On this day, 75 years ago, the streets of Launceston were notable for spontaneity and joyfulness. This, according to the front page of The Examiner on August 16, 1945.
The paper detailed the previous days celebrations in Tasmania and across the world as people reacted to the news that World War II was finally over.
August 15, known as Victory in the Pacific Day, commemorate’s Japan’s acceptance of the Allied demand for unconditional surrender, made on August 14.
Back in 1945, The Examiner captured the mood. Gone with the Wind was playing at the Star Theatre and an AIF Ball was being planned for the following evening at Albert Hall, all to celebrate peace and victory.
But on August 15, it was the burning of an effigy that marked the climax of a wild day of celebrations in Launceston.
An article on page four of The Examiner detailed how Emperor Hirohito on his sacred white horse was paraded up and down Brisbane Street, and then solemnly burned at the corner of George Street amid the cheers and jeers of the crowd.
“It was the climax to a day of wild, but good-humoured celebration and of enthusiasm and unrestrained emotion unprecedented in the city’s history,” the article reads.
“From the moment the news of peace was announced people poured into the flag-adorned streets and while the younger generation cheered and sang and shouted till they were hoarse, many older people wept unashamedly.”
The news of peace was broadcast from the BBC about 9am that morning, and within minutes sirens heralding the long-awaited news were sounded throughout Launceston.
“In many business establishments, office workers and shop assistants threw confetti on staff, managers and customers alike,” it was reported.
“Big quantities of paper were torn to shreds and dropped from office windows to the streets below, while hundreds of rolls of paper from adding machines were used as streamers.
“Added to all the other noises were cardboard trumpets, hand bells, whistles, two or three klaxon horns, and all odd bugle or two.”
Brisbane Street was quickly jammed with people, including those who had left work early and those who had returned home.
Groups of young people crowded onto motor lorries which appeared from all quarters and moved slowly through the streets.
Their occupants, many described as having precarious looking footholds, waved flags – cheering, belting tins, clashing cymbals and ringing bells.
Fire-engines soon joined in the procession, with young people “clinging to them like flies”.
Building on the atmosphere was a medley of noise, including the incessant tooting of motor horns.
“Motor cars careered through the streets trailing old kitchen utensils and tins, and youthful cyclists also sped along with trailers of jangling tins and metal ware.
“Lines of girls walked hand-in-hand down the roadways where traffic permitted singing to the top of their voices.
“Young men formed crocodile lines and sang lustily. Hundreds of people carried splashes of white on their clothing.
“Talc powder was sprinkled from the second floor of one establishment on the crowd beneath, while a number of youths obtained packets of flour and threw handfuls at loaded lorries as they passed.”
By about 11.30am the wet weather had set in, with many leaving the streets and heading instead to hotels, bars and lounges.
“Though rain fell steadily during most of the afternoon it could not wholly damp the ardour of the merrymakers or the determination of thousands of people to miss none of the fun.”
The Examiner‘s country news section on page three also detailed celebrations outside of the city. In true Tasmanian style, bad weather failed to dampen spirits.
At Longford, people left their jobs and crowded the streets.
The bells at Christ Church and the fire brigade were rung, with a group of people joining in a singalong which was being broadcast on radio.
“Although the weather was bad, lorries, tractors, and cars fitted with pianos, old instruments and amplifiers added to the noise,” the article reads.
“Horse and man-drawn vehicles are fully loaded with rejoicing people and children toured the town.”
Further east at St Helens, crowds gathered at the school which formed the starting point for a procession.
“To the beat of drums and the music of various instruments the crowd sang patriotic songs,” the article reads.
“The procession marched to the bridge and up the main street to the memorial, where the National Anthem was sung.”
The celebrations continued on into the evening, with a crowd again assembling at the bridge.
A lorry carrying an orchestra led the procession through the main street before finishing at a large bonfire. Singing and dancing continued well into the night at Thompson’s Hall.
The Examiner also reported the birth of four victory babies, also referred to as peace babies, born in Launceston on August 15.
