by Patricia Dark, Archivist
- Daniels Road, Nunhead
By May 8, 1945, the UK had been at war for more than five and a half years. In that time, life had been turned upside down, in big and small ways.
London lost almost 30,000 of its residents and a third of its buildings to bombing during the Second World War; more than 50,000 other Londoners had been injured. Here in Southwark, nearly 2,000 people were killed, and thousands of homes destroyed. Almost every family in London would have members missing – perhaps killed, away on active service, or evacuated to a safer area, maybe years before.
Years of rationing made food time-consuming to get, sometimes scarce, and often monotonous. Everything from clothes to toys to furniture had to be mended rather than thrown away, made to make do as long as it possibly could.
But with the surrender of German forces, the threat of enemy attack lifted, and while, in the words of American president Harry S. Truman, it was “a victory only half won”, it meant that the end of the entire war was in sight.
London reacted by throwing a party. In central London, the crowd gathered at Trafalgar Square reached all the way up the Mall to Buckingham Palace – where King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared on the balcony — singing, dancing, and rejoicing until late into the night; Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret slipped into the throng to join the celebration.
In the residential streets of Southwark, the festivities were more low-key: flags and bunting – either carefully saved from before the war or creatively produced from anything to hand – decorated homes and streets; families or whole streets pooled rations to provide sweet treats for their youngest members, who’d lost so much of their childhoods to war.
As you might expect, such a party was an occasion to bring out the camera! We hold pictures from a number of street parties at Southwark Local History Library and Archive: some of them are below. If you recognise anyone in these pictures, would like to use any of these images, or have a photo you think we would be interested in, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This image, our reference PB2341, shows residents of the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey during the children’s street party they threw to celebrate the peace.
Southwark Park Road Bermondsey
This is the victory party C Block of the Plough Way Estate in Rotherhithe threw.
Chadwick Road, Peckham
Chesterfield Grove in East Dulwich also threw a street party for the children: this picture is our reference P21566.
The Pyrotechnist’s Arms pub on Nunhead Green staged fundraising concerts throughout the war, so maybe it’s no surprise that they threw a party for VE Day!
This is our image reference P21543, showing a VE Day party thrown by residents of Buchan Road, Nunhead. This photo and others in our collection suggest that local photographers helped capture memories of these celebrations.
Many victory parties took the form of street parties: residents set up trestle tables and made treats to share. This party was in Nuffield Road, Dulwich: the photo is our reference P21524.
This VE Day street party was in Gurney Street, Walworth. Mrs. Baker is at the end of the table in the foreground; Mrs. Willis is in the background at right. Gurney Street was later demolished as part of the development of the Heygate Estate.
Evacuees returning to Oliver Goldsmith School from Dorset Jun 1945 (P16265)
The Home Front
The following images from Southwark Local History Library and Archive show aspects of life during the Second World War. Digging for victory, fundraising events and parties for evacuees all helped to boost Southwark’s morale.
Southwark Central students gardening with Chair of London County Council (P17264)
Walworth Home Guard, Braganza Street, 1942 (P21581)
Concert at the Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of War Weapons Week, 1943 (P21731)
War Wings Week collection, Rye Lane, Peckham c.1942 (P22222)
Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2095)
Tea party for evacuees from the Metropolitan Borough of Bermondsey, Worthing, January 1940 (PB2096)
Concert at Pyrotechnists’ Arms, Nunhead in aid of the RAF Benevolent Fund, c. 1942 (P21730)