VE Day women traced by Twitter

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Published: Sunday 21st June 2015 by The News Editor

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Two young women famously photographed celebrating VE Day with two sailors in a fountain in Trafalgar Square have been traced thanks to an appeal on social media.

The Imperial War Museums (IWM) wanted to find out more about the women in the picture taken during the Victory in Europe celebrations on May 8 1945, which has been used across the world to highlight the end of the Second World War in Europe, as their information about the photograph was sparse.

Just 24 hours after putting out an appeal on Twitter, IWM was contacted by a relative who identified them as Joyce Digney and Cynthia Covello, life-long friends after they met in the Women’s Land Army in the summer of 1944, when Cynthia was 20 and Joyce was 18.

Mrs Covello died in 1983 but her friend Mrs Digney is living near Vancouver. Both the women married Canadian soldiers shortly after the war and moved to Canada.

A cousin had once sent a postcard of the picture to Mrs Digney, so she knew it was out there, but she said she was “amazed” at the resonance of the image.

But speaking from Canada, she said she still could not believe what was so special “about a couple of silly women paddling around in Trafalgar Square”.

Explaining how she ended up in Trafalgar Square on VE Day, Mrs Digney, now 89, said: “My very dear friend Cynthia and I were working in the Land Army and we said if we’re still alive when this is all over, we want to go to London, like we’d seen pictures from the end of the First World War, and celebrate.

“And sure enough we were still alive, so we went to St Paul’s cathedral and gave thanks we were.

“We both lost brothers who were pilots, so we said a prayer and then came out and looked at each other and said, let’s go and have fun.”

She said what she remembered most about the VE Day celebrations on the public holiday in 1945 was “the crowds, the euphoria, everybody so happy, the smiles. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people with smiles on their faces. It was the atmosphere of happiness that I remember”.

When they got to Trafalgar Square, there was the “longest conga line you could ever imagine” going round the square, and they joined in, before going to soothe their aching feet by sitting and dangling them in the pool. Soon they were paddling in the water.

“We weren’t allowed normally to be paddling in the fountain but the police shut their eyes to everything that was going on as long as we weren’t causing any mischief.”

The two sailors joined them for the picture, but the girls soon lost them, as “we weren’t there to pick up boys”, and Mrs Digney said she had no idea who they were.

Mrs Digney (nee Brookes) and her husband Ernest settled in British Columbia in 1946, while Mrs Covello (nee Lowe) and her husband Oscar moved to eastern Canada before later moving west to British Columbia.

Mrs Digney, who has three sons, eight grandchildren and one great granddaughter, said she still missed her friend Cynthia, and wished she was alive today.

“She would think this whole thing is a hoot,” she said.

Published: Sunday 21st June 2015 by The News Editor

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