There were three born at the Queen Victory Hospital in the early hours of the morning, with another one born at St. Ivey’s on College Street.
“So far none has been officially burdened with the names ‘Victory’ or ‘Peace’, but such names as Victor Percy or Virginia Joan might signify in later years that the bearer was a VP-Day or VJ-Day baby.”
Read the full articles from 1945
The Examiner Thursday, August 16, 1945, Page 4
HIROHITO’S EFFIGY BURNED AS CLIMAX TO DAY OF WILD REJOICING IN CITY
The Emperor Hirohito on his sacred white horse was paraded up and down Brisbane St. last night and then solemnly burned at the corner of George Street amid the cheers and jeers of the crowd. It was the climax to a day of wild but good-humoured celebration and of enthusiasm and unrestrained emotion unprecedented in the city’s history. From the moment the news of peace was announced people poured into the flag-adorned streets and while the younger generation cheered and sang and shout-ed till they were hoarse, many older people wept unashamedly.
In less than a minute from Mr Attlee’s dramatic announcement from the BBC at 9am, the sirens heralding the eagerly-awaited news were sounded in Launceston. In mills, factories, offices and shops there was a brief pause while thousands silently asked a question pregnant with wonder and expectation. Confirmation of the message that the first sirens carried was quickly forth-coming, and Mr Chifley’s broadcast soon after provided all the information that many who missed the BBC announcement needed. By that time sirens, whistles and bells were sounding in full blast. No-one except those engaged on absolutely essential services needed any order to cease work.
In industrial establishments, including mills, tools were dropped and all walked off whirring machines. Open-air workers, who were among the first to hear the sirens, were likewise among the first off the job, smiling and cheering. Flags quickly appeared on every available flagpole in the city and the bigger stores carried colourful dis-plays of bunting. Ships at city wharves hoisted bunting, and some of the dressed vessels sent up rockets. Flags and streamers of red, white and blue appeared also on many residences throughout the city. In many business establishments, Office workers and shop assistants threw confetti on staff, managers and customers alike.
Big quantities of paper were torn to shreds and dropped from office windows to the streets below, while hundreds of rolls of paper from adding machines were used as streamers. Added to all the other noises were cardboard trumpets, hand bells, whistles, two or three klaxon horns, and all odd bugle or two. Also in action were a number of the gas alarm rattles issued to C.D.L. personnel, which produced an ear-splitting racket. Flags, small and large, were, of course, much in evidence, and many young women sported red, white and blue ribbons. No one, however, either man or woman, outdid for courage or originality the bald head who strolled blandly through the city with a Union Jack painted on his bald pate.
SMILES AND TEARS
In suburbs and residential quarters, women stood at gates and fences talking to groups of neighbours, many weeping amidst an understandable mingling of smiles and tears. It was not long before shouting children with radiant faces came tearing home excitedly from schools. A percentage of them doubtless did not understand the full significance of the occasion, but none failed to realise that it was a momentous event – that the war into which some of them were born and which most of them had known for the whole of their school life – was at last over.
Younger ones could be heard proclaiming, “we’ve beaten the Japs” and “Daddy will be home soon”. At the various schools the children were just about to begin the day’s work – when the news came. Teachers rose to the occasion and there was a suitable recognition of all that it meant before the youngsters were despatched. Singularly enough, at West Launceston school the romping, laughing children were joined at the height of their celebration by kookaburras who flew down laughing hilariously while, not to be outdone, blackbirds appeared with their joyous song.
Before 10 o’clock city-bound trams were packed with people. Many of them were celebrants and sightseers, but a large number consisted of housewives anxious about provisions for today’s holiday. Sections of tram passengers laughed away conductors who held out hands for fares, unanimously deciding that this minor formality should be dispensed with on such an occasion, and the good-natured tramwaymen could do no more than their best.
