Ilkley and Armistice Day

Extract from ‘ Ilkley and the Great War’ by Caroline Brown and Mark Hunnebell; Amberley, 2014

At 11.00am on November 11th 1918 church bells rang across Europe. The fighting was over but life would never be the same again. Millions had died around the world and those who returned home had the hard task of making sense of the horrors they had survived and the adjustment back to civilian life.

The Ilkley howitzer brigade brought the guns into action for the last time on November 10th at 2.00pm at Quevy-le-Grand unaware that the last day of the war was so close. A E Gee recorded the events of the morning of 11th November:

‘A mounted staff-officer in a big hurry, passing by with wild news of the Armistice, was thought by many to be a spy; but the Major fired with his own hands a single farewell round at top range at 9am – the safety cap being left on the shell to prevent accidents at the other end of its journey and it began to be realised that all was about over bar the shouting. Shortly came instructions that the Armistice at 11 o’clock was official; and the men stood about as this moment approached almost expecting some sign from Heaven. This came from the heavens at a quarter to eleven in the form of a dozen German shells into the village in front – with the safety caps off. Other Batteries concealed in hedgerows and banks all about could be heard firing their parting shots also…

While most of the world went mad to celebrate the Armistice, it is noteworthy that the men who had most immediate occasion had least opportunity for celebration. Though the fact of the Armistice was known, it was certainly not fully assimilated at first, and the momentum of routine and discipline carried the Battery through the next few days without any changes to indicate that its raison d’etre had vanished and that this body of men which had worked for years as a single compact unit to a single end was about to split up into 200 distinct and separate individuals, striving after their two hundred private ends…

On November 11th 1918, a pointed salient formed the British Front at Valenciennes. The West Riding Artillery was at the apex of this salient being the most advanced Divisional Artillery, and D245 Battery prides itself that, so far as can be ascertained, no British Battery of Artillery was nearer to Germany when the war ended than itself.’

In Ilkley, at 11am Mr Dobson displayed the news on a blackboard outside his newsagent and tobacconist shop on Brook Street with the addendum ‘official’. In a short time the streets became very lively. ‘The Ilkley Gazette’ reported:

There were flags of all kinds and streamers too, not a single street being noticed without some evidence of jubilation. Many of the flags had done duty on other occasions of rejoicing than the present, and the ‘Welcome Home’ that one bore in large letters will still more fittingly serve to welcome our local warriors spared to return.’

Wounded soldiers at the Ilkley Military Hospitals, taking possession of a tradesman’s cart, rode round the town in ‘merry mood’. Later, a larger group which included soldiers and sailors at home on leave, broke into the Volunteer Bugle Band room in Bridge lane, and secured a number of drums and one or two bugles. To the accompaniment of these they paraded around the town. In the afternoon they were joined by some of the Volunteer buglers, and paid a visit to Addingham, with one of the wounded soldiers dressed up to represent Britannia. The ‘Ilkley Gazette’ described events

With such a holiday spirit in evidence, a good deal of the business of the town was suspended at mid-day, and a number of the shops closed. The Parish Church bells were rung both at noon and in the evening, and the Volunteer Bugle Band continued to peregrinate the town in the evening after the wounded soldiers were obliged to be indoors. The youngsters had the time of their lives, and although the National Schools continued to open in the afternoon, there were many absentees. As night closed in upon the scene fireworks began to be let off in all parts of the town. The pyrotechnic display in Brook Street was of a character never before attempted; nor would it have been allowed. D.O.R.A. and the Police were not to be met with in authority, and squibs, crackers, rockets, maroons and Roman candles mingled together in blazes of light and noise for several hours .The thanksgiving services held at the Parish Church and St Margaret’s Church were very well attended.’

The signing of the armistice which gave way to relief and rejoicing was tinged with great sadness at the loss of life. ‘The Ilkley Gazette’ editorial summed up the situation:

‘ The curtain has finally rung down on the greatest and most terrible war in the world’s history. The glad tidings were everywhere hailed by the Allies with the greatest enthusiasm; indeed more than was to be expected, with the knowledge of the desolation the war has caused and the sorrow it has brought into so many lives. If there was momentary forgetfulness of this on the part of any, it was to be forgiven; for how could the majority of people keep in check their feelings of thankfulness on such a day. Yet not all rejoiced in boisterous and hilarious fashion, for a much deeper and more sober thankfulness was shown by some in attendance at the thanksgiving services held throughout the length and breadth of the land.’

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Crowds at the unveiling and dedication of the Ilkley War memorial, July 1922. (Image Ilkley Library)

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The procession to the unveiling and dedication of the Ilkley War memorial proceeds along the top of Brook Street towards The Grove. (Image courtesy of Sally Gunton)

 

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