VE Day

The WWII Veteran Who Celebrated VE Day On A Fire Engine

John Roberts said his comrades and Dame Vera Lynn got him through the Second World War.

On 8 May 1945, John Roberts celebrated VE Day in Montreal, Canada. 

“It was like London really, everybody came out and was celebrating,” he told Forces News.

"The Canadians were wonderful in having volunteered to help us during the war.

“The Fire Brigade all came out in their fire engines and drove up and down the city and I think one stopped not far from where I was, so I climbed on it.”

John was in Canada with the Fleet Air Arm but having joined the Royal Navy as a teenager, he had already been at war for four years.

He served on his first warship in 1941, aged just 17.

By early 1945, he had volunteered to become an aircraft carrier pilot and went to Canada for training.

The war ended a month later.

“Obviously, I was pleased [about the end of the war] because I knew people who were fighting in Europe," the 96-year-old said.

"But as far as I was concerned, I was learning to fly to be on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese, and the Japanese had a reputation for not being very nice.”

“I don't remember how I actually heard the detail but I think probably for three or four weeks before the actual end, it was quite obvious that it was going to end pretty soon.

“The Russians had got to Berlin and we were advancing, and the Americans were advancing, it was just a question of which day. So it wasn't a surprise.”

VE Day was just one chapter in John's experience during the war.

"When I went to sea, first of all, at 17, it was the excitement I was glad to be in," he recalls.

"I had my 18th birthday in Iceland... My 19th birthday was at a place called Marrakesh in Morocco, that was an airfield from where planes took off to get back to England.”

“Then the 20th birthday was spent in Murmansk, that was halfway through a Russian convoy... and my 21st birthday was in London, just before leaving for Canada.”

WWII navy verteran John Roberts on HMS Renown
John on HMS Renown where he was assigned for 15 months (Picture: John Roberts).

As John celebrated VE Day, it was also a time for reflection.

“It was sort of the end of a chapter as it were in one's life," he said.

"At Dartmouth, there were 44 of us in the group that joined the Navy with me, and during the war, three were killed in the Mediterranean, they were on board a cruiser which sank having hit a mine.

"Then there was one, who literally only nine months after we left [training], when he was still 17-and-a-half, he was taken prisoner in the Far East by the Japanese and spent the rest of the war as a Japanese POW [prisoner of war].”

“I don’t think there was a feeling it was coming to an end because I was going to go to Japan.”

Even with training to return to John took a full part in the celebrations.

"I had to confess it, in those days I drank a lot. A lot more than I do nowadays," he says.

"Montreal is in the state of Quebec and in Quebec you had a liquor licence and you were only allowed a certain amount of alcohol.

"So, although you sort of got drunk, I think I did read once that in Halifax, the port that everybody landed on, they had riots because people wanted more drink than they were allowed and they broke into the liquor stores.

“I drank a lot and then had to go back to the Canadian Air Force base to continue learning to fly.”

John continued to serve in the Royal Navy after the war.

He captained the Ark Royal and finished his career as a Rear Admiral.

The veteran was planning on taking part in VE Day commemorations in London but the events have been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said he will instead mark the anniversary at home by "singing with Vera Lynn".

Cover image: John during D-Day 75 commemorations last year (Picture: Royal British Legion).