World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                      Derrick Crabtree 

A 13yr old's Memory of the End of Japanese Hostilities.

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Derek Crabtree
Location of story: Otterburn to London


This story is intended to show how rapidly the war ended - through the eyes of a 13-years-old boy.

My most memorable cycle ride was in the summer school holiday of 1945.

My parents allowed me much more freedom than a 13-year-old boy would expect today. After attending the camp for Hanson Scout Troop (9th Bradford East) at Otterburn, near Malham, for a week, I was permitted to set off for a fortnight’s cycling tour with Jeffrey Aston, another boy in my class.

We had planned the route so that every night we could sleep at a youth hostel. Advanced booking vouchers had been bought at the local cycle shop and we reserved accommodation and meals at hostels about 50 miles apart.

On the first day we pedalled from our homes in Bradford to the hostel at Tickhill, near Doncaster. We continued the next day along the Great North Road to Grantham. The following morning we bought a newspaper and learned of the splitting of the atom and of the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

We knew that a former pupil of our school, Sir Edward Appleton, was Britain’s chief scientist during the war, but it was not until later that we grasped fully the implications of what we learned that morning in Grantham.

We were accompanied on the next leg of the journey by a fellow hosteller from North of the Border, who objected to being called a Scotchman. I have always remembered since that day that he was a Scotsman and that the only Scotch to leave Scotland was whisky.

Our next night was at the famous 18th Century Houghton Mill, near Huntingdon, which was then an unforgettable gem of the Youth Hostels Association, but which is now in the care of the National Trust. After that we meandered westwards across Hertfordshire, until we arrived in Buckinghamshire and heard that a second atomic bomb had been dropped, this one on Nagasaki. The halfway point of our tour was the hostel at Speen where we stayed for three nights, the maximum allowed.

The only promise my parents had demanded was that we did not ride our bikes into London, so we cycled to High Wycombe railway station on Tuesday morning, August 14. We put our machines in the left luggage office for a small charge and caught a train to Paddington where we were met by an uncle who was working for the Air Ministry.

My relative introduced us to some of the principal sights and we went for lunch at the Lyons Corner House, in The Strand, near Trafalgar Square. At about 2 p.m. we emerged into the street to find the Second World War had ended and the impromptu celebrations began.

The memory of servicemen and women of many nations, with civilians young and old, demonstrating their joy in every way imaginable has never left me. Every lamp-post seemed to be climbed by someone and streets were littered like a New York tickertape parade.

Unfortunately, at 4 p.m. we had to catch the train back to High Wycombe so that we were sure to be at Speen before the hostel curfew. The next day we began the journey home on our bicycles again and we arrived in Yorkshire in time for the real VJ Day celebrations.

The next time I was in London was five years later, as a soldier working at the Royal Army Medical College in Millbank.