Past deaf students gathered at Deaf Children Australia on 7 May to reminisce and commemorate the victory in Europe on 7 May 1945 and the celebrations that spontaneously erupted at their College, in their surrounds along St Kilda Rd Melbourne and much of the world.
Deaf Children Australia, on the request of past student Stan Batson, was pleased to host an event for students who attended the deaf school in the 1940s. The event was a remembrance of the celebration of the victory in Europe, allowing past students to get together to share their memories and speak to current Victorian College for the Deaf students about their experiences on that day and at the school.
In the early morning on 7 May 1945, Germany signed its unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces and the German Forces were ordered to lay down their arms at midnight on 8 May. That date became the official Victory in Europe Day but for 83 year old Stan Batson, past student of the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institution, as it was then known, he will always remember 7 May as the beginning of the celebrations. It was on that day, 7 May, that as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced in his broadcast to the people of Great Britain and the Commonwealth, “In the interests of saving lives the ‘Ceasefire’… began to be sounded all along the front.”
Two days later on 9 May, 100,000 people attended the service at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. The war in the Pacific had not yet ended and news of the German surrender would have created a mix of emotions for Australians who mourned for all those who had lost their lives or been injured, and feared for those still fighting, while they celebrated the victory in Europe.
Stan says, “This important date of 7th May 1945 is still strong in my memories when I was only 13 years old. As the boarders at the Victorian Deaf & Dumb Institution, we came back from lunch to the school. All the teachers and staff had disappeared and daily students went home too. There was such a commotion going on along St Kilda Rd. Some of the older boarders were watching the heavy traffic on St Kilda Road and trams were covered in full like the bees trying to hold any bar even some sat on the top of the tram. I was too small to see over the hedge so I had to peer through the fence. Jim and I didn’t know what was going on.
“At St Kilda Junction, trams were unable to get through. All the trams had stopped. Tram drivers left their trams to have a drink in some pubs. Hundreds of Army, RAN, RAAF plus a lot of American forces walked facing the city from three or four huge buildings from Albert Park near the end of the lake.
“My friend Jim and I went to the Albert Park football ground and then looked for Jim’s sister at her work, hoping she could tell us what was going on. But her offices were all emptied too. Jim went home to his family but I was scared I would get the strap. We couldn’t hear anything on the radio and no one was telling us anything. I walked down to Prahran Hotel. I thought I could try to buy a newspaper at the milkbar but The Herald had all sold out. I went further down the street searching but all the papers were gone. I still didn’t know what was going on. I had no idea that the war was over. So what did I do with my thruppence? I bought a violet crumble instead. And all that night, I wondered what was going on.”
Elaine remembered, “No one in my family talked to me about the war. No one even finger spelled. One night when I was seven, they turned the lights off and I was worried that there might be a Japanese invasion. Two hours later, they turned the light back on.”
Stan says, “In 1948, it was like a rabbit warren here with so many deaf children. I remember all the four and five year olds lined up. There were so many children born with deafness at that time. There were so many wet sheets with all these little children boarding. In some ways, I was a little bit jealous of the daily children who could go home.”
Everyone at the reunion amused each other with tales of their old adventures. When we were up in the tower, Stan told us: “My friend Marj and I would go and sit in this high tower at night time. And she would come down to the boys’ dorm just to say hello. She would climb across and come all the way down at 3 in the morning. Then she would go straight back but first, she would say, ‘Now it’s your turn to visit the girls’ dorm Stan’. But I was too frightened to get up at night time. Marj was very strong willed, very brave – a farm girl. I was too nervous. She would have a good laugh at that. We were dear friends.”
“We still remember the sign names we had. Most of the sign names related to the numbers we were given.” Elaine added, “My sign name referred to my plaits”.
Joy Rawlinson (nee Trevilly) told us, “I was a student here from 1946 – 1956. When I left school, I was with hearing people all the time and my husband was hearing too. Fourteen years ago, I was invited to a 60th birthday party for another past student – and I have been back in touch with my old friends for the past 14 years. My husband passed away sadly… but I am happy when I am back with my deaf friends. It brings back some memories coming back here. I remember playing softball and going to Girl Guides. It still feels the same to me.”
Read Stan’s story about growing up deaf in the 1940s here.
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