Victory in Europe sparked scenes of delirium across Britain as people flooded on to the streets to toast the downfall of Hitler’s regime.

But for able seaman Bernard Blowers everything was put into solemn, sombre context in the immediate aftermath of VE Day when he was deployed to Germany.

Blowers was just 22 when he witnessed the true horror and devastating destruction of war on enemy soil.

A Naval radar operator, Woolston-born Blowers had spent three years on HMS Oribi escorting various conveys across the Atlantic and up to Russia.

He had seen both friends and enemies die at sea and braved unimaginable, tortuous cold in the Arctic Circle, where temperatures of minus 40 degrees Centigrade were common and thick ice engulfed the ship’s deck.

But the total desolation and annihilation he viewed first hand in places like Hamburg was something else.

The Germans may for many years have been the foe but for Blowers, what he saw in those cities made the war entirely human.

“With all due respect to anybody in Southampton or London who lost people,” Blowers said earnestly, keenly aware he did not want to have sounded churlish, “but we didn’t know what bombing was in this country.

“When you saw Kiel and Hamburg there wasn’t a window left – the places were completely flattened. The German people were out there picking up bricks and just trying to start to put the pieces back together.”

Blowers remembered HMS Oribi being sent to Germany within days of peace being declared.

Having sat in Hull for the best part of two months while Oribi underwent refitting, the 230-strong crew’s plans to mark VE Day in style had already been scuppered when they received sailing orders the day before the national day of celebration on May 8.

Slightly aggrieved at missing out on the historic festivities that were unfolding on shore, the ship began winding her way north towards her base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands before being told to head to Germany.

“We all thought we were going to have a big booze-up! They had shut a lot of the pubs because they had been storing up beer as it was obvious the war was going to end soon because it was in all the papers how the Germans had capitulated.

“There were no celebrations on the ship. We were all fed up! Our only victory salute was blowing a siren saying ‘V’ for Victory to a passing destroyer.”

However, things suddenly gained a whole new perspective when Oribi reached her destination.

A British Airways accounts clerk and latterly illustrator for over 30 years after the war, Blowers, who returned to Woolston with wife Patricia on his retirement in 1981, admitted that he was always regretful of the actions of some of his colleagues when she docked.

“I was a bit embarrassed because the captain got a young Scottish officer, who played the bagpipes, to stand up in the bow of the ship and play, with me next to him on a drum. But most of the German people in the port were women and children.

“There were also all these kids in short trousers, 12 or 13 at the most, and as we came alongside one of our chaps started shouting, ‘There they are, Schweine! Schweine!’ which is German for ‘pigs’. What a daft thing to do to kids!”

Blowers, although clearly passionate and committed to Navy life – signing up as soon as he could on his 18th birthday – was clearly often dismayed by the indignity of war. He obviously believed what happened on Oribi’s arrival in Germany was somewhat unnecessary and disrespectful.

Blowers was also quite modest, almost disparaging, about his own involvement and achievements during the conflict.

He would always play down what he went through as a sailor when comparing it to the horror of the trenches in the First World War, and although he took part in the historic Normandy Landings in June 1944, he said, “it’s a bit different being on a Destroyer to crawling up the beaches.”

Even after earning the prestigious Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) for the part he played in the ramming of the German submarine U-125 east of Newfoundland in May 1943, Blowers’ thoughts were still with those who may have lost their lives.

“Years later I discovered the submarine didn’t sink, it stayed afloat, and the next morning HMS Snowflake took survivors off.

“That was a relief to me as I’d always had that feeling I might have been partly responsible for people dying and I was getting a medal for it.”

Blowers’ experiences of VJ Day in August 1945, were not too dissimilar to his VE Day disappointment – this time the crew’s quest to celebrate was thwarted by closed pubs across Glasgow the day before! And although they did eventually track down a tipple on their return to base near Greenock in Scotland, Blowers marked the day in his own poignant way.

“I don’t remember there being a sense of relief on VE Day. It was a relief we knew we could go out without being shot at but otherwise we just got on with it.

“But on VJ Day I got a bit sentimental in spite of the celebrations. I went and sat in a little church, thought about all the pals I’d lost, and thanked God it was over.”

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