Peace and Commemoration
On 8 May 1945, Victory in Europe was declared. Across London, public celebrations took place with crowds taking to the streets to share their joy. However, Churchill advised the public to bear in mind that the war was only won in part. War with Japan was still ongoing and VJ Day would not come until 15 August 1945.
Whilst the Regent Street Polytechnic welcomed the news of VE Day, they heeded Churchill’s note of caution.
The announcement of peace in 1945 was much more sedate than it had been for World War One. In November 1918, the Polytechnic Magazine reported that a flag was hoisted, the streets became alive with an animated crowd and the Thanksgiving Service in the Great Hall was standing room only. In contrast, the Magazine of May 1945 (above) simply printed a passage of HM The King’s speech. No mention is made of any Polytechnic celebrations, either following VE Day or VJ Day. With many Poly members fighting in the Far East or still in active service in occupying armies, it is understandable that the Poly’s reaction to VE Day was understated. Indeed, the Magazine noted,
‘Amidst all the rejoicing which this day serves, our thoughts turn towards those of our friends who have not lived to see the dawn of this day; to those of our people who are, at the moment of writing, making their way back to us from the Prisoner of War camps; but also and very specially to those who are still facing the perils of war in the Far East. We do not and must not forget that they are not within the sphere of influence covered by the good news though it will rejoice their hearts as it has cheered ours…we are longing for the day when a V message will come which will include them and help bring them back to us again.’
Despite victory in 1945, the Poly’s War Comforts Section realized that there was a continued need for its important work. It continued to provide parcels of food and other essentials to members in the Armed Forces who were not yet demobilised. At the end of 1945, it had raised over £6460 (approximately £229,662 today). It did not conclude its activities until Easter 1946.
There is an interesting contrast in how the Polytechnic commemorated those that died fighting in World War One and World War Two. Every issue of The Polytechnic Magazine between 1914-1918 contained a Roll of Honour with details and photographs of those that had been killed in action. However, no such record exists for World War Two. In addition, an active service register has survived from World War One and is held in the University Archive. It is unknown if one was kept for World War Two. If it was, it either did not survive or was not transferred to the Archive.
A further contrast can be seen on the war memorials at 309 Regent Street. The World War Two memorial was unveiled in 1951. Whereas the World War One memorial divides the names by military rank, the World War Two memorial simply lists the 208 names alphabetically suggesting far less importance was put on rank and social class.