At this time in our history it is important that we look forward, staying safe and keeping well, whilst paying tribute to our past nations events. This year is a special time in our history when we will see three significant 75th Anniversaries, VE Day (May 8th), VJ Day (August 15th) and the end of the Second World War (September 2nd). The ‘Pontefract Decoration Squad’ had made plans to celebrate VE Day with events, decorations in town and coordination of local businesses having their own events. With the nation now being on ‘lockdown’ and all events cancelled until June at least, it is disappointing for the Decoration Squad.

Phil Cook, Vice Chair, Pontefract Civic Society and Decoration Squad lead said “it is a great shame that our plans for both Easter and VE Day have to be put on hold for now, but the safety of the public and our team members is paramount. We will look at future suitable dates to reactivate our plans for VE Day; we see this as a postponement, not a cancellation. There is a big party to be had at some point of the year and we will be there at the front decorating the town”.

The Decoration Squad was formed after the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire, when volunteers took up the challenge set by Pontefract Civic Society to decorate the town on the route of the cycle race. This was rewarded by Pontefract winning a public poll for the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire Best Dressed Town. On the back of that success, the team were self-motivated to expand into decorations for the Liquorice Festival, Yorkshire Day and Christmas, using the Southgate roundabout at the Valley Road junction. However, the biggest challenge was the creation of the largest lantern to be entered into Pontefract Lantern Festival run by the lionesses. Rumour has it they have something special planned for this year’s Lantern Festival. The Decoration Squad is made up of a number of community groups, charities, businesses, and individuals who all willingly come together under the umbrella of Pontefract Civic Society.

Jayne Poppleton of Pontefract Heritage Group Chair said, “The history of Pontefract shows that we always bounce back, and community events will be more important than ever once this virus has passed”

Town Crier John Turner also from Pontefract Heritage Group “The squad had planned the main celebrations VE Day around 8th May for the past eight months. It’s strange that as we were due to celebrate the end of conflict in Europe which had seen our island nation attacked from land, sea and air, that we again need to come together with wartime spirit and support for each other. While I personally was looking forward to being able to carry out the nation’s ‘Cry for Peace’ for VE Day in our town centre, instead we now need to ask all the residents to join in with the nation’s ‘Toast for Peace’ at 3pm on May 8th, to those who gave so much – God Save the Queen – I thank You”.

Pontefract and the surrounding areas would have been a hive of activities marking VE Day. The activities ranged from the obvious street parties and Concerts to local businesses, pubs, cafes getting involved with specially brewed beer, celebration cocktails, shop decorations and town centre activities.

Colin Hardwicke, Secretary of the WDH Barracks Community Association said, “We are disappointed to have to postpone our VE Day Celebration, though we are now looking to rearrange our Afternoon Tea and entertainment, to turn the whole thing around once this awful virus has passed, then we will have a celebration party”.

The team is determined to carry out the celebrations at a suitable stage this year. Brian Berry, Ackworth & Pontefract Royal British Legion added, “When the Civic Society first approached us about VE Day we were very excited that they were bringing community groups and businesses together to mark this occasion. As you have heard in the news, the current climate is being compared to the Second World War, so it only right that when the all clear is given, we ensure that VE Day and VJ Days are celebrated together, as we remember the fallen from all conflicts. Pontefract Civic Society and decoration squad are in an ideal position to do this working with businesses and community groups”.

For now though, all our volunteers are turning their attention to having a ‘Virtual VE Day’ using a Facebook page, which you’ll find at ‘Pontefract & District 75th Anniversary VE Day Celebrations’, where they will be posting relevant items through the day and asking for public memories and photos of WW2 to be posted there, and at ‘Pontefract Community Page”.

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