Two Armistice Day celebrations
Armistice celebrations around New Zealand in 1918 were mostly muted because of the outbreak of influenza which soon killed many New Zealanders, Tararua residents included.
A picture survives in the Dannevirke Gallery of History of Matamau School’s celebration.
Dannevirke had two celebrations, one three days before the formal Armistice’s signing and on the day.
Historian Rob McDonald’s book Dannevirke — The Early Years reports that celebrations began in Dannevirke on November 8, 1918 after the news came through at 9.45am that Germany had signed the Armistice. Rob reports:
“. . . A tremendous din broke forth in the town. Factory whistles, the fire bell and church bells mingled in a lengthy chorus. It was down tools as businesses and schools closed and everyone rushed to High Street. The surrounding country districts were notified and a short time later there were streams of motorcars laden with celebrants rushing to join the activities in High Street.
The procession, which had been planned in advance, formed up at 11am and moved off to the domain. It was windy and raining but no one cared.
“When the domain was reached a rumour spread that there was some doubt about whether the Armistice had actually been signed but it was decided to continue the celebrations anyway and hope that confirmation would arrive before they had concluded.
The band played, the crowd sang, speeches were given, a haka was performed, cheering was frequently indulged in and the celebration ended with the singing of the National Anthem.”
“Once again Dannevirke was out in front. It had been the first to celebrate the end of the war — three days early.”
The formal celebration, The Domain Demonstration, was on the day of the signing, November 11 at 11am.
The Domain Demonstration began with a procession of the Mayor A E Ransom, councillors, the brass band, veterans, returned soldiers in full uniform, Ma¯ ori in full costume, school students, the Fire Brigade, pipe band, Boy Scouts, decorated lorries, a tin can band, Huntsmen and Red Indians.
It travelled from the Oddfellows Hall to the Domain where the Demonstration began.
After the opening hymn All People That On Earth Do Dwell, Mayor Ransom began the first of a number of speeches from dignitaries, including County Council Chairman FG Cowper, and Mr Wi Duncan, punctuated by patriotic musical items (Rule Britannia, La Marsellaise, The Soldiers of the King, Sons of the Sea), a haka and concluding with the British National Anthem.
There followed a sports day involving events like the tug of war, three-legged and wheel barrow races, haka, a slow motor car race, Highland dancing, races for different age groups a lolly scramble and an apple competition.
Rob McDonald reports: “The Armistice Demonstration Committee thought positively and used the first experience as a trial run. This final celebration was going to be perfect.
“As it turned out when the Armistice was finally signed and the whistles blew, the response of the public was subdued.
“Much of the energy had been spent on the previous false alarm but a more important reason for the lack of enthusiasm was the sudden realisation of the seriousness of the influenza epidemic that was now gripping Dannevirke.
“Just when the joy of victory should have been savoured this new and deadly enemy was besieging the town.”
The Armistice Celebrations led by Piper Currie at Matamau School 1918.
Armistice Day celebrations in Queen Street, Auckland in 1918.
Front page of the Dannevirke souvenir programme for the Official Armistice Celebrations November 11, 1918.
Inside, the programme had the order of procession and sports programme with the war’s leaders.