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Remembering VE Day: The 75th Anniversary
Chris Ridgway
By Dr Chris Ridgway  //  Thu 7th May 2020
Curatorial, History, Collection, Estate
On VE Day, 8th May 1945, Castle Howard, like countless homes, places emerged from six long years of conflict. During these years the building had been ravaged by fire, the Howards had suffered family bereavements, and the house was occupied by a girls school that had been evacuated from the East Coast. But today, on the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, we are reminded that this time of tragedy sparked the dawn of a new era for the Estate, led by two surviving siblings, Christian and George Howard. This new generation of the Howard Family would fight to save the House and Gardens, allowing it to be enjoyed by people from across the world to this day.

VE day in 1945 was met with euphoria, relief, and a sense of exhaustion, but there was also a feeling of unfinished business; the conflict in Europe might have ended but fighting continued in the Far East against Japan.

The war itself had little direct impact on Castle Howard, although in 1942 a German bomber had crashed nearby at Coneysthorpe crossroads just to the north of the Great Lake. The wounded pilot crawled from the wreckage to a nearby anti-aircraft gun emplacement and the local Home Guard rescued the other crew-members from the wreckage. In his memoir pilot Karl-Heinz Muhlen remembered how he had held a halting conversation in English with his captors who were keen to know what life was like in Germany.

 

In May 1945 the girls of Queen Margaret’s School celebrated the defeat of Nazi Germany with a service of thanksgiving, a dance in the Long Gallery, and at dusk a huge bonfire in Ray Wood where an effigy of Hitler was burnt. The following day they went back to their classes; for staff and pupils teaching and learning carried on in wartime or peacetime regardless.

For Christian Howard, who had kept eye on the house and the estate during the war years, her joy was tempered with sorrow and anxiety. As well as friends and relatives who had been wounded, captured, or killed, two of her younger brothers had died in 1944: Mark in Normandy shortly after the landings in June, and Christopher a few months later in October, killed whilst piloting his Lancaster in an operation with Bomber Command. Christopher was shot down making a second attempt on the target the Kembs Dam; he was a courageous pilot and his commanding officer had praised him on an earlier mission when he had refused to release his bomb load because he was not satisfied that the aim was accurate enough. Initially he was listed as missing until his death was confirmed at the end of the year.