudgy knees!

    I remember VE Day very well. I was almost 9 years old and heard our neighbours talking about it on the party line back in Canada! I ran out the door and yelled to my mom “That war is over.” We used to see images of the damage done in your country when we went to a Saturday movie in a near by town.

  15. It’s true, I could never know the joy of VE day like someone that had been there, so I thank you for once more sharing these memories.
    That photo is so great! Children’s faces are honest. Reading them is a delight.

  16. Such lovely photos and the dresses stitched by your mother are perfect. My mother stitched our dresses and i too love stitching. Recently we were posting old photos in our family group. We talked about a cousin who passed away when she was only four. There were photos of her. Thank you for sharing.

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