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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Victory In Europe - 8 May 1945 VE Day

After six years of bloody conflict in Europe and Britain's sustained efforts to defeat Nazi Germany and its Axis Allies, Italy and Japan - finally on May 8th Germany surrendered to Allied Armies in Europe. The official and unconditional surrender resulted in an outpouring of celebration across finally freed from conflict . The UK saw street parties across the country amid myriad spontaneous events.

Several towns and cities hurried to put together mobile displays utilising buses with all manner of patriotic symbols affixed to their sides. Those still running trams managed to produce more substantial special feature cars. Manchester being a good example but the daddy of them all was of course Blackpool, which had a track record in producing all manner of tramcar 'floats' (including a 'tank' during World War One).

In anticipation of Germany's surrender Walter Luff (wearing several wartime hats) approved transformation of the tramway's maid of all works illuminated feature car. Former fleet number 141 had taken up its new role in 1937 being wholly rebuilt from its original crossbench design for the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company. In its new form it was intended as a futuristic tram of 2037 to augment (and update) the trio of existing illuminated trams : double deck 68 of 1911 doubling both as an illuminated display car as well as providing regular passenger service; plus the Gondola and Lifeboat designs of the 1920s using former Marton 'Box' car running gear and controls and fitted with seats for special guests of the Tramways / Transport Department.

By 1937 it was felt a modernistic style feature car was needed in line with the streamline transport fleet - with a generic design suited to continuing adjustments to its external appearance. This did not take long to be put to the test for the following year in 1938 the new feature car was turned over to publicising the importance of Air Raid Precautions (ARP). This followed the taut exchanges in Munich between Hitler and Chamberlain (and Daladier) over the future of the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia. Fear of an outbreak of hostilities then hastened Britain's preparations for war with Germany - resulting in orders for new aircraft and all manner of military equipment. Awareness of dangers to the civilian population meant the need for air raid shelters and necessary drills including issue of gas masks to everyone. A Blackpool Corporation bus was turned over to acting as 'gas testing' vehicle in which gas masks were used by schoolchildren required to transit through the bus with their gas masks fitted. Concrete topped shelters started to appear at key points around the town - several of which remain in place (Stanley Park Main Gate; Bispham Library; etc)

Of course in 1939 with the inevitable outbreak of war at the beginning of September with German invasion of Poland - the tram was given a new role to provide mobile display of fund raising causes launched nationally. By May 1945 it required just a small outlay to allow it to become the Transport Department's flag waving tram to celebrate VE Day - touring the promenade as far as Fleetwood. A US Airforce photographer captured this image of it at the Pleasure Beach loop in May that year.

Following on this occasion and of course VJ Day a few weeks later - the car became dormant until resurrection of the autumn Illuminations in 1949. Since the tram had very modest external lighting features in its 1937 configueration, and of course none at all during the war years - further remodelling was undertaken at Rigby Road. Extensive changes to the bodywork frame included adding a railcoach trolley gantry on to the wooden roof of the former crossbench car; allowing increase in height. This provided the bodyshop with the chance to simulate Blackpool's streamline double deck trams. The sides were made over to emulate the appearance of a 'balloon' car complete with silhouettes of seated passengers. A redesigned frontage at both ends copied the appearance of the double deck streamline cars (at least for the driver's cabs).

All of this will be related in the next chapter of the tram's story up to its demise in 1959. Image : Copyright : John Woodman Archive

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