Peace at last, but life would never be the same again
The Armistice was signed in a railway carriage at Compiegne, in northern France, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Andy Smart looks at how peace came to Nottingham
THE news broke in a special edition of the Nottingham Evening Post on Monday November 11 1918.
“Last Shot Fired At 11am Today”, shouted the headline. Peace at last after four long years of misery and heartbreak.
“Within half an hour,” reported the Post, “the greater part of the city was ablaze with gaily-coloured bunting.
“The most vigorous demonstrators were the children who rushed into the streets, and at noon, when the schools closed, their lusty shouts vied with the hoarse roar of the factory hooters in heralding the good tidings.”
Church bells rang, factories and offices closed down. Almost in disbelief a war-weary and grateful nation began to celebrate. But in Nottingham, the celebrations were somewhat muted by a Corporation decision to restrict pub opening hours.
Apparently, the authority remembered “the orgies” which ensued after the relief of Mafeking 20 years earlier and were determined to show a greater degree of respect as so many families were mourning sons and fathers, brothers and sisters, lost in the conflict.
And publicans supported the move, keeping their doors firmly closed… although the fact that many had run out of beer might have contributed to the decision.
But permission was given by the mayor, John Turney, to turn the lights back on and lift the blinds that night to welcome peace.
The Market Place was thronged with thousands of revellers, and when a motorcade of wounded British soldiers came into view, they were mobbed by grateful members of the public wanting to shake the hand of a hero.
In Hucknall, the celebrations were led by American servicemen based at the nearby aerodrome. They hauled an aircraft through the streets, topped by the stars and stripes flag.
Church thanksgiving services were hurriedly arranged and well-attended, and the Post, with understandable optimism, wrote: “It was an occasion for unfeigned joy in the sure knowledge that Germany has been laid in the dust and the greatest menace that has ever faced our country has been laid to rest, forever.”
An announcement quickly followed that, for the first time in four years, there would be a real Christmas.
Food restrictions were lifted and rations of loose fat, suet, tongue, kidney and ox skirt were doubled.
Butchers were given the go-ahead to sell turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, fowl and game, without the need for food vouchers.
The band of Chilwell munitions factory was invited to London, to play outside Number 10 Downing Street, where it received the thanks of prime minister David Lloyd George. And, much to the delight of many, restrictions on horse racing were lifted.
But it was not that easy to shake off the sadness the war had inflicted on families throughout the city, the county and the country.
Beneath the banner headlines proclaiming victory, snippets of news could still cast a long, dark shadow.
In South Road, West Bridgford, the family of Lieutenant Sydney Crowden, RAF, were mourning the death of their youngest son; in Thorncliffe Road, Mr and Mrs A H Cullen waited anxiously for news of eldest son William, of the Seaforth Highlanders. They had been
told he was lying in a French hospital with serious wounds.
And just as the people of Nottinghamshire were welcoming the greatest day in living history, they were having to face an even greater peril.
In that first week of peace, medical officer Philip Boobyer revealed the toll being taken by the Spanish Flu epidemic.
In Nottingham, he said, the disease was “increasing at a tremendous pace”.
In that first week of peace, 230 people had died from flu and pneumonia; in Bulwell, the worst-hit district, there had been 70 associated deaths; in Hucknall, the town had gone from an annual death total of 154 to 77 in a single week.
Dr Boobyer pointed the finger of blame directly at the public for not taking proper precautions. Overcrowding and poor ventilation were the prime causes of the spread of the disease, and he singled out tramcars and cinemas as the worst places to be.
There would be other challenges ahead, not least to provide the promised “homes for heroes”. Nottingham’s landscape would change with new estates, wider roads, hundreds of newly built houses.
In so many ways, life after the First World War would never be the same again.
The old order had been swept away. Kings and emperors had lost their thrones, and some even their lives.
The map of Europe had been redrawn, new borders laid down, old enemies vanquished, 17 million people killed, in a bloody conflict the like of which had never been witnessed before.
But at least, the population were misguidedly assured, we would never have to go through that again.
Thousands flocked to Market Place on Armistice Day when veterans held a victory parade. Left, two soldiers mark the end of fighting in time-honoured fashion outside Lyons Cafe.