• The Villages Mag

VE Day 75 Commemoration

Holmes Chapel on VE Day 1945. The Second World War had been going on for six years since 1939 and the world had changed even for people in the relatively remote village of Holmes Chapel. Many men and women had joined the services and left the area. However, unlike the First World War the community at home was very much involved in the war machine.

The wallpaper factory was now producing munitions which were stored at a Royal Army Ordnance Corps depot along Manor Lane. There was an airfield at Cranage from which flying missions attacking enemy aircraft took place. In Byley there was a factory where Wellington Bombers were built. Troops had been billeted in the village; evacuees were living with families; American servicemen had stayed at The Hermitage and Sandiford Cottage; Italian and German POWs had stayed at the Bull and Sandiford Cottage; and people were subject to rationing, growing their own food. Even grass verges were ploughed up to “Dig for Victory”.

And then on May 7th 1945 reports came through on the wireless that the war in Europe was over and VE Day was declared for Tuesday May 8th. Not many people are now alive who can remember that day in Holmes Chapel but we have learnt that it was a day of spontaneous celebration centred on the Good Companions Hotel which was on the site of Lovell Court in the centre of the village. This was a brand new hotel only opened just before the war and had a large car park at the front. This became the location for drinking and dancing well into the night. A band played on a flat bed trailer which had been brought along.

There are reports of flags displayed around the village but sadly no photographs have been found to confirm this. No doubt it was more important to celebrate than take photographs.

Following a day of celebration, apart from thanksgiving services and peals of bells, it appears life went back to normal and people gradually adjusted to peace time although rationing continued and in fact became more severe in the years to come. This may have influenced the Parish Council who decided not to support the Victory Celebrations planned for June 1946 proposed by the government. Clearly for the village of Holmes Chapel one day of celebration was enough.

We would love to have included a photo of Holmes Chapel celebrating and maybe you have one in your album you could let us see.

Holmes Chapel had been busy making plans for the commemoration of the 75 years since VE Day but the coronavirus has resulted in the cancellation of most of the anticipated activities. There will be no public gatherings and no street parties on May 8th unfortunately. However it is hoped to release some of the history research which had been carried out to give people the background to how the village was involved in wartime activities and the VE Day celebrations. One of the plans was to produce a map of the village and surroundings to show all the locations which were important during the war. For example there was an aircraft assembly plant at Byley as well as an airfield. Also the Victoria wallpaper works was converted into a munitions plant and there was a munitions store nearby.

It is still planned to have the maps produced by early May and we hope to find a way of making them available to the community in a safe way. Many of the locations shown on the map are within walking distance of the village centre so this may provide added interest for people carrying out their daily exercise around the village if we are still locked down by then.

By way of example three of the locations shown on the map are listed below with the associated story of the time:

1. The Good Companions Hotel opened on Wednesday 15th March 1939, the day after The Bull’s Head closed it’s doors as a public house. Being owned by the same brewery, the license was transferred between the two. The demolition of the Bull’s Head in a road widening scheme was postponed by the war, and it carried on as a boarding house for a number of years. At one time it even housed Italian POWs.

The Good Companions, situated on the site of Lovell Court in the village centre, was advertised as a country hotel. It was an imposing building set back from the main road with a large car park to the front. During the Second World War, numerous social events were organised within the building. On VE Day, in the evening, everyone congregated in the car park where there was dancing and drinking, with a band playing on the back of a farm flat-bed trailer.

2. Victoria Wallpaper Works and Munitions Store. A wallpaper works (now Fads) has been on this site since 1911. At the start of the Second World War, as part of the war effort, wallpaper manufacture ceased, and the factory was employed in packing shells, fabricating Rolls Royce engine parts, and “window” - paper foil which was dropped as strips to confuse enemy radar.

The wallpaper works were also the headquarters for the Holmes Chapel troop of the Home Guards. One of their tasks was to protect the Railway Viaduct from sabotage. This was regarded as a far from pleasant duty, made all the more difficult by the narrow space between the track and the parapet, which meant the guard on duty was in some danger when a train passed through.

Across the railway line from the Victoria Works was a RAOC (Royal Army Ordnance Corps) Depot. The land was originally part of Manor Farm, but on 27th September 1939, 24 days after the start of the War, the War Department commandeered the land for a “War Mobilisation Store”, and a small number of soldiers were based there.

3. Sandiford Cottage. Located where the Fire Station is now, Sandiford Cottage was built in the 19th Century. In the 1920s, it was the home of Ministers in the Church of England until the new Vicarage on London Road was built in 1930. As war approached, it became the HQ for the WVS (Women’s Voluntary Service) and TocH.

During the Second World War, it was requisitioned by the government and used as a billet for troops, both British and American – some were in tents in the extensive grounds; and later a hostel for German prisoners of war. After the requisition, the WVS moved to a house on Victoria Avenue

Holmes Chapel U3A

Local History Group

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