Great War conclusion was followed by riots and town hall being burnt
The Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, Friday, June 14, 2019
There is a popular belief that the Great War ended on the 11th November 1918, and while it is true that this is when hostilities ended with the Armistice, the peace negotiations were not concluded until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28th June 1919.
When this had been concluded the government decided to organise a celebration and established a committee under the leadership of Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India, to come up with a plan.
As a result of his former post, Curzon was well aware of the ability of grand events, such as the Delhi Durbar which he organised to mark the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1902, to project power.
He therefore came up with a plan for four days of celebrations and parades over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
The Prime Minister of the time, David Lloyd George, was less keen to be seen to be spending huge sums of money on celebrations rather than the welfare of the returning troops, and was also conscious of the fact the British forces were still fighting in Russia against the Bolsheviks.
It was therefore agreed that there would be an extra bank holiday on July 19th for one day of celebrations.
In London there were a number of military parades, but each town had its own ideas and wonderful footage of the day in Haslingden, Lancashire, shows the population dressed in their Sunday best having fun – amongst them almost certainly my grandfather and his family.
One issue that preyed on the minds of the organisers was drink. Strict controls on alcohol had been introduced over the past few years, especially during wartime, and many wanted these to remain.
The Bishop of Burnley published a letter in May 1919 arguing that there was a need to reduce ‘facilities for unnecessary drinking’ and a fear that the celebrations might become ‘a carnival of anarchy if the authorities allowed the mass consumption of alcohol’.
A letter in the Times noted that there was much ‘anxiety’ among ‘serious minded people’ that the Peace Day celebrations would become ‘a wild orgy’ and that ’liberty’ would descend into ’licence’.
In Lancashire, these fears seemed to have been unfounded, with only one man in Burnley being fined 20s for ‘swearing and behaving in a very disorderly manner’, though the magistrate and the town mayor disagreed as to whether drink had been the cause.
Many pubs were given permission to open longer providing they did not serve customers who had already drunk too much and it seems they abided by this commitment.
In other places things did get out of hand. In Luton, the mayor was booed when he read a proclamation from the King praising the bravery of the servicemen and welcoming them to the procession.
This escalated into a riot where the town hall was burned down and troops had to be summoned from London to take back control. Other towns such as Swindon also experienced unrest.
In Lynn, a search turned up a picture postcard of a procession along the High Street while the Lynn Advertiser published a supplement, preserved in the Museum and available on line, showing a children’s demonstration in Tuesday Market Place and scenes from a children’s tea held in the Walks.
Peace day was only held once. By 1920 the mood had changed from that of celebration to remembrance and Armistice Day held centre stage.
No doubt a few raised a glass to fallen comrades, but more sober reflection became the order of the day.