Blackburn held a Tank Week in January 1918. A battle scarred tank by the name of Egbert that had seen active service at the Battle of Cambrai was positioned on Northgate. It came with its own distinguished crew. The idea behind this was to encourage donation of money to the war effort. It had its own post office where War Savings Certificates and War Bonds could be purchased. More than £1 million was raised, representing a marvellous effort by the townspeople.
Finally, after more than 4 years of War came the glorious news that Germany had surrendered and the Armistice had been signed. The Blackburn Times received the news by private telephone from Manchester at 10.35 on the morning of Monday 11th November 1918, shortly before all hostilities ceased at 11am. The Mayor, Lawrence Cotton, received the news shortly after and soon convened a meeting of clergy, employers, tradesmen, where it was decided to hold services of thanksgiving in all the churches and chapels at 7.30 that evening. These were well attended. The Cotton Employers' Association unanimously closed all the mills until Wednesday morning. The Mayor allowed his mills to close until Thursday and gave all his workers (about 2,000) £1. He also decreed that all the schools were to be given a week's holiday. Celebrations continued all day with fireworks, extra trams and full houses at the theatres and cinemas. Restrictions on lighting were relaxed and the Market House clock was allowed to chime again.
The following year saw the Signing of the Peace Treaty of Versailles, which marked the finale of the Great War. A National Celebration of Peace was declared and Saturday 19th July was the chosen day. This caused problems for Blackburn's Peace Committee as the annual holidays began that day. The Mayor wrote to the Prime Minister and local MPs asking for permission for postponement. So Blackburn celebrated on Saturday 6th September, but did mark the official day with the closure of shops and workplaces, the ringing of church bells and the display of flags and bunting.
On the 6th September, the town was bedecked with bunting. A sports day for children was held at Ewood Park, band concerts were held in the parks, as well as a procession, military pageant and a presentation of war decorations.
On the 11 of November 2008 it will be the ninetieth anniversary of the armistice, and the end of hostilities in what then was the bloodiest war ever fought and which, eventually nearly the whole world became embroiled in. Almost all of those who fought in that war, the war they called “ A War to End All Wars” are no longer with us but their memory must live on with us, because if we forget we are not only forgetting people who were once part of our own families but who were prepared to lay down their lives for their country. I know all this sounds rather prosaic now, but to those who were there it was for God, King and Country, and that, at that time, meant something to them. Men from the same towns, streets, factories and shops enlisted together to form Pal’s Battalions. They not only enlisted together but also died together, in their thousands. Those who through their conscience would not fight were ostracised, given white feathers by the women. Some of these became non-combatants and served in the medical battalions or as ambulance drivers and such like and some of these people died too.
Women went to work in the factories or munitions, on the land, driving buses, doing the jobs that their men had once done. Their contribution to the war was just as important. They kept the men supplied with shells and guns, with food and all the rest of the things that were needed for fighting a war. Everyone was affected. Almost every family suffered at least one casualty. Mothers and wives would dread that knock on the door and the sight of the telegraph boy standing there with the telegram informing them of the death of a husband, son or brother. All streets were affected this way, most would not even get the chance to see their loved ones buried, some bodies would never be found. It was hard and emotional for them. When the end came it must have been, for most people, like reaching the end of a long tunnel, but how did Blackburn report the news and how did it affect the town?
The War had been going on for 4 years, 14 Weeks, and 2 days when the Armistice was signed at 5am on November 11th 1918 in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne. Below is a time line leading up to that day.
March 21st 1918; Great German offensive begins, Second battle of the Somme. British line pushed back 20 miles.
March 24th 1918; Peronne and Ham lost. Germans take 30000 prisoners and 600 guns.
March 27th 1918; German rush checked after British counter attacks.
April 4th 1918; Germans launch fresh attacks. British and French pushed back.
April 5th 1918; Ludendorff realises that his great offensive has failed and so stops any more attacks. British attack at Hebterne and take 200 prisoners. The second battle of the Somme ends.
April 12th 1918; Ludendorff hopes to break through to the channel ports. Massive bombardment followed by an advance of five miles on parts of the line. Haig issues his “backs to the wall” order, forbidding further retreat, the line holds, with Belgian and French help. The Germans lose 120,000 men,
27th May 1918; New German offensive. The third battle of Aisne the main attack comes between Soissons and Rheims.
30th May 1918; The Germans get within 37 miles of Paris before their advance is checked
15th July 1918; Second battle of Marne. The Germans attack the French on a 50-mile front east and west of Rheims.
17th July 1918; The German drive forward is checked.
18th July 1918; The French counter attack on a 27-mile front.
