1944 had proved to be the worst year of the war as far as Darwen was concerned with over 70 fatalities. 1945 saw the push for supremacy in Europe, and as troops moved across the continent Darwen saw its menfolk in action across many fronts. News from the front would give rise to hope as the British crossed the Rhine and the Germans surrendered in Italy. The town must have experienced the full range of emotions in the months leading up to May – from joy to sadness, hope to despair, then elation as the Germans surrendered unconditionally in May. Parties were hastily arranged and people relaxed and enjoyed a moment’s respite. For some though, the war went on until August in the Far east. Many Darwen men were caught up in that conflict and loved ones at home would have to wait many months before they could be sure that family members were safe and had survived. Then came the awful news of the two atomic bombs and the devastation they caused – the only redeeming feature was that they brought the war to a quicker conclusion. Japan would surrender in August, but then the allies found out the truth about atrocities both in Europe and the Far East.
***You can click on each image to enlarge it***
The first fatality of 1945 shows how uncertain life had become for those in this country – a member of the ATS from Darwen, Annie Aspden.
Robert Gregson would be assigned as Air Mechanic with the Fleet Air Arm to Ceylon in January.
Sergeant Albert Edward Heap would come home on leave in January before going out to India and Burma. This was the last time his family would see him.
Harold Greenwood who had gone to France on D-Day would come home on a well-earned leave in January.
Leslie Wheeler lost his life in February at the age of 21 in action at Cleve in Germany.
His family set up the Leslie Wheeler, Greenfield Institute, Challenge Cup for Billiards in his name as a memorial.
Sergeant Herbert Cecil Lomax, Navigator, was killed in action over Germany when his Lancaster was shot down without trace.
James Albert Ormerod would start his tour of operations in April 1945 as a Rear Gunner on Lancaster bombers with 106 Squadron.
Alfred Gillibrand had been a cinema projectionist on airfields providing entertainment for air crews before signing up for the Navy.
Alfred’s mother would receive the dreaded Telegram in April 1945.
In Italy Frank Yates had been away from home for two years and would be involved at Monte Cassino.
Unbelievable to us today, Frank wrote home in April 1945 wondering if he would be home for Christmas to see the baby daughter he had yet to meet.
With the surrender of the Germans in Italy life became easier for the troops there and James Kay Perriman took the opportunity to visit the opera in Rome.
In April, Harold Greenhalgh was involved in the liberation of Holland, and there he met a young girl called Carry Huiskamp.
In April 1985 Carry would seek out Harold in Darwen for an emotional reunion.
In early May the war in Europe was over and Darwen celebrated like other towns with street parties, consisting mostly of women and children.
James Albert Ormerod would be one of the lucky ones who returned from the war, pictured here with his crew in July 1945 having finished operational flying.
Many of those returning from the war in Europe would find difficulty returning to civilian life like Horace Smith.
Hubert Mason was amongst those still at war – he was with the Chindits behind enemy lines in Burma.
John Victor Gavagan was now out in Manilla using his welding skills to repair ships damaged by Kamikaze pilots.
In July L/Cpl John Valentine Kealey would lose his life fighting the Japanese and is buried in Labuan, Borneo.
Also in July a tragedy took place on the Moors above Bull Hill in Darwen when Polish Pilot Herbert Noga was killed in an unexplained air crash.
Herbert was buried with full military honours in Layton Cemetery, Blackpool where the Polish Community tend his grave.
Frank Harwood, captured by the Japanese at Singapore, would be one of many to lose his life in appalling conditions in captivity – only notified in September 1945.
A more muted celebration time when the Japanese surrendered in August and an anxious wait for loved ones to return.
Joe Todd was one who returned from a German POW camp having been a prisoner for over 2 years – he would marry in Darwen at last in 1949.
Albert Edward Heap would take this photo of the temporary cemetery in Labuan in September, not knowing that Frank Harwood had been laid to rest there.
War does not just end though, and new recruits were taking the place of those returning with the task of sorting the mess like L/Cpl Arthur Cotton.
Arthur Cotton would start with the Royal Engineers in September 1945 and would not finish until 1948.
At least Arthur could do his job without being shot at.
October 1945 brought one of the last weddings in Darwen where the groom wore his uniform.
Frank Yates would get his wish to see his daughter for the first time at Christmas 1945 when she was already two years old.
John Victor Gavagan was still out in Hong Kong and missing home.
Albert Edward Heap would spend his last Christmas in Bangkok with the RAF.