FOR one night, in May 1945 the daily drudge of war life - rationing, blackouts, fear and austerity - was put to one side.

Flags went up, music filled the streets, there was enough party food to go round and people danced into the small hours. And nowhere did a VE Day knees-up quite like the local pub.

In his book The Local; A History of The English Pub, local historian Paul Jennings says pubs played an important role in wartime life: “In contrast to the First World War, when drink and the pub were seen as harming the war effort and were subject to major restrictions, in the Second World War the pub was viewed as important for maintaining morale.

“It is at this time that the phrase ‘The local’ came into general use. Research at the time showed that people felt better going to the pub at the time of air raids, although by 1943 more than 1,300 pubs had closed due to enemy action, especially in big cities like London, Liverpool and Hull.

“My dad said that pubs were never busier than during the war. They were also popular with Canadian and later American servicemen. The latter were advised that they would be welcome in them, but that they should remember that the pub was seen by locals as the ‘poor man’s club’ where you went to meet your friends not strangers. One Canadian said at the end of the war of the pub: ‘God bless the British licensed house. It saved our lives from loneliness - it is a glorious institution, and may it live and prosper forever’.

“Apposite words now of course, in these days of pub closures.”

Adds Paul: “There was a nice story my dad told me about when he was in the RAF; he knew a chap who always talked about getting back to the Airedale on Otley Road once it was all over. Happily he did, and his wedding reception was held there.”

The Airedale, pulled down in the 1960s, was a focal point for May Chapman’s family too. May was 20 when the war ended. It was a relief in more ways than one. During the war she was an ‘Avro Girl’, working in munitions at Yeadon Aerodrome, a camouflaged military aircraft factory covered in imitation farm buildings and dummy cows to conceal it from enemy fire. Now 90, May recalls: “I got up at dawn to get there by bus for a 12-hour shift. I hated it, every morning I told my mother I didn’t want to go and she said, ‘You have to do your bit for the war.’ VE Day couldn’t come fast enough - I was glad to get back to the mill.”

May recalls her mother and neighbours heading for the Airedale on VE night. “I was at home with my younger sisters, we could hear the music and danced around the dining table. It was a jolly night. But it didn’t last long; we were soon back to ordinary life. Rationing went on a long time. Our dad was in North Africa and didn’t come home until many months later. He was a changed man. He rarely spoke to us kids, but we were glad to have him home.”