Brisbane Street saw soon jammed with people – those who had left work and those who came from home. Young people crowded on to motor lorries which appeared from all quarters and moved slowly through the streets with their occupants – many with precarious looking footholds – waving flags, cheering, belting tins, clashing cymbals and ringing bells. Fire-engines joined in the procession, with young people clinging to them like flies, and the main city ambulance also appeared for a time conveying hospital sisters and nurses for a tour of the city until it was recalled in case of emergency.
Happily, accidents were few and those that occurred were not particularly serious. For spectators in that vicinity a highlight among harmless spills was witnessed at the intersection of Charles and Brisbane streets about 11.30 am. A motor cycle with a girl on the pillion seat skidded when turning into Charles Street. The machine fell on its side, the driver went off and the pillion rider shot along the road. The embarrassed and ruffled girl hurriedly took cover in the crowd and the motor cyclist sped off alone.
MEDLEY OF SOUNDS
Adding to the medley of queer noises, motor horns sounded incessantly throughout the centre of a city where the sounding of a motor horn has for long been an exception. Motor cars careered through the streets trailing old kitchen utensils and tins, and youthful cyclists also sped along with trailers of jangling tins and metal ware. Young women and girls played a big part in the demonstrations. Lines of girls walked hand-in-hand down the roadways where traffic permitted singing to the top of their voices. Young men formed “crocodile lines” and sang lustily. Hundreds of people carried splashes of white on their clothing. Talc powder was sprinkled from the second floor of one establishment on the crowd beneath, while a number of youths obtained packets of flour and threw handfuls at loaded lorries as they passed. Outside Monaghans a big crowd entered into spirited competition for a time – while cigarettes and chocolates were thrown from the verandah to a forest of eager hands. In the Quadrant a fruiterer similarly distributed several cases of oranges.
Earlier in the morning a police officer was busily directing a stream of noisy traffic at the intersection of St John and Brisbane Streets, when he was surrounded by a bevy of laughing girls who began to dance ring-a-ring of roses. A crowd joined the girls around the embarrassed officer, and he was gently but firmly forced off the road. Another officer came to his assistance, and when they explained patiently to the merry-makers that they had an important job to do their plea was promptly accepted.
THE RAIN CAME
About 11.30am rain began to fall, and when it increased to a steady shower the street celebrations were gradually subdued. When hotels opened bars and lounges were filled, and before long the entire assembly in some houses joined in the singing of patriotic songs between drinks. Though rain fell steadily during most of the afternoon it could not wholly damp the ardour of the merrymakers or the determination of thousands of people to miss none of the fun. Brisbane Street pavements were crowded, and at times the crush was so great that the crowd flowed out on to the street despite the rain.
Bands and loudspeakers gave them music, and there was occasional impromptu dancing on the wet pavements, while every now and then lorry loads of cheering youngsters dashed past. Fireworks made their appearance during the afternoon, though the weather was rather damp for them.
However, detonators laid on the tram rails, which exploded as the trams passed over them, were effective and popular.
NO DAMAGE SOME FIGHTS
Throughout the day and evening the revellers were, all things considered, extremely well behaved. Up to a late hour last night the only damage to property reported to the police occurred when a “drunk” who was being taken home by a friend, slipped against and broke the glass of a small island window in the entrance to Monaghans in Brisbane Street.
Occasional fights occurred here and there, and late in the afternoon the police had to break up what looked like the beginnings of a big brawl in Charles Street where several fights were going on simultaneously. A few minor clashes occurred elsewhere, and one constable admitted to having separated four pairs of combatants during the day.
Certainly the rain damped the crowd’s enthusiasm, and may have had something to do with the absence of any serious disturbances. In any case, wet or fine, the police will be out in force again today and tonight. Apart from bar attendants perhaps the busiest workers in Launceston yesterday were members of the staff of telephone, but throughout the day had been made for a minimum use of telephone, but throughout the day the staff was working at top pressure. It must have been a particularly strenuous experience for the telephonists, and they did an excellent job in meeting such a heavy demand. Although churches did not make official arrangements to hold services yesterday morning, there were such spontaneous attendances at several of them that ministers conducted short thanks-giving services.