Wartime letter describes VE Day celebrations in Exmouth

PUBLISHED: 11:00 08 May 2020

The nurses from the Bystock Convalescent Home ; Win Freeman is front row, far right.   Picture: David Salmon

The nurses from the Bystock Convalescent Home ; Win Freeman is front row, far right. Picture: David Salmon

David Salmon

A 75-year-old letter has come to light, written in 1945 by a young nurse based in East Devon, describing how she ‘literally danced for joy’ when she heard that World War Two was over in Europe.

Win Freeman, then aged 23, was based at Bystock Convalescent Home near Exmouth, where recovering Polish servicemen were being treated.

She wrote to her younger sister Joyce in London, describing how the news of VE Day was announced on the radio just as they had finished supper on May 7, and the nurses had ‘the joy’ of passing on the news to the patients who had not heard the broadcast.

“The NCO (non-commissioned officer) sergeant came tearing along the corridor, picked me up and whirled me round and round,” her letter says.

A barrel of beer arrived for the men that evening.

On May 8, 1945, the staff ‘did as little work as possible’ and listened to ‘the wireless’ all day, hearing broadcasts from Winston Churchill and the King. Miss Freeman notes that they had beer and grapefruit with dinner.

The following day, staff challenged patients to a game of netball, with three of the sisters dressed up in comical costumes.

That evening a group from the home went into Exmouth for a Victory Ball at the Pavilion, where Miss Freeman ‘celebrated victory by breaking the rules’, namely removing her jacket to reveal a short-sleeved blouse, and dancing with a patient.

The nurses had passes until 1am and got a lift back in a lorry ‘loaded with jubilant Marines’. They were then kept awake by patients returning even later and in very high spirits.

With further dances and celebrations planned, Miss Freeman took a trip to Exeter with a friend and spent £2.13.7 on a new dress, went out to tea, and enjoyed a theatre show called Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?, that was ‘very funny and not as naughty as it sounds’.

After the war, she returned to London where she had grown up, trained as a secretary and met her future husband, marrying him in 1948.

She had two sons and went on to live to within a few months of her 90th birthday.

One of her sons, David, kept the letter and sent a copy to this title in response to an appeal for VE Day memorabilia.

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