We can’t go back – we must go forward: the aftermath of World War II

At the beginning of 1945, the newly-revived St Michael’s Parish Magazine expressed the earnest hope that “As we enter in yet another year of the War, we are filled with high hopes that this year, we will see the end of it all and that peace will come to the world during the months of 1945 that lie before us. Let us pray that it may be so.”

When the end finally came that year, it was not without cost for St Michael’s. The Parish Magazine criticised those who were too hasty in their jubilation at the end of the War in Europe, noting the end of the fighting was not “a day for parties and merry-making, but rather of quiet gladness and thanksgiving that the end is at long last in sight.” The Magazine adds: “there will be many hearts still anxious for their dear loved ones who have to continue their fight.”1 This was a reference not only to Ted Garbutt, who had been reported missing about a month earlier, but to those still serving or held prisoner in the Far East. Soon after VE Day, the Requiem Mass on Saturdays was amended to a Mass praying for prisoners of war.

Despite this sombre pall, the church marked Victory in Europe with a service of thanksgiving at 12 noon, after the news of the surrender came through, and by two further Services of Thanksgiving on the following Sunday, at which the parish Magazine noted “it was good to see so many people come to give thanks to Almighty God.”2

For some at St Michael’s, the end of the War in Europe brought a swift resolution to anxious hearts – by June, released prisoners-of-war were already returning to the pews, and by August the last of the evacuated children had returned. For one Boy Scout, J. Ling, this was a particular triumph, as he was finally awarded his Athlete’s Badge, won a year previously before his evacuation from Camden. 3 But it was also in mid July that Ted Garbutt’s parents received official confirmation of his death.

The headline “PEACE!” opened the Parish Magazine of September 1945, and for the first time the prayer intentions in the liturgical Kalendar did not include intercessions for Prisoners of War and Those in the Forces. An anonymous donor also marked VJ Day by the gift of six lavabo towels and a pall as a thanksgiving for peace.

“On the day of going to press came the great news that peace had at long last come to all the nations of the world. After six years of heartache and anxiety our first feeling was one of profound relief that the whole beastly business of war was at last at an end. For millions of people in many countries the other feeling foremost in their hearts was that of great gladness that their loved ones in far-off lands were safe at last and would be returning to them as soon as possible. For many, alas, such a time as this is one of profound sadness as well as gladness – sadness because of those who will never return. We must remember them, too, in our rejoicing and pray for them.

Peace at last! Our first thought of peace naturally is the cessation of strife and warfare and the return of the old way of living. But such a feeling, though natural enough, is a negative one, and we can never return to the old days. We can’t go back – we must go forward.
Our hard-won peace, if it is to be a lasting one, must be a positive and active thing. These same qualities which brought us through so many perils and dangers must be used in the building of a new world where peace can be maintained and in which men can live in happiness and freedom – freedom from want and fear.

We failed lamentably after the last war. We must not fail again. This is a duty we owe to those who have given their lives to gain this peace – and to the children, who have already suffered more than we can tell, and who have their lives to live out in this new world.
So while our hearts are full of thanks to almighty God for His great goodness to us, let us not look back, but forward to the future with faith and hope and a determination that the sacrifices of the war shall not have been in vain. God grant that this may be so.”4

At Michaelmas 1945 the Church celebrated its Patronal Festival under peace conditions for the first time in six years. But despite the return of evacuated children and POWs, many of those in the Forces had not yet been released from their duties, and the lack of male choristers and adult altar servers was particularly felt.5 Later on, the Christmas Fair too was not “on the grand scale of pre-war days,” and Midnight Mass similarly suffered from a lack of demobbed choristers and servers.6 The church would not have anything approaching a full choir until the summer of 1946, with the MC and further servers slowly returning over the next few months.7 One member of the choir even returned with a wife from Malta. 8

One of the parish’s assistant priests, Basil Thomas Bean (1915-1987), left on 20th May 1945 to train as chaplain to schools for the Royal Association for the Deaf and Dumb, buying a red stole “to be a constant and fitting reminder, in his future work as a priest, of his friends at St Michael’s.”9

Yet altogether, St. Michael’s, its people, and its school had survived the War relatively intact. Indeed, one of the only major complaints about the post-War situation was that the scarcity of clothing coupons prevented all of the Brownie troop from wearing uniform.10 At the 1946 Patronal Festival, they held the first Parish dance since 1938.11

The church would continue to feel the effects of rationing for the rest of the 40s. In Lent 1948, the Parish Magazine complained about its effects on the Maundy Thursday altar of repose: “Owing to the scarcity and cost of flowers and candles we shall be unable to deck it out in all its pre-War beauty.”12 As rationing continued after the War, one child at the church school received a generous gift from a pen friend in the United States: “the necessaries for a party for eight children and included cake mixture, icing sugar, decorations, invitation cards, cardboard plates, serviettes, table cloth, sweets, jelly beakers, games, etc., so eight Brownies will be lucky this month.”13 A local grocer also distributed rare fruits, oranges and bananas, to the pupils at the church school at Christmas.

Hannah Dingwall-Jones

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  1. Parish Magazine, May 1945
  2. Parish Magazine, June 1945. 1945 had been a bumper year for attendance: Easter Day 1945 saw the largest congregation in nine years.
  3. Parish Magazine, August 1945
  4. Parish Magazine, September 1945
  5. Parish Magazine, November 1945
  6. Parish Magazine, November 1945
  7. Parish Magazine July 1946; August 1946
  8. Parish Magazine, July 1947
  9. Parish Magazine, June 1945
  10. Parish Magazine, April 1946
  11. Parish Magazine, November 1946
  12. Parish Magazine, April 1948
  13. Parish Magazine, December 1948