Friday, 15 March 2013

Sepia Saturday 168: V-J Day in Church Gresley

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

Some years ago M.B. Venning sent me an unattributed image which I was unable to use at the time, but which fits this weeks Sepia Saturday theme very well, being a direct result of the Potsdam Conference and Declaration.

Image © and courtesy of M.B. Venning
V-J celebrations in Regent Street, Church Gresley, 15 August 1945
Postcard photograph by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of M.B. Venning

15 August 1945 was V-J (Victory over Japan) Day, marking the end of hostilities in the Second World War, and commemmorated in this part of the world as V-P (Victory in the Pacific) Day.

Most of the children and some of the adults have found time to dress up, and it's an interesting variety of costumes. Church Gresley was a mining and pottery town, and the men on the pavement to the right have perhaps just been given time off work. There are the usual nurses, maids, sailor suits and nursery rhyme characters (I think I see Mary, Mary, quite contrary in the back row, at left, there are a couple of potential Little Bo Peeps, and the Knave of Hearts is carrying a tart right in the centre).

Towards the front there are two boys dressed in costumes of more topical interest: the young lad on the left is a miner, complete with pit helmet (presumably like his Dad), while the one on the right wears a hastily constructed "V" for Victory costume (with the rank of corporal, perhaps like his Dad), and brandishes a Union Jack. Perhaps readers can spot some other characters in the crowd.

By the way, the large vehicle in the background is a Trent bus, a couple of which appeared in a previous Photo-Sleuth article.

Image courtesy of Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Crowds on VJ day, Auckland, 15 August 1945
B&W Still from Weekly Review 208. National Film Unit, 1945
(click image to see the full video)
Image courtesy of Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

By way of contrast, these celebrations seem rather restrained compared with those that took place in countries surrounding the Pacific Ocean.

News of Japan's surrender following the dropping of two atom bombs was received in New Zealand at 11 a.m. on 15 August 1945. Sirens sounded immediately, and before long streamers were unfurled, and there were bands playing and people dancing in the streets.

Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Image courtesy of
Crowds on VJ day, Willis Street, Wellington, 15 August 1945
B&W film negative by John Pascoe
Image courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library

There were parades, bands playing, thanksgiving services, bonfires, dances and community sports. Once more the beer flowed, and there were streamers, whistles and dancing in the streets. Again there were two days' public holiday ... In Auckland, where there were few organised events, the city went out to enjoy itself the moment the factory whistle sounded. At first it was simply people drinking, dancing and scattering confetti. Then some rowdy people began throwing bottles. Windows were smashed, and people were hurt. By the evening, 51 people had been taken to hospital and 15 tons of glass lay in the roads.

New Zealand History online

Image © and courtesy of Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
"The Kiss," Times Square, New York, 15 August 1945
B&W photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Image © Alfred Eisenstaedt—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

And of course there was plenty of kissing.


McGibbon, Ian (2012) Second World War - Final victory, from Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Crowds on VJ day, Willis Street, Wellington, Pascoe, John Dobree, 1908-1972 :Photographic albums, prints and negatives, Ref: 1/4-001830-F, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Victory over Japan (VJ) Day, from New Zealand History online

V-J Day, 1945 - A Nation lets Loose, from

Sailor, nurse from iconic VJ Day photo reunited, from CBS


  1. Ah that iconic kiss picture! The first picture is full of detail and shows people's ingenuity at making costumes from scratch - as you did in those days.

  2. I have to wonder about the thought process that made everyone think dressing like a nursery rhyme character made sense in celebrating the victory over Japan. Oh well - certainly tamer than the celebration in New Zealand that dissolved into vandalism.

  3. I was familiar with the Kiss photo but had never seen anything about celebrations elsewhere before.

  4. I like that kiss photo too, and it wasn't that long ago that I discovered he didn't even know her, they just met that moment and years later they reunited again! I enjoyed all of this, but especially the first photo, I had to study each and every child- what create outfits and style!

  5. gorgeous photos of wonderful crowds

  6. I like how the unknown photographer, perhaps standing on a ladder,has directed the children and adults to stand still, almost in formation while the camera takes the photo.

    Unfortunately, celebrations like that will never happen with our present endless conflicts.

  7. I like the movement in the second photo. Celebrations now are usually the result of a sports win.

  8. The strange thing is that even though these pictures were taken only days and weeks after the war ended (in Europe at least), they have a strange post-war feel about them. We are back to the idea that photographic film can capture emotions as well as light.

  9. Great photos! Wish there were NO wars anywhere in the world. What a difference life would be. Love the KISS photo, emotions come through...

  10. You Can Kind Of Understand the Violence in New Zealand...all that pent-up Tension.
    But! Yes,the First Photo Has A Rare Spirit About It.Lets Hope That Little Bo Peep & The Knave of Hearts Never Came To Fisticuffs!

  11. Bob - Once I started looking for images along those lines, I found them everywhere!

    Little Nell - It's been sitting on my computer (actually, several successive computers) since the owner sent it to me in 2005, waiting for the appropriate moment, and this was a perfect fit.

    Wendy - Perhaps in England, everyone had seen so much destruction already, they had no intention of following it up with more, and the dressing up for street parades seems to have been a tradition from much earlier (viz. the cycle parades I wrote about recently).

    Postcardy - A bit before my time too, but similar festivities must have been going on all over the far-flung Empire. I read recently in Doris Lessing's autobiography how "On the evening of VE Day ... it seemed the whole town was dancing ... everyone ... ran shouting and singing into the streets. We were all drinking ... In my mind I am with the crowds celebrating in London and Paris, but I am also in Germany ... by the wireless, listening ... to the reports of the millions of refugees, the general chaos. Like the end of World War One, only much worse."

    Karen S. - I read all about the controversy surrounding the identities of the kissing couple, but the spontenaity of it was the most intriguing part.

    Emma - As Alan as suggested in a later comment, I think it takes some skill for a photographer to capture the emotion in a crowd.

    Wibbo - It is very special, isn't it.

    Mike Brubaker - Yes, it is very sad that the end of one conflict does indeed always seem to be a prelude to some other.

    Kristin - Perhaps that is something to do with the fact that I screen-captured it from a movie clip, pausing and rewinding several tiems to get just the right moment. If you click on the image, you'll get the full movement!

    Alan - I think it takes a special photographer to capture those emotions well in a still image, whatever the subject or occasion.

    Rosie - That would be nice, wouldn't it.

    Monica T. - Thank you for visiting.

    Tony - I omitted the worst of the passages that I found online (didn't want to give readers too bad an impression of NZers). Bo Peep and the dastardly Knave may have come to blows, but within minutes, I'm sure they would kiss and make up again.

  12. An excellent chain of related photographs. How appropriate to end with Eisenstaedt's famous shot. A fine post.

  13. The first photo is a gem, at first glance you would have thought it was from the 1950s. I wonder if there had been a parade of some kind, I like how there are not two costumes the same.

  14. That first photo is kind of a puzzle. Do you think the children just had those costumes lying around from some old school play? Otherwise they make no sense.

    We have a giant sculpture of "The Kiss" here in San Diego. It's fabulous. It's right next to the Midway (the old aircraft carrier) and both are great tourist attractions.


  15. Interesting pic to start this off, and a classic to conclude. Certainly captures the mood prevailing in certain places. I doubt though Hiroshima and Nagasaki shared everybody's relief that the war being over, possibly due to "other more pressing preoccupations"... But such is the lot of the defeated.


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