In 2012, Derek Smith, documentary filmmaker and former Thornaby resident, was given a photograph of a children’s street party taken on VE Day in 1945.
The photograph had been taken outside of No.11, Barnard Street in Thornaby-on-Tees, the house Derek was to be born in ten years later. Derek was able to recognise his aunt Gladys and uncle Ray but was curious as to who the other children were and what had happened to them? He decided to find out…
Derek’s quest was to take two full years of research and recorded more than thirty hours of film. The outcome was a documentary and photography exhibition which tells the remarkable story of life in post war Thornaby.
There was no record of who the original photographer was but, astonishingly, everyone in the picture could be identified. This enabled Derek to trace and interview the survivors, along with family members of those who had died, in places as far afield as Dallas, Texas and Bad Bentheim, Germany.
Barnard Street was swept away in the 1980s to make way for the A66 dual carriageway. There’s nothing left now but these poignant photographs to tell us of what it was like to grow up after the war in such a close knit working class community. There was no hot water, no bathrooms, no gardens and it’s hard to believe now that Barnard Street didn’t even have electricity until 1954! Soon, as the children in the photograph were to discover, there would be Rock n’ Roll…
During the course of his research Derek was able to reconnect two friends, Eileen and Beryl, who had lost touch with each other for more than half a century when Eileen emigrated to Dallas, Texas. Bizarrely their re-union by Skype revealed that Beryl had not only been in the same school class as Eileen’s husband, but that she now lived in the house that Eileen had owned and lived in before she left for the States.
As each child was identified and contacted, Derek asked them to dig into their own family photo albums for suitable material for an exhibition he was planning. The response was amazing, with more than 300 pictures being contributed by the children in the photograph and their families. These photographs, along with Derek’s own family pictures of Gladys and Ray, have been used to create Victory’s Children exhibition.
Victory’s Children connects the families, friends and homes of the twelve children in an intricate web of photographs, testimonies and maps all based on the remarkable evidence researched from one 1945 photograph which was about to be discarded. Perhaps this is testimony to the beauty and importance of everyday snapshots in telling the story of who we are. Derek has used vernacular photography to explore community and memory in the lives of a working class community that has now vanished.
You can see Derek’s film on Youtube…
The Victory’s Children exhibition and documentary can be seen at Thornaby Town Hall later this year. It is supported by Arts Council of England.