It you were strolling down Jury Street in the middle of Warwick last Friday night (May 1) you might have been tempted to take shelter as an air-raid siren started to wail followed by the distant sounds of a bombing raid.
But there was no need to panic – the racket was coming from the upstairs windows of the ballroom in the old Court House, in Jury Street, where members of the Unlocking Warwick volunteer group were staging a VE Day dance.
Rick Thompson and Patrick McConville were among the organisers of the event that recreated the town’s original celebrations at the end of the war in Europe 70 years ago.
Mr Thompson said: “As well as the sirens and sounds of the Coventry Blitz we had a recording of the King’s radio broadcast announcing victory.
“And before the grim sounds of war gave way to the music of Glen Miller, Woody Herman and Al Bowlly, we also had some personal wartime memories from ex-servicemen like 92-year-old Bill Betts who was among the dancers.”
Last month Bill, who used to live in Warwick but now lives in Wellesbourne, became the first Warwickshire man to receive France’s highest honour, the Legion d’Honneur, in gratitude for his wartime bravery.
Before all the jiving and the jitterbugging gave way to a fish and chip supper served in a NAAFI-style canteen, the dancers heard how Bill’s Sherman tank was among the first ashore on Gold Beach on D-Day.
Bill said: “A sniper got me in the leg and killed the man next to me who fell on top of me.
“My unit left me for dead.”
That was far from the case and after a trip to a military hospital Bill was soon back in action.
On May 8, 1945, he remembers listening to the King’s Victory in Europe announcement while in his tank somewhere in northern Germany and wishing he was back home to join in the revelry.
At the Court House he made up for lost time as he joined dancers who had dressed for the occasion wearing demob suits or uniforms and Land Girl outfits or stylish forties fashions for the women.
Afterwards, as all the guests made their way home carrying ration books printed with make-do-and-mend recipes to cope with the wartime food shortages, Bill said: “It was a wonderful commemoration of events still fresh in my mind after 70 years.”
Fran Godwin, who took pictures on the night, said the dance had been a huge hit with those who attended.
Fran, who is the secretary of the Unlocking Warwick group, said: “Our VE Day dance was the latest in a series of events being laid on by volunteers in the refurbished old Court House which now has a lift to all floors.”
The group is always looking to attract more volunteers and anyone interested in getting involved can visit firstname.lastname@example.org or leave their name and address with staff in the Visitor Centre.