The earliest memory I have is of my fourth birthday.
I was carried round on the shoulders of an uncle to watch bonfires burning and people dancing in the streets.
The celebration rather spoilt me for all the other birthdays that followed when only four or five kids turned up
The reason for the mass show of public rejoicing was that my birthday coincided with VE Day.
My father was still in the RAF and Uncle Eric was in Africa with the Signal Corps but Uncle Austin carried me into the night time crowds, with my mother and Auntie Doris in tow, to watch effigies of Hitler and the Nazi hierarchy thrown onto the bonfires that blazed in Wakefield’s Bull Ring.
Britain had emerged from six years of war, uncertainty, shortages, personal tragedies, threat of invasion and bombing raids.
In the latter stages, the special relationship had even survived the influx of thousands of American servicemen who were over-sexed, overpaid and, thank God, over here and ready to fight for victory. It was because of the war that I now have so many American relatives.
My wife’s Aunt Eileen met dashing US officer Lt Col Monty Mountford at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. During the war, the resort was the country’s biggest air force base and training camp. After the war, she became a GI bride and years later, Monty and I became friends.
America, too, will be celebrating today and we should remember that, while they did not enter the war until December, 1941, they suffered more military deaths (407,000) than the UK (383,000).
The sounds of air raid sirens had been a background noise in my early years that had sent me, my mother, grandma and Auntie Doris crouching under the kitchen table for safety.
My grandma refused to go in the cellar and Auntie Doris was a big lady so there wasn’t much room. I was, so to speak, held safe in the bosoms of my family.
We lived in a terraced house in Cheapside off Westgate in the middle of Wakefield.
It was so central that friends and relatives would always call in before or after a night out in the city’s pubs and cinemas.
My memories of war until then had been amorphous: a collection of images and people; men in uniforms calling at the house; my father on leave producing a carved Spitfire from his kitbag;
ITMA on the wireless; wondering what on earth I was supposed to with a gas mask.
But VE Day was the first solid recollection because of the energy of the night, the fires and the sheer release of tension from all these smiling grown-ups.
This was collective relief from a people that had shared the loss of friends and loved ones in a righteous war. And I had a grandstand view from Uncle Austin’s shoulders.