The Armistice was declared at 11am on November 11 1918. However, it was not until the Treaty of Versailles was signed that the First World War was officially at an end. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War Project describes how Poole marked the declaration of peace and remembrance.
The local newspaper reported that the Peace Treaty was signed at Versailles on June 28 1919 ‘bringing to an end the greatest war the world has ever known’. How did Poole react? The newspaper reported that the news arrived in Poole at 4pm. People gathered in the High Street, flags and bunting appeared throughout the town, ships blew their sirens, and young people bought and set off fireworks. More fireworks were let off from the town and boats during the evening. What followed was a series of spectacular celebrations.
‘Poole’s Great 1919 Joy Day’ was held in Poole Park on July 9 1919. It had been hoped that airship S.R.I would fly over the town to advertise the ‘Victory Loan’ but unfortunately this did not happen. The town was decorated with flags and bunting and a carnival procession of 250 people and numerous floats went from West Quay Road to Poole Park where there was music, sports, boxing and dancing. It is believed that 14,000 people attended the event.
The Government announced that Saturday July 19 1919 was the official National Day for celebrating peace. The notification only appeared at the beginning of July but it was hoped that events would take place even though the time was short. It was also announced that Sunday July 6 1919 was the day for a National Service of Thanksgiving and in Poole this took place at St James’ Church.
Poole Peace Celebrations were held on Friday and Saturday 18 and 19 July 1919 – once again in Poole Park. Friday was for children and Saturday was for adults and ex-servicemen. Businesses in the town closed on the Saturday and the Post Office was open from 8.30am to 10am with only one delivery of letters. The Children’s Day was attended by 6,500 children with each school having an allotted space in the Park. Each child received a slice of cake and hot sweet tea was supplied in buckets and baths. After the tea and cake, the children were able to take part in sideshows such as hoopla, skittles, roundabouts and various sports. The Poole Town Band played music in the evening. While Friday’s event took place in bright sunshine, Saturday’s celebrations were spoilt by the wet weather. After processing to the park, 2000 men were given lunch in marquees. Unfortunately, the sports and water events were not held because of the weather. In the evening, fireworks were set off in the town and a large bonfire was lit on Constitution Hill.
Poole also held a ‘Peace Regatta’ on August 2 and 4 1919 with the aim of recognising the sacrifice made by merchant seaman during the First World War. The idea developed from a suggestion by the Mayor of Poole, Major Dolby. The British Motor Boat Club had already planned a meeting in Poole Harbour for that weekend and, even though time was short, it was decided to expand it into a much larger event. Fields adjoining Salterns Works and ‘The Elms’ house were opened up for the crowds of visitors and a ferry went from Poole Quay and motor vehicles ran from Poole Park. On Saturday and Monday there were motor boat and sailing races. On Monday there was a full day of activities with races, rowing and ‘amusing aquatic sports’ such as the greasy pole; the latter activities were organised by Sandbanks RAF. Other entertainments included the Poole Town Band, sideshows, and dancing. In the evening, there was a firework display, boats were lit up and Salterns Pier was decorated with Chinese lanterns – even the Poole Gas Works crane had lanterns. The money raised was to be used in the establishment of the Russell-Cotes Nautical School in Poole which was to train boys for the Merchant Navy.
Apart from the special celebrations there were the more reflective events. Under a headline, ‘The Day of Remembrance’, the local newspaper reported that on November 11 1919 the ringing of church bells took place just before 11am. At 11am, trade stopped for 2 minutes, people stood still in the streets and ships put their flags at half-mast. Afterwards, churches and chapels opened their doors for people to remember those who had died.
A year later there was an element of unhappiness expressed in the local newspaper that because the town did not have a war memorial there was no focal point for remembrance. Also, in contrast to the previous year, only a few flags were flown at half-mast and while the traffic stopped for 2 minutes there were still people milling about ‘in an unconcerned manner’. The evening was marked by a firework and torchlight display in Poole Park. The park was also to be illuminated. Admission was 6d for adults and 3d for children and there was a competition to guess the number of people who came to the display – tickets 3d with a prize of £5. For many, the prize was the equivalent of a week’s wages. Interestingly the newspaper reported that ’smoke clouds’ would be used to hide the display from those outside the Park. All the profits were to go to the Cornelia Hospital.
In September 1921, a major event took place in Poole Park to raise funds for the Tank Corps Compassionate Fund and Association. A grandstand was setup together with a special racetrack. The Grenadier Guards band came from London to play music during intervals in the event and Percy Hodge, the Olympic steeplechase champion from Surrey, gave a demonstration of hurdling. The Tank Corps Gymnastic team gave a display and there was a race for ‘cyclotracteurs’, which were bicycles with a small engine on the front wheel. After a series of sports events involving entrants from Poole and the South of England there was dancing, various sideshows and, in the evening, fireworks to be enjoyed. Prizes for the sports events were awarded by Lady Elles, wife of Sir Hugh Elles, Colonel Commandant of the Tank Corps.
1921 marked the change from Armistice Day to Remembrance Day. Artificial ‘Flanders poppies’ made by women and children in the war-affected areas of France were also on sale for the first time. The profits were to go to Lord Haig’s Fund for the Widows and Children and it was hoped that everybody would wear a poppy on the day. Miss F.E. Lever of Longfleet Poole, Hon. Sec. of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps Old Comrades Association, was a driving force behind their sale and she encouraged all women who were ex-service to get involved. Demand outstripped supply on the day and paper had to be bought to make ‘homemade’ poppies. The substantial sum of £195 0s 1 1/2d was raised in Poole. Oddly, the Local Education Committee had refused to allow the British Legion to sell poppies in schools.
The remembrance event in 1921 was larger than the previous year. A stage was set up near the Free Library in the centre of Poole and members of the Tank Corps, an armoured car, and trumpeters from the 5th Battalion Tank Corps were in attendance. The Mayor of Poole and various dignitaries gathered on the stage just before 11am as crowds waited in front of the library and on the High Street for the service of prayers. The theme of the previous years of the morning for a time of remembrance and the evening as a celebration for those who had returned was continued with a ‘meat tea’ being provided for all ex-servicemen of Poole and Hamworthy at the Shaftesbury and Liberal Halls.