Horror turns to joy with news of Armistice
THE scene in Perth, 95 years ago, on Monday, November 11, 1918, when news of the Armistice came through, was one of overwhelming joy.
Four years of carnage that had so horrified the nation – with WA’s 32,000 AIF volunteers suffering its proportion of killed, wounded and maimed on battlefields in New Guinea, Turkey, the Middle East and Western Europe – had finally come to an end.
In the city, large crowds gathered spontaneously, including in front of Newspaper House in St George’s Terrace, headquarters of The West Australian and the afternoon newspaper, The Daily News. A huge assembly also gathered on The Esplanade.
“One continuous cheer best describes the great impromptu meeting held … on the positing of the official message,” The West
Australian reported. The tumult lasted for about an hour and a half and “few of those who had contributed to the triumph of the Allied armies were not remembered.
“Naturally the terrace, as the headquarters of the newspapers, was the quarter to which the people were attracted when the work of the day was done.” The paper reported that there had never been a public gathering like it before in Perth.
Cheering and patriotic singing welled along the city’s major thoroughfare as the mayor, Mr (later Sir) William Lathlain, tried to address the throng. “Speeches were essayed by the mayor and those who joined him later but it was a forlorn hope to make oneself heard against cheers, supported by an obligato from every noise-making device imaginable. Before long the mayor had completely exhausted his vocal powers, and the people, giving vent to pent-up excitement, cheered and sang incessantly.”
The West’s report noted that the range of subjects worth cheering seemed inexhaustible. “There were cheers for the Empire, cheers for all her Allies, cheers for the various arms of the fighting forces, cheers for the great men of the war, cheers for the soldiers of Australia and of her sister dominions, cheers for those who had gone from Western Australia, cheers for those among them who had gained the VC, cheers for the sick and wounded, cheers for the returned, and cheers, too, for the glorious dead.”
Songs echoed through the CBD, including the national anthem and patriotic numbers from the history of the British Empire. And a lot of the crowd apparently knew a ditty called We’ll Hang the Kaiser from a Sour Apple Tree.
The brother of WA Gallipoli hero, and fatal casualty, Davic Simcock – a red-headed fruitseller around Perth affectionately dubbed Pink Top – was given a rousing reception, too.
The gathering slowly dispersed, with everyone hoarse or completely voiceless. “The mayor bade his hearers look for the announcement of further celebrations in the morning’s paper, and the first of the war celebrations was over,” The West Australian reported.
Subsequently, there was a large gathering at Fremantle Oval. In Perth, there were big processions through the city’s streets, organised by the Friendly Union of Soldiers’ Wives, among other groups. Women and children wore sashes across their chests emblazoned with the single golden word — Peace. Others carried placards reading
War is a Destroyer and Peace Means Prosperity. Even the smallest rural Wheatbelt hamlet and coastal towns held their own celebrations in their streets.
Women and children wore sashes across their chests emblazoned with the single golden word – “Peace”.