Many brass bands had been forced to disband during World War Two, as their players joined the forces, or other aspects of war-time life impeded their activities. Some bands managed to merge and keep playing, some others became Home Guard bands for the duration, or became associated with local armed service units or war effort industries. A few new bands did arise during WW2, but most bided their time until the war ended and could begin to rebuild. Although the loss of players due to the war was significant, it was nowhere near as heavy as that suffered by bands during WW1. Bands that did manage to rise again after 1945 invested in their local youths to make up numbers, to a greater extent than had been previously seen.
When Victory in Europe was announced the country celebrated spontaneously in cities, towns and villages. Ad hoc mass gatherings took place, parades were organised, street parties held, services of thanksgiving attended in churches, and other places of worship, of all denominations, on VE Day itself and on the following days also.
The focus of the immediate VE Day celebrations was, of course, London, and in particular Piccadilly Circus, which was packed solid with people. The huge celebration scenes here were enhanced by an unknown brass band which was “banging out all the songs that saw this war through – and are even trying, amid the mocking cheers of the crowd, the song that did not see Germany to victory – Deutschland Awake!”
Sadly, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the country cannot celebrate the 75th anniversary of V.E. Day in the ways that had been planned, which included many of our brass bands taking part in concerts and celebrations over the next few days. Some will be able to contribute by playing the Last Post and other music from their doorsteps or online, but others will, instead, have to reflect on the joy and relief that was felt by all 75 years ago. And what better way than to look back at what our banding forebears contributed to those special days.
Here are a few contemporary reports of bands’ activities supporting their local V.E. Day celebrations:
Liverpool – Quite a number of bands were out doing the VE-Day celebrations; Dingle, Automatic [ATM Works Band], and Parr Temperance were in the parks. Prescot Cables, and Tramways [Birkenhead Corporation Motors and Tramways Silver Band] were also there. They should have led the R.A.F. at the big Liverpool Victory Procession on May 13th, but it was rained off.
Sheffield – It was a great day in Sheffield when the Victory Celebrations were held, some 20 bands, Military, Defence and Civil Services bands taking part. But there were not as many Brass Bands present as we should like to have heard and seen. I fear some of them were caught unprepared. Well, they had been warned! Dannemora played a nice programme on VE-Day, featuring the talented young cornetist Joan Hinde. Wath Town were busy on VE-Days at the Town Hall Grounds and did very well. I also noticed an old bandsman there again amongst you; they never give up, these old ones, until they are forced. Manvers Main are very much alive after being “stood-down” for many months, and they turned out at Swinton with a band of 23 on Sunday morning after VE-Day.
Birmingham – The bands of this district were conspicuous by their absence from the Victory Parade which was held in Birmingham on Sunday, May 13th, for what reason I can’t understand. Fisher & Ludlows were stationed at the Saluting Base along with the City Transport Band, and both bands rendered invaluable service. There were plenty of drums and bugles, in the procession, and some very nice playing by the Dudley Salvation Army en route which was greatly appreciated by the huge crowds that lined the streets. Bournville Home Guard took part in the Victory Celebrations at Rowheath on VE plus 1 day, and gave a concert before a very large and appreciative audience. Sorry I did not see you included in the Victory Parade on the Sunday. A band of your class would have certainly helped to liven up the proceedings. Northfield British Legion have been very busy during the Celebrations; they led the procession of the Legion to Church on VE-Day, and also took an active part in the Grand Parade on the Sunday. Shirley Silver headed a Victory Parade at Solihull, their playing on the march being commented on very favourably by a large crowd.
Rhyl – Rhyl Silver played a programme of martial music on the Promenade on VE Day to a huge audience and made a very substantial collection for the Red Cross.
Lincolnshire – Brigg Prize gave a concert on VE Day and took a collection on behalf of the Brigg Welcome Home Fund which realized £7 10s. 0d. Scunthorpe Borough British Legion headed the Parade for Victory Service. Lincoln’s latest musical combination, the Excelsior Brass Band, played on the Cornhill on VE night. The surface air raid shelter made a grandstand and many young people in the crowd danced. Cowpen and Crofton Brass Band played selections to a large crowd in Blyth market place on VE day.
Lancashire – Barrow Youth Clubs Band played in front of the Town Hall on VE Day. Barrow Iron & Steelworks played in the town on VE-Day and gave a very good account of themselves. Barton Hall were out celebrating VE Day. They were short of cornets but no doubt this was an impromptu turn-out and was much appreciated by all who heard them. Preston Excelsior are still in a position to raise a good band as their performance on VE-Day proves. It was good to see all the other local Preston bands on the victory parade, though not at full strength.
Cumberland – Great Clifton have had a very busy time during the Victory in Europe celebrations. They entertained their own villagers, and then parades were made to the outlying districts. Cockermouth Mechanics attended the parades and festivities in their town. Their playing was of a good standard, and I believe they had assistance from outside members. Frizington St. Paul’s are on the go again. On VE-Day they joined in the village celebrations. Their conductor, Mr. J. Moore, keeps them well up to pitch. They were always a force to be reckoned with in the contests of the good old days. Risehow & Gillhead Collieries had a busy time during the celebrations. This band, only recently formed, gave a favourable impression.
Gloucestershire – VE-Day Celebrations: I expect most bands were out on this occasion. Gloucester was well provided for – No. 181 (Sir Thos. Riches) Squadron A.T.C. giving two programmes in the park on the first day, and for the second days three good bands, viz., Yorkley Onward, Drybrook, and Park Street Mission provided the fare, concluding with a Massed Band concert in the evening – this was under the conductorship of Mr. F. J. Beckingham, of Gloucester City. Kingswood Abbey, I notice, had their usual share of engagements for both days and for the Thanksgiving Sunday fulfilled three engagements, morning at Wickmore, afternoon at Wotton-under-Edge, and evening at Kingswood.
Yorkshire – Brighouse and Rastrick on the VE-2 Day gave two concerts at Woodhouse Moor, Leeds, where large crowds listened to the band attentively. Milnrow Public were at Rochdale on VE-Day, when they gave a very nice programme of classical music.
Somerset – On VE-Day the Yeovil S.A. Band were in evidence, and led the singing at the wonderful Thanksgiving Services. This band is a pleasure to hear. Beaminster also did their bit during the celebrations. Now Mr. Collin (Bandmaster) don’t let your band get too over-zealous in their blowing – I know it must be a relief to some of you to be in harness again, but remember there are pianissimos as well as fortes. Crewkerne Band played at the outdoor United Service of Thanksgiving on VE-Night, and their playing of the remembrance hymn “The Supreme Sacrifice,” prior to the commencement of the service was most effective. Winsham Coronation Silver Band were also out doing their duty, whilst just over the border into Devon, the Axminster Youth Band, under Mr. Turner, did yeoman service during the celebrations. Another two village bands in this area united for the celebrations, viz., Longport and Curry Rivel. Good old timers.
Band instrument manufacturers were also celebrating the end of the war, as they could once again devote their brass and industry to the creation of music. Boosey & Hawkes even planned a new “Victory” range of models:
Here are some images of Home Guard bands that had been formed during WW2 and which would be looking forward to re-establishing their civilian positions and affiliations – and uniforms!