Friday, 8 May 2015

The seventieth anniversary of VE-Day ... and the death of Frank Bourne

Today marks the seventieth anniversary of VE-Day ... Victory in Europe Day.

Some years ago (it may have been the fiftieth anniversary in 1995) I asked my father about his memories of the day.

His reply was interesting ... and went something along the following lines:
On VE-Day we were in the vicinity of Wismar, a German port on the Baltic Sea. We had got there just ahead of the Russians, and they weren't very happy about it. In fact I think that Div CO (Major General Bols, commanding UK 6th Airborne Division) had had a run in with a Russian General or Colonel about it, and ended up pointing out that he had an airborne division and a lot of artillery under his command, and that we were going to stay.

The Russians were a surly bunch, and seemed to be drunk most of the time. On the day before VE-Day we had a visit from Monty and a Russian Marshal
(Marshal Rokossovsky) and the regiment (53rd (Worcestershire Yeomanry) Airlanding Regiment, Royal Artillery) had to fire a salute to greet the arrival of the Russian Marshal.

We spent VE-Day trying to rest, get our gear cleaned up, and keeping a watchful eye of the Russians. The latter did have a run in with one of the Para battalions, when a bunch of drunken Russians tried to get into Wismar to 'entertain' some German nurses they had heard were billeted in a nearby Nurses' Home. They wouldn't take no for an answer, and in the end shots were fired and I think that some of the Russians were killed. We didn't stay in Wismar very long after that as the town was in the area of Germany that had been given to the Russians to occupy.

One thing that did pi** everyone off was the news of the celebrations back in Britain. People were singing and dancing in the streets ... but not the poor s*ds like us who had done the fighting. We were all in Germany having to eat Army grub and drink tea … and the odd glass of beer ... if we could get hold of it!
I suspect that quite a few veterans had similar stories to tell, especially those who – like my father-in-law – were in the Far East fighting the Japanese. I don't think that they did much celebrating on VE-Day.

Frank Bourne – the last surviving defender of Rorke’s Drift – died on VE-Day.

Frank Bourne was born in Balcome, Sussex in 1854 and enlisted in the British Army’s 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshires) on 18th December 1872. His promotion was swift, and by 1876 he had reached the rank of Colour Sergeant, and was reputed to be the youngest NCO of that rank in the entire British Army. As a result he was universally known by the nickname of ‘The Kid’.

During the Zulu War Bourne was with B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot stationed at Rorke’s Drift. For his bravery during the fighting Bourne received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) – the second highest gallantry medal that could be awarded at the time – for ‘outstanding coolness and courage’ during the battle. The DCM brought with it an annual annuity of £10.00.

After the Zulu War Frank Bourne continued to serve in the British Army, and in 1884 he was promoted to the rank of Quartermaster-Sergeant. This rank was often given to outstanding NCOs who were thought to be potential officer material, and in 1890 he was commissioned. Three years later he was appointed Adjutant of the School of Musketry at Hythe, Kent, and he remained there until he retired in 1907.

When the First World War broke out Frank Bourne rejoined the British Army and served as Adjutant of the School of Musketry in Dublin. At the end of the war and as a reward for his work he was given the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel and awarded an OBE. He died in Beckenham, Kent on VE-Day, aged 91.


  1. On VE Day my father was part of the supply line from India to China, delivering supplies via flights over the Himalayas. By chance on that day, he had come down with a severe cold, and since he was the radio operator, they had him stay at the base while the rest of the guys (with a substitute for my father) made the flight as usual. It turned out the plane crashed somewhere in the mountains--it was never found. All of his buddies were killed. My father rarely talked about this, but I think he had survivor's guilt for the rest of his life.

    Best regards,


  2. Chris,

    It is amazing how such a minor thing can have such an major impact on someone's life ... and it is not really surprising that your father felt the way that he did.

    All the best,