Training did not stop for VE Day

My war did not involve any nasty rough fighting. On VE day I was nearly at the end of six months training to be an officer in the Royal Engineers. Training did not stop for VE day. Instead we learned how to assemble and navigate a Close Support Raft. This consists of two parallel pontoons, each about 60 ft long, linked midships by a platform, on the ends of which is a hinged ramp at right-angles to the pontoons, linked by cables, such that when one ramp goes up the other goes down. From above, it looks like a big H once assembled. Before that it looks like two trucks full of man-size Meccano. It is an early roll on/roll off ferry, its purpose is to raft trucks, light tanks or armoured cars across rivers, on the other side of which are Germans.

At 0800hrs on VE day we and the trucks arrived on the banks of the River Trent near Newark where we unloaded, floated and joined up the raft, hauled it up with pontoons parallel to the bank and one ramp ready for a truck to drive aboard. Then came the engines, one out-board motor on each end of each pontoon, each propeller turning 360 degrees so each could thrust. Putting it together was a piece of cake after the previous weeks building umpteen kinds of Bailey Bridge. Navigating the thing was a different matter. There was a motorman on each motor, two unfortunate bods who, in co-ordination, raised or lowered the ramps by running up or down them, and the Raft Commander, who had to manoeuvre the whole nubbins by bellowing commands. This worked after much practice, learning about currents etc. Practice was what we did not have. First results were shambolic, but time was at a premium. We yet had to take the whole thing to pieces again, return to camp, have a brief rest, return to the river when it was dark and repeat the whole business. But it was VE night. Nearly all the troops, airmen and civvy airmen around were out celebrating. Where better to take your girl for a walk but along the riverbank? What more delightful sight than trainee officers making a hopeless mess of things. The raft commander’s bellowing's could be drowned by unhelpful alternative orders, girlish queries “whatever is it ?”could be explained “It’s the new flying submarine, dear.” valuable advice given “Be ‘eluva lot quicker to drive it round by the bridge, mate !”

A shambles again.... but we got the truck on, rafted it across, unloaded it, re-loaded it and got it back intact, and only one ramp-man fell in. Then we took the raft to bits again, back to camp, all in a day’s work for the Sappers.
The day after VE day was a light day but when we were finally let loose to celebrate VE in Newark, every pub had been drunk DRY!

VJ Day was different. We were all on a troopship bound for India, ready to drive the Japanese out of Indonesia and help the Americans conquer Japan, when Truman launched the Atomic Age.

Keep the memories alive

Do you, a friend or a family member have a memory of VE Day, VJ Day or the war time?

Share a memory

Show your support

Make a donation today to help us continue to support serving personnel, families and veterans.

Make a donation