It’s 1945 and 21-year-old Arthur Ibbotson is stood in front of his new M24 Chaffee tank somewhere on the continent towards the end of the second world war.
Fast forward 75 years and it’s difficult to comprehend that the second image features the same man, with Arthur, now aged 96, stood outside the front door of his home in Keswick this week.
The two photographs seem from different worlds and not just because the faded wartime one is in black and white rather than the brash colours of 2020 taken from two metres of social distancing.
One constant though is that Arthur is wearing a cap in both, perhaps a fitting detail considering the way he recalled how he and his army comrades celebrated VE Day on foreign soil on 8th May 1945.
“I was in Germany in the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. Acting sergeant, guardsman, in tanks sleeping rough – in front of the frontline.
“We never expected the war to finish. I heard it on the tank radio. I was gunner wireless operator. It came through that it was peace and that war was over. We threw our hats in the air. It was very welcome. We were pleased it finished.
“I had been in the Grenadiers since conscripted at 18. We had been through Belgium, Holland and into Germany. We had been in action all the way through from Normandy right through 1944 and the bad winter,” he said.
Being in Germany serving with the army meant, of course, that Arthur missed the celebrations going on back home in Britain to mark the end of the war in Europe. As fate would have it, there is more disappointment this year as events arranged to mark the occasion’s 75th anniversary were all cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. These included Keswick Town Council’s VE75 street party in Market Square on 8th May when WW2 veterans were going to be invited onto a giant stage to be saluted by the public.
“It is very disappointing. There are not many of us left now. I live on my own and can’t get about as I’m in a wheelchair. I would have liked to have taken my place on the stage, that’s if I could have got up. I may have needed a hoist!,” said Arthur, who was born in Pateley Bridge, Yorkshire.
After leaving the army, he got a job in Cumberland in 1949 and he has lived in Keswick ever since, having wed local girl May Tyson, many of whose relatives still live locally. The couple were married for 40 years and although they had no children, Arthur speaks proudly of his many nephews.
Fortunately, none of them is going to have to deal with the wartime experiences he went through before VE Day ended all that. “You have no idea what went on in those days. We had some good times and some harsh times. The fighting spirit of the troops and the will to win was what got us through,” he concluded.
Please contact us at [email protected] if there are any other local WWII veterans we can speak to regarding VE75.