War’s over; time to celebrate, but life would never be same
THE armistice on November 11, 1918, brought an end to fighting on the Western Front, and during the next few months fighting came to a standstill in other theatres of war.
Now came the political efforts to settle peace treaties to bring the war to an official end. Representatives from many countries gathered in Paris for months of negotiations that concluded with the Treaty of Versailles with Germany on June 28, 1919, followed later by treaties with other combatant nations.
Even before there was official news about the peace treaty, people in Teesdale were thinking of how to celebrate peace.
Committees were set up in towns and villages up and down the dale to look at ways of marking the official peace after “the war to end wars”.
As early as June 11, the Teesdale Mercury was publishing articles and notices about local peace preparations.
In Barnard Castle, there was an appeal for the names and addresses of returned soldiers and sailors, as well as the wives, widows and mothers of combatants who were to be included in special events.
Inmates at the workhouse for Teesdale Union – covering the geographical area we used for The Bowes Museum First World War Commemoration Project – were to be treated to a special meal. Many of the celebrations throughout the dale centred on community events involving everyone from old people to children.
Nationally, Peace Day was celebrated on Saturday , July 19. In its editions of July 16, 23, and 30, 1919, the Mercury reported on celebration events in the dale – Cotherstone, Bowes, Barnard Castle, Romaldkirk, Rokeby, Startforth, Middleton-in-Teesdale, among other places.
There were processions, sports, dances, teas, dinners, dances and balls, Punch and Judy shows, “Old People’s Treats”, church services and commemorative presentations. You can find out more by looking at the newspapers on www.tees dalemercuryarchive.org.uk.
Celebrations must have been tinged with sadness and anxiety for many families and communities.
Throughout the war, news of death and disability had arrived so often, it must have been hard to realise it was over. And for many families, it wasn’t really over.
News about prisoners-of-war was only slowly reaching families and it took even longer for these men to return if they had survived.
Returning servicemen brought their own difficulties, often never able to talk about their experiences.
Many men had been reported missing in action – their families could still cling to hope of them returning. And men were still serving in the armed forces in Britain, France, Belgium or occupied Germany – some not returning until 1920.
As well as the deaths caused by the war, civilians and servicemen alike had been dealing with the horror of the so-called Spanish flu that killed millions world-wide in 1918.
Teesdale hadn’t escaped the ravages of the pandemic. Perhaps the peace celebrations were also a time to celebrate surviving the disease.
The newspaper report of the Barnard Castle Meet in June 1919 probably reflected most people’s thoughts at the time. It had been a “dreadful war” but now there was a “victorious... honourable peace”.
In many ways life had returned to normal but it would never be the same again, despite those earnest hopes for peace.
Judith Phillips, Research Advisor to The Bowes Museum First World War Commemorative Project
l If you have information about Teesdale men and women involved in the war, we would like to hear from you: telephone 01833 690606, email libraryandarchives @thebowesmuseum.org.uk. For information about the project and to access its Roll of Honour, go to www.the bowesmuseumww1.org.uk.