I was fortunate to be stationed in Hampshire when the Victory Parade took place in London in June 1946 following the end of World War 2. I managed to book a room at a YMCA hostel in a fairly central location just off the Strand which enabled me to attend this spectacular event. My nephew recently discovered a letter which I had written to my late sister describing the event. The letter ran for 16 pages, 12 of which were devoted to the parade. Here are some edited highlights.
“I got into town about 9.20pm and after dumping my kit at the hostel I decided to have a stroll around and see all the decorations. I headed for the Mall and it was pretty crowded. All the available space was occupied and they had all come prepared with flasks, cases with grub and travelling rugs. Some sailors had their hammocks strung between the trees. I was thankful that I had a bed to go to when I saw them settling down for the night. The din was deafening with rattles, squeakers, anything that could make a noise. The racketeers were there to, selling flashy programmes at ridiculous prices and lemonade at 6d per glass and weak as water.
Next morning I met my pal at Charing Cross at 7am and after a bit of shoving we got a good place about 5 back at St. Martins in the Fields. After half-an-hour they were twenty deep behind us and we were being squashed a bit with 2 hours wait in front of us. We fought our way out and started to breathe again and that Betty was the victory parade! Don’t you believe it. We went right round the route until we found a quiet part in Oxford Street where they were only about 4 deep. By this time we had about half-an-hour to wait which soon passed and then the trumpets were heralding the arrival of the Royal Family. The King, Queen and two Princesses were there with the household cavalry escort. The horses are wonderfully trained.
After that came the parade and never have I seen so many different uniforms and types together.
The Yanks were first then came all the allies and colonial troops. I can’t possibly describe them all. There were five pipe bands, the Indians, the Irish, the ATS, the RAF and last but not least the combined bands of the Scottish Regiments led by three drum majors, one being the drum major of our sister regiment the 10th Black Watch with whom I did my training at Lockerbie. A few of the pipers and drummers I recognised. They were the only band who played when passing us and if they hadn’t it would have been a flop as far as I was concerned.
The one event I really wanted to see was the massed pipers in the Mall but we couldn’t get near the place for crowds. The fly past followed the parade and then the rain came. We queued up to get into a news cinema, many had the same idea. When we emerged it was still raining so we returned to the hostel for some food and a much needed change of socks.
We then headed for the south side of the Thames to see the water pageant. We got a lovely position opposite the Houses of Parliament directly in front of the three set pieces of the King, Queen and Princesses.
The display started with the fireboats throwing out illuminated jets in all directions in all colours of the rainbow. The Royal Family arrived and the searchlights dipped in salute. Then followed the most fantastic fireworks display. When the rockets burst they filled the sky with green, gold, purple and silver stars. Each fresh burst brought bigger gasps from the crowds. The set pieces were lit and the outline of the King, Queen and the Princess Elizabeth in lights lasted for several minutes. All the prominent buildings were illuminated in various colours and the fountains in Trafalgar Square were also illuminated, in red, white and blue. The loveliest sight of all however was the view of Buckingham Palace from the Mall.
It was floodlit in purple and it really was a sight worth seeing with the Victoria memorial in front and two light blue searchlights forming a V above it against the dark blue of the sky. I could write many more pages and still not cover everything but I don’t think I have done too badly.”
Reading the letter again, which I had completely forgotten about, after all these years brought back so many memories of a day which will live forever in my memory.
( A full copy of the letter has been given to the Museum of Abernethy )