HOW WE CELEBRATED
BANDS PLAYED IN THE STREET, BUZZERS SOUNDED, AND SHIPYARD HORNS WENT OFF AS THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE SWARMED INTO THE CENTRE OF SUNDERLAND TO CELEBRATE THE NEWS OF THE ARMISTICE
The war is over! And what a scene of raw emotion and bedlam it caused when the news reached Sunderland in November 1918. The poor newsboys, who were out selling papers containing the announcement, were knocked off their feet in the rush for information from an ecstatic public. Elsewhere, the Mayor was cheered loudly as he spoke on the Town Hall steps. Amid it all, people were in tears as they reflected on more than four years of hell. Today, with the help of historian Trevor Thorne, we take a look back at the day the Armistice was announced on Wearside.
It was November 11, 1918. In France, war was ending and it wasn’t long before the news carried home. It was a cold morning in Sunderland. A typical Wearside winter day but word got out that this was a bit of a special day. One group of people gathered in Bridge Street and West Wear Street to hear the news. There it was .... displayed on a notice in the Sunderland Echo office window. People cheered. Newsboys were knocked down and injured as the crowd tried to buy a copy of a special edition of the paper. The headline read: “Truce to last 36 days. Evacuation of Alsace-Lorraine and Rhineland” but people knew this was more than a 36-day truce. It was the end. Flags were hoisted onto buildings. Shipyard buzzers sounded and men left their work to join in. Crowds gathered many wearing red, white and blue. Fireworks were set-off in Crowtree Road and a Ragtime Band played music in the streets. Schoolchildren got the rest of the day off as an extra holiday. At 3.30pm, the police band arrived at the Town Hall and played the French and British national anthems. The crowds milled around well into the evening. Sunderland was in such a mood of jubilation that the Mayor declared November 12
to be a public holiday. But by the 14th, the shipyard workers had still not returned to work and all the yards remained idle because the men were still celebrating. Elsewhere, more sombre events were held including a memorial service at the Victoria Hall on November 13, when the address was given by the Bishop of Durham. It had been a costly war for Sunderland. More than 25,000 Sunderland men had gone into battle out of a population of 151,000. By the end of it all, one third were killed or wounded. Sunderland never forgot those who paid the ultimate price or the freedom which had followed for those who survived. By the summer of 1919, a National Peace Day parade went through the streets past the Town Hall. In April 1919, the town was offered a tank for public display. But the Council would only agree to accept a specific tank, which had been manned by Sunderland men who had played a significant part in one particular offensive towards the end of the war. In October 1919, some people did not take kindly to a display of three captured German guns. An armed guard had to be placed over them. The Council then refused to pay the cost of the guards so the guns were sent to the Corporation’s store yard.
Trevor Thorne’s book Sunderland and the First World War – has been reprinted and is available at £9.99. It is in extended form with improved images and includes extra information which has come to light since its first printing in 2013. You can buy it at Waterstones, Clays Garden Centre, Haswells Farm shop and from the Antiquarian Society in Douro Terrace.
“Schoolchildren got the rest of the day off as a holiday” TREVOR THORNE “Crowds gathered, many wearing red, white and blue” TREVOR THORNE
A photograph showing the meal which awaited returning soldiers.
The Sunderland Echo headline which detailed the end to the First World War