Victory in Europe: VE Day celebrations in Ballymena, Co. Antrim

The sun shone in Co. Antrim as VE Day celebrations began in Ballymena. Not even patients in the Waveney Hospital felt left out as they feasted on ice cream!

Victory in Europe Day or VE Day celebrations in Ballymena, Co. Antrim began on the afternoon of Monday 7th May 1945. Constant updates throughout the day suggested that Prime Minister Winston Churchill would announce an end to the Second World War in Europe. Ballymena was bathed in warm sunshine and very little work was done with residents in a celebratory mood.

At around 1600hrs on 7th May 1945, residents of the Co. Antrim town began to congregate in the streets. Union Flags, Stars and Stripes, and other Allied flags appeared in the windows of homes and businesses throughout the town. Soon, Ballymena was a “blaze of colour”.

That night, celebrations began at the YMCA Canteen. Miss A Stirling BEM and her band of helpers organised a victory dance. In attendance were many male and female members of the services as well as several members of the Belgian Infantry who were based nearby. At the same time, another victory dance took place in the Town Hall. This one was organised by 1st Ballymena Boy Scouts.

When VE Day came on 8th May 1945, the young people of Ballymena, Co. Antrim were first to take to the streets.

Once again, Northern Ireland was favoured with good weather and that helped to make things much more pleasant. In the forenoon, groups on children and youths crowded the streets carrying flags and beating drums and other weird instruments.

Ballymena Observer, 11th May 1945.

After the broadcast of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s historic announcement, the bells of St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland rang out. The congregation of the church observed a service of thanksgiving that afternoon. Similar services took place at the many Presbyterian Churches in the district. The theme of thanksgiving was prevalent as was the singing of ‘O God Our Help In Ages Past’. Congregations also offered up prayers for an early victory in the Far East.

Throughout the town, several bonfires burned into the night. More than one of them featured an effigy of Hitler on top. In other parts, floodlights illuminated the Towers Cinema, the State Cinema, and other public buildings.

Celebrations throughout the town

Patients in local hospitals were not left out of the celebrations. Mrs. Caulfield of Bridge Street sent enough ice cream to feed all patients in the Waveney Hospital and the Fever Hospital. At the Waveney, cook Miss Cumming provided an array of Victory Cakes for each ward.

The staff too celebrated in “the hutment”. Around 200 people including the Committee of Governors gathered to dance to the music of the Swing Knights. Miss Cumming had once again been busy and provided a three-tier Victory Cake for those in attendance.

At the Town Hall, Councillor John Morrow held a dance in aid of the Ballymena and District Victory Fund. Hundreds of people gathered to dance the night away to music from the Dance Timers Band. At midnight, the band left the stage and set up in the Town Hall vestibule where they regaled even more partiers in the floodlit Town Square.

The dancing continued to around 0230hrs on Wednesday 9th May 1945. By then, most of those still on their feet had relocated back inside the Town Hall due to the onset of some more traditional Co. Antrim weather. It would take much more than a shower of rain to stop the VE Day celebrations in Ballymena.