WARNER ROBINS -- Seventy years ago Crawford and Edna Hicks were part of a celebration for the ages, and it doesn’t seem to either of them that it was that long ago.
On May 8, 1945, the world erupted in joy over the surrender of Nazi Germany. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill declared it Victory in Europe Day.
Crawford Hicks, a B-17 pilot and prisoner of war, had just been liberated by Gen. George S. Patton’s forces. He was recuperating in France when the final surrender was announced.
Edna Hicks was a child in London who grew up playing in bomb craters. They met in Warner Robins in 2003 after both lost their first spouses. They immediately realized they had a lot in common and married the same year.
She was 9 years old when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, the start of World War II. Two days later, Britain declared war. Edna’s parents had gone to church to pray for peace, and she was at home with her brother and two sisters when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came on the radio. The government already had issued everyone a gas mask in anticipation of conflict.
“I can’t remember everything he said, but he closed with ‘We are now at war with Germany,’” she recalled. “When he said that, the air raid sounded, and my brother made us put on our gas mask. We ran next door to the neighbors. That was the beginning.”
There was no actual air raid at that moment, but the next six years of war robbed her of her childhood. Instead of carrying a doll, she carried a gas mask everywhere she went, although she never actually had to use it.
At one point, she said, they endured 57 consecutive nights of bombing. Bombs fell all around them, including a large one that would have killed them if it had not been a dud.
But somehow, they survived the war, except for one of her sisters who was killed in a traffic accident.
Her father, who was too old to fight, worked in a munitions factory, which is why the family couldn’t leave the city. At work he grew so tired of responding to air-raid sirens that one night he just ignored it. The shelter he was supposed to have gone to took a direct hit, and everyone inside it was killed.
A constant fear was that the Germans would invade with paratroopers. If that were to happen, the warning was supposed to be church bells ringing. So during the war, church bells never rang.
And that’s one of the things she remembers about the first VE Day.
“Church bells chimed all over the country,” she said.
She also remembers that as night fell, for the first time in six years people could turn lights on. The blackout during the war was so complete that people couldn’t even smoke cigarettes outside.
“It was so wonderful we could turn lights on,” she said. “The people on our avenue built this huge bonfire, and we danced and danced all around.”
Crawford Hicks had flown 10 missions over Germany when he was shot down and captured. He was kept in the same prison camp where the Great Escape happened shortly before he got there.
He was held for 11 months and was freed by Patton’s forces about a week before VE Day.
“The guys cried when they saw the flag go up,” Hicks said. “All he said to us, in a high-pitched voice, was ‘Men, you’ve done a good job.’”
He was flown to Camp Lucky Strike in France, where he witnessed the first VE Day.
“It was pandemonium,” he said. “The whole town was out. Everybody was hugging everybody else because it was over. It was just complete happiness that it was over.”
Both he and his wife said it’s hard for them to believe it’s been 70 years.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long at all,” he said. “I can remember it clearly.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.