AS ON Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8, The Westmorland Gazette proclaimed on Victory over Japan (VJ) Day on August 15, 1945, that ‘Westmorland goes gay’.

‘A hustle of decoration’ flags quickly fluttered over every street and, where I was staying at my Auntie May’s in Cheshire when aged two-and-a-half, I obtained my earliest identifiable memory as I awoke to see ladies draping their ‘Woodlands Avenue’ in bunting.

Not everybody was exultant. At Barrow, Nellie Last, a Mass Observation volunteer, was ‘alarmed, at 1am, by shouting, singing and the sound of ships’ sirens and church bells’. But, daunted by her husband’s ‘wishing there was not so much noise’, she took two aspirins and went back to sleep.

Later-on, throughout the land, there was dancing in the streets. In Kendal, revellers ‘jitterbugged’ on a special dance floor outside Abbot Hall. Down at Burton National School, ‘the famous Old Fiddler Tom Eccles played until dawn’. In Milnthorpe, ‘sufficient men had been demobilised for a welcome home dance. The village was paraded in darkness with patriotic singing and a few fireworks were heard’.

As booze was in short supply, tea parties predominated. 3,000 children were treated at Kendal. At Calgarth Camp on Windermere, 300 orphans ‘undergoing rehabilitations after German concentration camp privations’ enjoyed a picnic and, in Milnthorpe, thanks to the local Libby’s Milk Factory, the children sampled a ‘victory trifle’ adorned with mock cream. According to my mother’s recipe, it was concocted by boiling a tin of thin Libby’s milk for 15 minutes then, after cooling, whisking the milk in a teaspoon of cornflour, two teaspoons of gelatine, an ounce of margarine and an ounce of icing sugar ‘if available’.

In Kendal at the start of victory weekend, ‘the streets were crowded with housewives out to make provision for two-days’ holiday’. They were heartened by advertisements like ‘victory brings nearer the time when Stork lard will return’, ‘tasty, appetising and nourishing ways with semolina’, ‘new ways with dried egg’, and ‘piles soothed by Zambia suppositories’.

Amidst all the jollity little heed was, as yet, devoted to the dire fact that it was the dropping of the atom bomb which had ended the war suddenly. At Ulverston, the vicar, Canon Rimmer, preached ‘that although it was ghastly that the bomb had killed hundreds of thousands we must rejoice that by shortening the war by a year it had brought an immeasurable gain’.

Nevertheless, victory euphoria soon evaporated in the face of increased privations. Ironically, bread, un-rationed in wartime, was put on the ration so that scant supplies could relieve starvation in Germany. But, locally, there would be increased rations for German prisoners of war if ‘their farm work was excessive’. ‘Our own lads’ were, however, remembered with ‘duty free tobacco for members of HM forces’, and with Woodbines ‘on offer’ at four shillings for 250 and 16 shillings for a thousand. Even so, from Woodhouse Lane, Heversham, Mr Ramsbottom grumbled in a letter to the Gazette: “There’s been no tobacco for a month, porridge oats are no longer available and an augmented supply of watered beer is no solace.” But towards Christmas there came a gleam of nutritional hope: “Bananas are expected to be available in February to be served against ration cards – the retail price being 1s 1d per pound.” Even so - it was a hungry victory.