VE Day 75: Edinburgh locals past and present share their VE Day memories

We’ve spoken to four Edinburgh locals past and present to hear their recollections of how the Capital marked the end of the war in Europe.

Tommy Carson

Tommy Carson BEM, 97, joined the army as a teenager in 1940, but an injury sustained during training meant he escaped the theatre of war. He says VE Day brought an initial feeling of joy that quickly faded due to the economic uncertainty of the time.

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“I couldn’t go abroad because my ear drums were burst – not that I wanted to go abroad.

“Every street came out dancing and singing on that day when peace was announced. They came out but they went back into their house again at night, you know, wondering what was gonna happen.

“Edinburgh was dead. No work and you took anything. After VE Day they started building houses again and that’s when the apprenticeships came on the scene and things started getting back to normal.”

Organist and retired sheltered housing warden, Moira Hepburn, 83, spent several decades as an entertainer during children’s hour at the Ross Bandstand. Back in May 1945 she was nine and living in Blackhall.

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VE Day 75: How Edinburgh marked the end of the war in Europe
Four former and current Edinburgh locals share their memories of VE Day. From top to bottom: Tommy Carson; Moira Hepburn; Millie O'Neil; Rebecca Liddle.

Moira Hepburn

Moira recalls the stark contrast in the mood of the people from before the end of the war in Europe.

She said: “On Princes Street there was a lot of people about – a lot of people – I remember being a wee bit scared because everybody was being so.. so many people going about not caring and that was unusual.

“In many ways it’s worse right now (during the coronavirus outbreak), because at least we could go out and go to the shops and things like that. You’re just so isolated and scared to go anywhere actually in case you catch it.”

Millie O’Neil

Wartime evacuee Millie O’Neill emigrated to Canada in 1951 having been brought up in the Lawnmarket. She was 13 when VE Day arrived and had just come back from the Broomlea evacuation camp in West Linton that February. One of Millie’s fondest memories is of helping to build the great bonfire at the Lawnmarket.

She said: “We were out collecting fire wood the whole week. I recall going to everyone’s door in Milne’s Close and saying ‘Hey missus, can we have your black-oot blinds for the fire?’. And we got them all.

“We had a bonfire, right between the Tolbooth, St John’s Church, and the Presbyterian assembly hall and it was humongous. It was a great celebration and no matter how young you were you knew it was something very happy.”

Rebecca Liddle

Edinburgh-born Rebecca Liddle, 80, was a little girl on the day victory in Europe was declared. She recalls riding the tram into town with her father and sister and the scenes of joy that they encountered when it reached Princes Street, including crowds of people dancing round the tramcars as the city centre ground to a halt in a wave of unbridled happiness.

She said: “My Dad, who was reserved as a shipwright during the war, took me and my sister to the tram terminus at Stenhouse and towards Princes Street.

“We were upstairs and I remember the trams just stopped and people were dancing round the trams.

“It was a lovely sight and I still talk about it. I was at school and my fifth birthday was on the 11th. My birthday will be next weekend. 80 – time flies.”

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