By Lynda Regan
When the euphoria of the Armistice announcement wore off Doncaster could contemplate a return to ordinary life; a life without war.
The war had affected the lives of every person in the town and there were children who had never experienced life in peacetime. Things would never be the same again with so many loved ones killed and injured but reading the newspapers of the time brings a sense that people wanted to do the best they could to return to some sort of normality.
It couldn’t happen overnight, but one of the main catalysts for change was the General Election which had been called for the 14th of December. The vote count was delayed until the 28th to ensure all postal votes from those still abroad could be included.
The papers were full of the election, with a column written by “A Woman Voter” urging women to use their hard won votes. On December 13th there was an article in the Chronicle about postal votes “arriving from the battlefields”. Despite all the hard canvassing, by the Labour Party in particular, people didn’t seem quite as excited as the campaigners would have liked. The report for the election in Crowle was typical, reading “The election passed off very quietly, and never has so little interest been manifested in such an event”. Turnout was much lower than in previous elections, and the Doncaster newspapers reported that it was only the women voting for the first time that made them as high as they were. They didn’t vote much differently to their menfolk it seems as the Liberal candidate held the seat once again.
There were a lot of things that carried on the same and still had to be endured despite any hopes that a new government would bring about eventual improvements.
Rather than lists and photos of the dead the newspapers now carried photos of returning prisoners – though among them were still pictures of a few who had died in action or from the flu.
Flu continued to claim victims at home too, though by Dec 13th it was reported the epidemic was abating but that schools should remain closed till into the New Year. The Askern District News on this day has a very poignant piece, “There have been many sad cases in the village, whole families taken down at once, two mothers taken and large families of little ones left, another victim, a fine healthy boy of fifteen, succumbed after a short illness. Truly, despite the fact that peace is here, this is a sad time for many.”
Though adverts for War Savings Certificates still appeared in the papers, by the 6th of December they were headed “Peace Time Saving” and pointed out that “your country still needs money, (7m men still under arms)” , and in the December 13th edition of the Chronicle they were being advertised as ideal Christmas gifts!
Getting enough food remained a struggle and an article about “National Kitchens and Restaurants” stated that despite the fact there was some easing in restrictions, rationing would continue for two years and that these institutions were still needed. These were not soup kitchens but local endeavours to make sure everyone got a good meal for a small fee. In December two small boys aged 8 and 9 appeared in court for stealing 14s from the National Kitchen in Edlington.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though as once again people determined to make the most of what they had and to look forward to a better future for the town.
There was still a feeling of patriotism and pride abroad in the town, as shown when Lloyd George, the Prime Minister, was spotted on a train in Doncaster Station in December and heartily cheered. A good crowd turned out to see a moving ceremony in front of the Mansion House when the Mayor handed back the colours to the 5th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. A colour party had come from France to receive the colours from Doncaster Corporation, who had held them in safe keeping during the four years of the war.
People felt more able to laugh and enjoy themselves without guilt as the jokes sections reappeared in the newspapers and horse racing returned, with a full programme for the Doncaster course in 1919 announced at the end of December.
Though there were still limits on how much gas and electricity could be used, by the end of November an article in the Chronicle described how wonderful it was to have lighting restrictions lifted in time for Christmas. There was more excitement about Christmas and hope for the future, with the feeling that finally it could be enjoyed as it was before the war. An advert for A.E Reed called it the “Peace Xmas” and gave “best wishes for the Year of Progress 1919”.
Hopes for Doncaster’s further expansion and prosperity came towards the end of December with announcements of plans for eight more coal mines to be opened in the area, all of which had been delayed by the war. This would have been great news given the need for employment for returning men, many of whom were miners. The reporter for the Chronicle said “There appears to be no doubt that within the next five or ten years, Doncaster and District will become twice as large and important as it is today as a great centre for coal and commercialism.”
As far back as October 1918 there had been moves to set up war memorials to the fallen of the war so that they would never be forgotten. There were strong feelings though that these should be simple tributes and that large amounts of public money should not be lavished on them. As the originator of the Balby War Shrine wrote to the Chronicle in Late December “a simple and dignified memorial will be the best tribute to ‘Balby’s valiant dead’. Any surplus might be booked to Mr Bingham’s admirable scheme for a new Royal Infirmary (as a general war memorial for Greater Doncaster) or reserved for the benefit of the sick, blind and crippled service men soon to be in our midst as worthy objects of our love and benevolence.”
And so with hope for the future and determination never to forget the ones who gave their lives, Doncaster entered 1919. In June the Treaty of Versailles was finally signed and peace officially declared.