Wartime evacuee Judith Rich recalled how she marked VE Day in Keswick 75 years ago by painting a picture of the town’s celebrations as a giant bonfire was lit at the top of Latrigg that evening.
Judith, who will be 90 in November, still proudly possesses the unique image of May 8 1945 featuring her as a 14-year-old pupil stood watching the beacon blaze with teachers from Roedean School in Brighton from their temporary base at the Keswick Hotel. The school and its 350 girls aged 11-16 had relocated from the South Coast to the Lakes in 1940 after it was requisitioned by the Royal Navy.
“I have very happy memories of Keswick. We had the most lovely time,” said Judith, whose VE Day painting still has her maiden name – J Willmore – at the top. The retired biology and art teacher, who now lives in Essex, added: “We used to have our art classes in the garage of the hotel. The museum was our chemistry laboratory and the (train) station waiting rooms were our classrooms.
“On VE Day, we climbed Latrigg. Whenever the sun shone, we went up in the mountains, climbing all the Lake District peaks, including Striding Edge. We used to go on a bridge over the River Greta and watch the salmon jumping. The food was not wonderful during the war. We did have kippers a great deal and I remember whale steak! We used to go to church at Crosthwaite.”
After leaving school and going on to college, she taught in America and married an army officer and war veteran, who died in 2000. As fate would have it, his father as chief education officer for London was partly responsible for planning Operation Pied Piper, which oversaw the dispersal of nearly one million schoolchildren as evacuees to safe places around the country.
Judith is currently in social-isolation, much to her frustration, because of the coronavirus outbreak. Sandy Rich, one of her two sons, had sent an image of her schooldays painting to the Keswick Reminder ahead of the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe this Friday.
It captures the bonfire on Latrigg, with figures in the forecourt of Keswick Station and The Station Hotel including Judith on the left with auburn hair. She said: “The rest of the school are up the mountain wearing their sports kit of white shirt and navy blue shorts. We had each carry one log to the top of the mountain to make the bonfire/beacon, which in the end was massive. It was an exciting evening and the station was decked-out with bunting and the flags of the Allies.
“I have not been back to Keswick since those days. I went to America after the war. It is on my list. One day I will get back. God bless Keswick.”