Marking VE Day: An interview with WWII veteran Ivan Solomons

Ella
7th May 2020

Ivan Solomons was born in 1920’s Britain. He grew up in Hackney with three brothers and two sisters. His parents, Jewish immigrants, ran a shoe making business. He served in World War II along with his three brothers. All four brothers made it home.

We had the privilege of meeting Ivan at his home in West London and speaking to him about his life, his memories of the war, and what it was like to survive, come home and build a life, a ‘very lucky life’- in his words.

We wanted to commemorate VE Day by sharing your story. Where did you grow up?

I was born in London, Hackney. My family ran a footwear manufacturer business. I was sent to boarding school in Cambridge, and I went from there, boom, straight into the army at 17. I’m lucky to have come through it. I met a lot of people who became my life long friends. If they are alive, they are still my friends. And I had a very interesting life, a big family, I was the youngest of 7. And I had a very lucky life.

Were your siblings also called to serve?

All of them! I had 4 brothers, one died very young, but all 3 of my brothers were also in the forces. My mum and dad were very worried. 

And did they all survive?

Yes, lucky. One was an air gunner who flew. My oldest brother, he was a driver or something but he survived. My next oldest brother was in Dunkirk. And he came back via Dunkirk, and I was there on D-day as the war finished... 

What did you do after the War ended?

My father originally came to England from Russia, as a young Jewish family. In those days there were a lot of immigrants from Russia and Poland. And you're either a tailor or a furniture maker or a shoe maker. And my dad’s family were all shoe makers. They all came from little villages in Russia, they were the shoe makers in the village.  So my dad went to a guy who was making shoes in Hackney or somewhere in the east end. And he did that for a while, before setting up himself, so he found a room somewhere to sleep in at night and use as a shoe factory during the day. My dad built it up into a big factory so when I left the army I worked for the family business, along with my brothers. So I got to be a shoe sales (person). I’ve got a big mouth anyway!

Did it take a long time to adjust to living back in London after the war? 

Yes, quite a while, you were aware of it all the time, it’s something you had to work out a bit but it was such a relief. Talking to people who had been in it with you, because a lot of people can't understand it, you can't imagine it. You tended to merge with people who had similar experiences, so they understood, which is very difficult to explain...the long, long days of boredom and not doing anything. And I didn’t want to forget it, I wanted to be aware of it and remember it and value it. Which I did. 

What did home life look like after the war?

I married 2 wonderful women,  I never had any children, I think I was nervous of having children, I didn’t want the responsibility, I thought I’d had enough responsibility. My second wife, she’d been married before and she had a son. He’s a great boy, he’s a man now, he’s 60 years old. He’s a professor in Cambridge, and he treats me like a dad because I’ve known him since he was born. I cant believe I’m 96 now.

What do you think was the biggest change in people after the war?

I knew it was going to be a very difficult time, changing from wartime to peacetime, because all the values had changed, everybody's desires changed, people became different. People began to look and think of their future. Where are we going? What’s going to happen? Because you could see you had a future. I think we were lucky that we came through as we did. 

What is happiness to you now?

Watching people help each other, the goodness of people, there is a lot of goodness around. Be understanding, be content.

What a wonderful note to end on, thank you Ivan.