The ticker-tape ma­chines stut­tered to life. An ar­mistice had been signed ... Fight­ing was to cease at 11am

Bristol Post - - NEWS - Eu­gene BYRNE bris­tol­post­news@lo­cal­


YEARS ago this Sun­day, the Great War ended and all of Bris­tol went mad with joy and re­lief.

Mon­day Novem­ber 11 1918 dawned grey, foggy and damp. A fine rain would fall for most of the day. To an out­sider, noth­ing about that morn­ing held any prom­ise. The city was ex­hausted, worn out by four years of tragedy and loss, and dashed hopes as all the gen­er­als’ ef­forts on the Western Front had failed.

Four years in which thou­sands of lo­cal boys had died, four years of hard work and by 1918, food short­ages as well.

At that ex­act mo­ment, the Grim Reaper took one last sav­age swipe of his blade as the Span­ish In­fluenza pan­demic hit the city, stretch­ing lo­cal hos­pi­tals – and un­der­tak­ers – to the limit.

But now there was hope. That sum­mer had seen a string of gen­uine and de­ci­sive vic­to­ries, and now the Kaiser, Ger­many’s em­peror and “Supreme War Lord” had ab­di­cated. Surely it was only a mat­ter of hours be­fore it all came to an end?

Some peo­ple had waited up late the night be­fore, hang­ing around out­side the of­fices of lo­cal pa­pers late into Sun­day evening in case word was tele­graphed through. Grad­u­ally, they had drifted home to bed, dis­ap­pointed.

The news ar­rived in Bris­tol at 10.30 on that dour Mon­day morn­ing. The ticker-tape ma­chines at the of­fices of the Western Daily Press on Bald­win Street and the Bris­tol Times & Mir­ror in Small Street stut­tered to life. An Ar­mistice had been signed. The fight­ing was to cease at 11am.

Among the first to learn the news were chil­dren; most of the city’s schools had been closed to pre­vent the spread of flu and many were play­ing in the streets or run­ning er­rands for busy moth­ers.

When the news came, it spread faster than any virus ever could. In the min­utes be­fore 11am when the guns at the Front were due to fall silent, Bris­tol was al­ready in a state of near-riot. Bunting and flags ap­peared from nowhere. Ships at Avon­mouth and the City Docks sounded sirens and hoot­ers and launched rock­ets and flares.

Pa­per boys sell­ing spe­cial edi­tions rushed out within min­utes of the news be­ing con­firmed, were be­ing told to keep the change from shillings and even half-crowns.

Al­most ev­ery worker in the city had downed tools to take to the streets. Never mind the weather, never mind the dan­gers of catch­ing flu - ev­ery­one wanted to be out with other peo­ple.

For the rest of the day, groups of men, women and boys pa­raded up and down the streets on what­ever ve­hi­cle they could clam­ber on. Lo­cal cabbies soon took their cars off the roads for fear of bro­ken axles.

Groups of fac­tory girls danced in cir­cles in the city cen­tre, a band of small boys marched in per­fect mil­i­tary for­ma­tion up and down Corn Street and across up to Park Street bang­ing tin cans and bis­cuit tins mak­ing “an in­de­scrib­ably med­ley of noise.” Uni­ver­sity stu­dents in mor­tar boards and gowns marched, ac­com­pa­nied by a small group of Amer­i­can sol­diers car­ry­ing a huge Union Jack.

They were cel­e­brat­ing, but as ev­ery ac­count makes clear, they were not cel­e­brat­ing what was un­doubt­edly a vic­tory. They were cel­e­brat­ing in re­lief that a ghastly war which had killed so many broth­ers, hus­bands and sons, was now at a close.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to give the pre­cise num­ber of Bris­to­lians killed by the war, but it was in the re­gion of 6,000. Six thou­sand men, few of whom had been pro­fes­sional sol­diers in 1914. Six thou­sand men with names like Tom, Al­bert, Dan, Ge­orge, John, Frank ... Six thou­sand men who had been fac­tory hands, tram driv­ers, clerks, shop as­sis­tants, lawyers, doc­tors, priests … Men who five years pre­vi­ously had never dreamed that they would ever wear a uni­form.

Thou­sands of homes, their peace and hopes shat­tered by a brief tele­gram with the words “re­gret to in­form you …”

This war changed ev­ery­thing; noth­ing would ever go back to the way it was be­fore. Now, women over 30 and all males over 21 had the vote, and they were go­ing to use it.

The old days of def­er­ence to one’s so­cial su­pe­ri­ors were go­ing. The de­mands of war meant that work­ing peo­ple could se­cure bet­ter fu­tures through the vote and trade union mem­ber­ship. The bet­ter-off would com­plain about “the ser­vant prob­lem” as fewer women fan­cied skivvy­ing in rich peo­ple’s homes when they could work in fac­to­ries with bet­ter pay and hours.

Later that morn­ing, the Lord Mayor and the Bishop ac­com­pa­nied other city fa­thers to the Com­mer­cial Rooms, close by the Coun­cil House and the heart of Bris­tol’s busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Prayers and hymns were of­fered, and His Wor­ship was greeted with an im­promptu cho­rus of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fel­low”, though the con­tri­bu­tion of pram man­u­fac­turer Henry Twiggs (Lib­eral), to the war ef­fort had been noth­ing spe­cial.

The Mayor was ac­com­pa­nied by the pre­vi­ous holder of the of­fice, Al­der­man Frank Shep­pard. Shep­pard was a Labour Party mem­ber and trade union­ist and was re­ceived po­litely but with less en­thu­si­asm.

There was revo­lu­tion abroad. Crowned heads across Europe had fallen, the com­mu­nists had taken over in Rus­sia and looked to be do­ing the same in Ger­many. Many Bri­tish cities were hot­beds of left­wing ag­i­ta­tion. In the com­ing elec­tion cam­paign Prime Min­is­ter Lloyd Ge­orge would prom­ise a “coun­try fit for heroes to live in” be­cause if the govern­ment didn’t pledge it, it would have been taken any­way.

When he was called onto the stage at the Hip­po­drome later that evening, Frank Shep­pard was greeted with huge en­thu­si­asm by the au­di­ence. Shep­pard it was who pledged that the city would do all it could for the boys who had given so much. And in the years to come Shep­pard would do his best to keep that prom­ise, par­tic­u­larly in hous­ing.

Re­lief, joy, bet­ter days ahead … But as the evening wore on, with bon­fires and the tin­kling of pi­anos and merry sing-songs, few could not but think of loved ones gone for ever, could not help but dwell on things that might have been.

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