How Doncaster Celebrated the Armistice

By Lynda Regan

The Armistice was signed on Monday 11th November 1918. People had been expecting and hoping for it so there was a buzz in the town as people awaited the news.

For Mayor Jackson it was certainly an exciting day in more ways than one as it was also his first day in office.

Armistice is declared on the steps of the Mansion House. Heritage Doncaster.

Armistice is declared on the steps of the Mansion House. Heritage Doncaster.

News of the Armistice arrived almost simultaneously at the newspaper offices and the Mansion House.  The Mayor made the first public declaration at the Police Court where on a normal first Monday in office he would have taken the chair. News quickly spread and as the Doncaster Chronicle reported “men and women cheered, cried, laughed, danced and went almost delirious in their joyful abandon”.

The Mayor and the other officials then had to set about organising the official declaration and deciding how the rest of the day should go.

By 12 noon all was ready and Mayor Jackson read out the official announcement to a huge crowd from the steps of the Mansion House. The reporter from the Chronicle gave a stirring eye witness account of what happened next:

Cheer after cheer rose up. Windows and balconies were full of sightseers. The ubiquitous photographer snapped the historic photo. And as we turned away lo, the face of the town was transformed. Workers poured out of mill and factory. School boys appeared in swarms. Flags were thrust out of windows. Coloured ribbons leaped by magic to the breasts of the ladies and the button-holes of the men. Nobody wanted to work – in fact nobody DID work, and that’s the sober truth. The Mayor was quick to grip the situation, and when he announced that at a quarter past one he would make a second declaration from the Mansion House we felt that he was ready to suggest, if not indeed to declare that the remainder of the day should be spent as a public holiday.

So a quarter past one found us outside the Mansion House again. The crowd was bigger than ever. It seethed with excitement, it bubbled over with good humour, it palpitated with emotion. We shook hands with everybody. There was no cloud in the sky. The brilliant November sunshine seemed to make the air sparkle. Hearts were full of joy and faces beamed with a gladness that words were unable to express. The Mayor again read the details of the Armistice. He asked that shops should be closed and that everybody should make holiday. The Plant workers were out already. The miners were hastening up from the pits as fast as the cages could bring them to the light of day. Then he announced that at three o’ clock there would be a town procession to the market square and there we should join in public Thanksgiving to the Almighty for the great and glorious victory our arms had won.”

Mayor Jackson – Doncaster Gazette 15th Nov 18

The Mayor announced that lighting restrictions would be lifted and gave permission for fireworks and bonfires to be lit. Our reporter went on to say:

“And so we streamed away a second time – but not to work! Who wanted to work! Peace had come! Hurrah! and again Hurrah! The church bells were crashing out their message, pit and workshop buzzers sounded their raucous booming cry, tram-cars clanged their way through good humoured crowds, men and women danced on the pavement in sheer delirium. Thank God for peace at last!”

The procession at 3pm, led by the Golden Mace of office, was a huge affair with a great crowd joining in and enjoying the rousing speeches; especially that by Archdeacon Sandford, who apparently brought tears to the crowds with his eloquence and understanding of what people had been through in the war and his message of hope for the future.

And then at night the town came even more alive as our correspondent in the Chronicle described for us:

The streets, if not ablaze with light, at any rate offered striking contrast to the gloomy days of the past. House doors were open, the upper windows of shops threw great splashes of light on the pavement, amusement houses had all their lights going and a flood of radiance beamed on the passing crowd.”

Doncaster Chronicle 15 Nov 1918

There was an illuminated tram going round the town centre surmounted with a crown and with the words “Victory” and “Peace” on either side. The Bullcroft Band played from its upper deck as it went on its way.

The Mansion House windows were all lit up and the “YMCA at the Glyn was a mass of fairy coloured lamps and from the balcony Miss Elsie Frood and others led thousands of people in moving songs like “Land of Hope and Glory”.”

The Picture House let people in for free, the Volunteer Band played in the Market Square and fireworks were let off. Everybody lost their inhibitions for once, as our reporter was happy to say:

“Why even I was kissed full on the lips by a buxom maid in the High Street! I do not know the girl but who am I to complain of that!”

Meanwhile there was a thanksgiving service in the Priory Place Wesleyan Church and in every theatre and cinema the National Anthem was “sung and played with joyful fervour”. The celebrations went on far into the night;

“And still the crowds patrolled the streets…till the bands played their last tunes…and the last reveller faded out of sight and the stars and moon looked down on the sleeping town. And so November Eleven passed into history”