29th July 1918; The Germans are forced from the area they had taken just two months previously. They had suffered over 800,000 casualties since their great offensive started in March.
8th August 1918; Second Battle of Amiens begins. British Fourth Army and French .
First Army attack on a 20-mile front.
24th August 1918; British advance in the Somme sector. By the beginning of September the Germans are pushed out of the Somme and back to the Hindenburg line.
13th September 1918; Austria issues peace note.
25th September 1918; Bulgaria begins armistice negotiations.
28th September 1918; Bulgarians agree to surrender terms, which come into effect on 29th September
4th October 1918; Germany and Austria send a note to President Wilson inviting opening of peace negotiations. Prince Max of Baden appointed Chancellor.
11th October 1918; Widespread German retreat.
12th October 1918; German Government accepts President Wilson’s terms.
15th October 1918; Germany replies to President Wilson published.
21st October 1918; Big British advance between the Scheldt and Le Cateau.
26th October 1918; General Von Ludendorff resigns.
28th October 1918; Austria-Hungary ready to negotiate a separate armistice.
31st October 1918; Austrian army completely broken by the Italians. They cross the Italian line for the purpose of obtaining an armistice.
Turkey surrender. An Armistice comes into force at noon of this day.
3rd November 1918; Austria Surrender. Armistice to take affect at 3pm on 4th November.
5th November 1918; The Germans are now in full retreat.
6th November 1918; Text of Armistice between Allied powers and Austria-Hungry published. In his Diary Robert Lindsay Mackay said about this day “Boche asked for armistice. Hurrah! Hope we don't give it until we reach the Rhine.”
7th November 1918; German Navel revolt is spreading, part of German Fleet flying the red flag. German Armistice delegates at Marshal Foch’s headquarters.
8th November 1918; Marshal Foch receives German armistice delegates at Rethondes. He refuses a request for a temporary armistice. The terms of the armistice must be accepted or refused by 11 am on 11 November. Prince Max of Baden resigns as Chancellor. Revolutionary movement spreading in Germany.
9th November 1918; Abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm. He takes refuge in Holland. Herr Ebert, a Socialist, becomes Imperial Chancellor of Germany.
10th November 1918; British reach Mons. Revolution in Berlin.
11th November 1918; British capture Mons before dawn. Armistice signed at 5am. Hostilities cease at 11am.
What the Papers in Blackburn Were Saying
The Northern Daly Telegraph of Thursday November 7th 1918 had this headline
“Grand News If True.
Reported signing of the Armistice.
Germany in the toils of civil war.”
“Granting that the News which reaches us this evening is correct, the war is over. Presumably the German peace envoys were invested with the power to sign, for just as we go to press we have received the following:
Reuter’s Agency is informed that according to official American information, the armistice with Germany was signed at 2.30 this afternoon.”
This, to say the least, was premature. How would the people of the town have reacted to this News? It certainly was not official and the writers of the article don’t seem a hundred percent convinced The Article goes on to tell of the unrest in Germany.
The next day Friday November 8th the headlines are:
“Hours of grace, Germany to decide by Monday.
Courier En Route to Headquarters With Terms.
Suspension of Hostilities Refused.”
"…The first meeting of the German peace suppliante with Marshal Foch and Admiral Wemyss took place at an unnamed village on the Aisne this Morning, when the armistice terms were formally handed over."
The village where the meeting took place was Rethondes, which is about four miles from Compiegne (see Time line for that date.)
The paper goes on to explain about the previous days report that the armistice had been signed at 2.30pm. It says:
“A great flutter was caused throughout the land yesterday afternoon by the issue of an “American official” statement to the effect that “the armistice was signed at 2.30,” and there was a great outburst of jubilation. Shortly afterwards, however, the announcement was cancelled, and the only explanation so far given of its issue is that it was “due to a misunderstanding in high American quarters.”
The end of the war must have still seemed so far away after the false hope of November the 7th. In the Northern Daily Telegraph of the 9th of November the news was all about revolution in Germany. Britain and her allies were still pushing the Germans Back
"Kaiser Refuses to Surrender
All the Country in Revolt
Kiel canal Blocked By Navel Insurgents
Prince Max Admits Defeat and resigns"
“From the maelstrom of the war Germany as now passed to the equally terrible maelstrom of revolution. All over the country the red flag is now flying, Prince Max has resigned his post of Imperial Chancellor after holding it for a month, and the Kaiser flatly refuses to surrender his throne.”
How ironic that while the people of Blackburn were reading this the Kaiser had already abdicated and was on his way to Holland. His abdication was reported in the Stop Press of that paper, it was a two-line item just above the half time football scores and said:
“It is officially reported today that the Kaiser renounced the throne of Germany.”
