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Armistice 100: How the truce was welcomed back home on November 11, 1918

PUBLISHED: 11:00 11 November 2018

14,500 Vickers Crayford factory workers pose for a photo taken on November 11, 1918. Pic: London Borough of Bexley Local Studies and Archives. Visit www.bexley.gov.uk/archives or their facebook page www.facebook.com/BexleyArchives

14,500 Vickers Crayford factory workers pose for a photo taken on November 11, 1918. Pic: London Borough of Bexley Local Studies and Archives. Visit www.bexley.gov.uk/archives or their facebook page www.facebook.com/BexleyArchives

Archant

The big question on people’s minds on the morning of November 11, 1918, was whether or not the armistice had been signed and the fighting ended.

Neighbours eager to know gathered on the pavements with expectant glances at clock towers across Bexley and Bromley.

Then as the clocks struck 11am, the unwary were frightened almost out of their skins by the firing of maroons, a type of rocket, that signified the end of four years of brutal, hellish war.

“There was a scurrying, a joyous clamour; faces brightened and the streets soon filled with joyous people”, a report in the Bexleyheath Observer and District Times stated.

“The greatest day of all days has just dawned for England and her Allies”, the Bromley and District Times reported.

It predicted that a “regenerated civilisation, free from the hearty fear of war will arise from the terrible holocaust”.

And it pulled no punches when it came to German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II: “The dirty wet slug of a Kaiser, who had humiliated [Germany], had made his last craw”.

In Bromley, the news was spread to some by workers returning from Biggin Hill in lorries carrying the slogan “The Victory RAF” on their sides. They had heard it on the wireless.

Across the boroughs bells, silenced for years by order of the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914, rang out while people draped Union Jacks from their windows.

Workers and children streamed out of factories and schools into the streets. Pubs filled with punters drinking to the health of King George V.

In Erith, youngsters marched through the streets singing Rule Britannia.

Not even drizzling rain could dampen spirits with the Vickers factory’s military band defying the elements and marching through the district playing “popular airs in which the juvenile element joined with might and main”, the Bexleyheath Observer and District Times noted.

In Welling, the village bellman, whose chimes had been silenced for four years, announced a special service of thanksgiving that nignt where the Rev. E. Raynor called on the congregation to remember “the noble dead” of the neighbourhood who had played their part in “the glorious victory”.

In Crayford, a “mild happy Bolshevism swept over all” with men jumping into cars and heading towards Dartford and Bexleyheath to join in celebrations there.

“Many queued up for those little convivial haunts which for so long exasperatingly displayed the legend, ‘No Beer.’”, the Times stated.

But according to Max Batten of Bromley Borough Local History Society, writing in the book Home Front: Life in the towns and villages of Bromley in the Great War, peace looked unlikely in the spring of 1918 after a successful German offensive.

But in Martin’s Hill, Bromley, on August 4 there was a demonstration during which crowds cheered when Mayor Fred Gillett JP read out King George’s announcement that “a victorious peace was not far distant”.

“Nevertheless, even by October, it still seemed uncertain that war could end before Christmas”, Mr Batten states.

However, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month the guns fell silent.

Home Front describes Bromley Post Office staff stopping work briefly to join in with the crowds singing with the sound of the parish bells muffled by shutters put up as a protective measure.

But Bromley’s schoolchildren were denied an early end to the school day with the Education Committee insisting they stay in class. Beckenham’s pupils were luckier, getting the afternoon off, Mr Batten writes.

Soon after Armistice Day, discussion turned to how best to commemorate the war dead.

Bromley’s mayor suggested a memorial be raised and invited donations to pay for it.

Appeals for money and clothes to relieve hard hit Belgian families were made, Home Front states, while on November 12 boys from County School in Hayes Lane marched with banners, drums and bugles. Beckenham schoolchildren put on a firework display.

Home Front is available from eBay priced £12.

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