‘They played our family piano in the street at the VE Day party’

12-101   New author John Phipps at home in Allandale, Hemel Hempstead. ENGPNL00120120602175133
12-101 New author John Phipps at home in Allandale, Hemel Hempstead. ENGPNL00120120602175133

A Hemel author has taken great delight in recounting his wartime memories to a new generation of children across the Decorum area.

But John Phipps has one day that stands out from all his wartime memories, when he looks back at May 8, 1945.

He told the Gazette: “VE Day was a joyous occasion. The big event was a street party with a concert pianist playing our family piano - he worked for the BBC and he played all night, all the wartime 
standards and boogie-woogie.

“People were dancing in the street and kissing each other, and some people let off some fireworks - I don’t know where they had got them from. There were even some 
thunder flashes, which were dummy grenades that people let off during the party.”

John, who is now 82, was only six years old and living in South Harrow when the 
Second World War broke out, and 12 when the war in Europe finally ended.

His book Living Through a War is being re-released to 
coincide with VE Day, and looks back at the highs and lows of those six years.

He has also visited schools across the local area talking to students about his memories, and several schools have also bought copies of his book as a teaching aide.

But John, who lives in of Allandale, admits there was a darker side to his memories too.

His father fought at 
Dunkirk, and when he 
returned to the UK he hitched a lift home rather than wait for the official trains.

And John’s uncle’s plane was shot down at the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944.

He said: “He was shot down and believed to be dead, but 
after a few weeks he turned up when he crossed 
American lines.

“He was the only one in his aircraft who survived. Apparently he was blown out of the Perspex in the plane, and has he fell to the ground he couldn’t open his parachute because the zip was stuck.

“He managed to get it open a few hundred feet above the ground, but then he was chased by the Germans and had to hide while getting home.

“Things like that, and having friends whose family had died, affected us all. At the first the war was an adventure for a six-year-old, but it got much more serious. But VE Day was just a very happy celebration.”

Living Through A War is available now in all good 
bookshops and retailers and costs £6.99 as well as being available online.

> Look forward to more VE Day features in this week’s Gazette and Express newspapers