The armistice was signed at 5 am on Monday November 11th. It was to take affect at 11am when all hostilities were to cease. The newspapers in Blackburn celebrated this with the headlines:
"PEACE ON EARTH AGAIN
End of The War.
Complete German Surrender
Tremendous Price Exacted By The Allies."
But they also gloated over the fact that one of the last battles fought was at Mons, which was captured just before dawn of the 11th by Canadian Troops, four years previously, it had been lost by the British to the Germans In one of the first battles of the war. The headline in the Northern Daily Telegraph said
"British Army’s Last Word.
Our Old Contemptibles Avenged.
Haig Reports Capture Of Mons."
“The whole of northern France has now been redeemed, and to-day Sir Douglas Haig adds a dramatically appropriate curtain to the war story by announcing in the last of his dispatches issued before the cessation of hostilities the capture of Mons, the place sanctified by the heroism and the graves of our “Contemptible Little Army.”
The papers also gave more information on the abdication and flight of the Kaiser and his family to Holland and how Hindenburg had followed them in to exile. The Kaiser had, the paper says, reluctantly signed the abdication papers with the words, “may it be for the good of Germany.”
How Blackburn received news of the armistice.
The Northern Daily Telegraph reported the signing of the Armistice this way:
“The hoisting of the flag on the Telegraph Offices in Station Road [Now Railway Road] about half-past ten was the first intimation that the great news had reached Blackburn…a great crowd in front of the offices received the glad news with every manifestation of pleasure. From this joy-centre the import of the message quickly spread all over the town, and the demonstration was taken up with Great Spirit. The tension of expectancy was over, and the heartfelt satisfaction that all is over found expression in various ways. Very soon the national colours and those of our Allies were fluttering in every street of the town… About a score of lads in khaki and hospital blue, headed by one who twirled a long stick in true drum-major fashion paraded the town, waving flags, blowing weird instruments, and followed by cheering juveniles. A team of ringers having been got together, the bells of the Parish Church rung merrily, and the main streets presented a very animated appearance through out the afternoon.”
The Blackburn Times of Saturday 16th November said:
"The great and glorious news of the surrender of Germany was received by “the Blackburn Times” from Manchester, by private telephone, at 10.35 on Monday morning… Its publication on the office window, and, simultaneously, the hoisting of the Union Jack on the flagstaff, was the first intimation to the public that in half an hour’s time the last shot would have been fired and the fighting come to an end. Every body’s first idea of celebrating the victory was to bring out their flags and other bunting, which had been hidden away since the visit of their Majesties the King and Queen in July, 1913… before noon the all town was bedecked. The blowing of mill buzzers, and later, the ringing of church bells, helped to spread the glad tidings to the furthest parts of the borough…King William street and the thoroughfares abutting on it, became the centre to which people gravitated.”
All the shops and offices in the town shut down. The mills stopped work and the children were given the week off school. The shops selling bunting and fireworks did a roaring trade, and a certain amount of leeway was given to the people celebrating. Again the Blackburn Times says:
“Even the policeman and the special constable turned their heads in the opposite direction when some boy, bubbling over with mirth, surreptitiously dropped a cracker in the midst of a group of people…If the smell of powder reminded the “Tommie’s”… and the wounded soldier strolling about town, of their harrowing experiences on the battle fields, they did not seem to mind it in the least now.”
However not all the soldiers could cope with this type of frivolity, as the next piece from the Blackburn Times shows:
“A firework dropped behind a soldier just recovering from shell shock, so unnerved him that he collapsed in the street. He was taken home in the motor ambulance.”
During the war there had been restrictions on the lighting of bonfires, using fireworks and the ringing of church bells. These restrictions were now lifted. The Chief Constable of Blackburn, as well as confirming the Government's lifting of restrictions, also told the retailers of fireworks that they should, “secure their licenses before effecting sales.” Shops were to be allowed the use of lights in their windows at night, but just on that day. Effigies of the ex-Kaiser and other German leaders were burnt on street bonfires.
The Blackburn Times said that:
“Revels went on, not only during the day, but far into the night, but to the credit of Blackburn it can be said there was no rowdism.”
Jessica Lofthouse in her diary of 16th November 1924 remembering the armistice of 1918 wrote:
“Last Tuesday, and at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November we held the Great Silence—two minutes of remembrance for the fallen. Six years ago peace was declared. I remember Mr. Caithness calling an assembly in the Hall to tell us the good tidings—of our rushing home, of the flags, long prepared already hanging form the windows, of the crowds in town letting off fireworks, of every one running wild and the p’lice (sic) looking on indulgently.”
The newspapers reported all the theatres full and celebrations going on long into the night.
As soon as the news was received of the Armistice, the Mayor Lawrence Cotton held a meeting in the Town Hall. It was decided to mark the occasion by holding thanksgiving services in every church that evening, which attracted large crowds.
At Darwen the Fire Station buzzer was sounded followed by the bells of Holy Trinity Church. The mill workers and school children all gathered at the Circus to celebrate. In the afternoon a civic procession formed at the Circus. The Mayor Walter Worth made a speech after which the “Old Hundred” and “National Anthem” were sung they then processed to Holy Trinity Church for a thanksgiving service.
It was decided by the Cotton Employers Association to recommend to their members to allow mills to remain closed until Wednesday breakfast time. The Mayor of Blackburn, who was also a mill owner, closed all his mills until Thursday and also gave each employee, who numbered 2000, £1 each. The firm of John Baynes, and J.E. Waddington did likewise. The latter also made a grant of £3 to the “old folk” in the Alms Houses on Bank Top.
The Celebrations even reached the workhouse. The Blackburn Times of 16th November reports that:
“A special thanksgiving service took place at the Workhouse…appropriate hymns were sung, and an address was given by the Rev. W.H Johnson. On Wednesday all the inmates of the Poor-Law institution were provided with a special meat tea which was given by the chairman of the Board of guardians… who also provided tobacco for the men and dry tea for the women. During tea and up to eight o’clock the M.U. Orchestra played selections of music. The Christ Church Company of Girl Guides gave an entertainment consisting of spectacular marches, drill, and songs.”
Were there any street parties in Blackburn to celebrate the end of the war? They were certainly held in other parts of the country but I cannot find any reported in the local papers for this area. That is not to say they weren’t held. It is highly likely people living close together would organise celebrations, and the best place to hold these would be in the street.
Those who were waiting to be called up received the good news that recruiting was to be stopped with immediate effect. The announcement read
“ The Secretary of the local Government Board and the Minister of National Service issued the following; “The Government has decided that all recruiting under the Military Service Act is to be suspended. All outstanding calling-up notices, whether for examinations or service, are cancelled. All cases pending before tribunals should be suspended.”
As early as November 13th 1918 the Government was discussing demobilisation. It was their intention that, “pivotal men in industries would be brought back at the earliest possible moment” and that “other conditions being equal, married men would be given preference.” They also said that they hoped “that all workers who patriotically entered munitions employment will realise the importance of returning to their home, in order that they may not displace workers who depend on employment for a living.” This of course was referring to the women who had taken up this type of work to free men for the front.
Rationing had started in Britain at the beginning of January 1918. An article in the Northern Daily Telegraph of November 20th by a “food expert in Blackburn” had this to say;
"Don’t run away with the idea that because the war is not going on you can give your ration books to the dogs. For at least twelve months and probably two years a rationing scheme will be in existence.”
Items which were rationed at the time were:
Sugar from 31 December 1917 to 29 November 1920.
Butter from 14 July 1918 to 30 May 1920.
Margarine from14 July 1918 to 16 February 1919.
Lard from 14 July to 16 December 1918.
Butcher's Meat (Uncooked) from 7 April 1918 to 15 December 1919.
Bacon and Ham from 7 April to 28 July 1918.
Jam from 1918 to 15 April 1919.
Tea - This was not rationed nationally but its distribution was controlled by national registration of customers based on 2oz. per head from 14 July to 2 December 1918.
Rationing ended fully in 1921.
A piece of news which might have lost the children a job was printed in the Northern Daily Telegraph November 15th 1918, telling people that “No more fruit stones are wanted for making gas-mask charcoal”
It was not joy and thanksgiving for everyone however deaths of soldiers who had been killed in the days leading up to the armistice were still being reported in the newspapers. Possibly one of the last soldier from Blackburn to have died before the armistice was Private Thomas Gillibrand of the Labour Corps who died of pleurisy on the 11th of November 1918. He had been called up as a reservist in 1914 and wounded 4 times.
Another cause for concern was the number of deaths being reported from influenza. The Spanish flu as it was called started in the summer of 1918 and lasted until 1919. The Northern Daily Telegraph of November 14th reported that over 7500 deaths had be recorded the previous week, and things were to get much worse!
In Britain it claimed about 228,000 lives and some 70 million victims world wide, far more than the First World War.
The armistice, saw the end of hostilities and was, for all intents and purposes the end of the war, initially it ran for just 30 days but was renewed on a regular basis. It was to be another 7 months before the peace treaty was signed at Versailles, on the 28th of June 1919. Peace celebrations through out the country were set for July of that year. These celebrations were delayed in Blackburn because the clashed with Wakes holidays, and the town had to wait until September 1919 for its celebrations.