Peace negotiations began on 18 January 1919 in Paris and it would be six months before the signing of Treaty of Versailles finally agreed peace terms with Germany.
As talks progressed in Paris, Doncaster started to plan what festivities there should be once the Peace was finally official. It soon became apparent it wasn’t going to be easy.
The first reference to planning peace “festivities” in the local newspapers came in February, with a report of a council discussion of what should be done. This included a pledge that it would cost the public nothing; there should be no appeal for subscriptions. But by April, the Corporation (council) appeared to have switched their priorities, stating that they didn’t want it to be a distraction from the arrangements for the War Memorial. The view was that “every pound saved by the Corporation from needless expenditure on peace jubilations will be a pound available toward the handsome contribution with which the municipality may give a magnificent “lead” in the matter of the permanent War Memorial”.
In true Doncaster fashion, local areas started making their own preparations, with a meeting being held in Carcroft in early March, for instance, to discuss what might be done.
June brought the news that the treaty with Germany would soon be signed, but there was still nothing announced about any peace celebrations in the town. Preparations in the surrounding villages were more advanced, with Axholme planning to have joint peace celebrations with Gainsborough, for example.
On Tuesday 1st July, the government announced that there should be Thanksgiving services held throughout the country on Sunday July 6th, then a day of national rejoicing on Saturday 19th. Doncaster quickly got to grips with organising the Thanksgiving, but the 19th July proved more difficult.
It was agreed that there would be a parade on the 6th, starting from the Mansion House and processing to the Parish Church (now known as Doncaster Minster). The parade would include the Mayor and Corporation, the Doncaster detachment of the 3rd KOYLI, boy scouts and many other organisations. The service at the Parish Church would be taken by the Bishop of Sheffield, while many other churches held their own services, including the United Free Church at Priory Place. In a time where religious observance was much more widespread than today, the Mayor “made a strong appeal to the inhabitants of Doncaster to attend some form of public worship”.
As for the July 19th arrangements, it was quickly agreed that Market day would be moved to the Friday, but then it became clear that the amount of time required to deliver all the plans that had been made was insufficient; for instance the illumination of the Mansion House could not be accomplished by the 19th. It was decided to scale down and just hold a tea and sports for children – if the catering could be accomplished in time. In this event, it couldn’t, and Doncaster ended up with no peace festivities on the official day, instead going for the children’s event only on the 25th July.
Across the country there was controversy about the organisation of peace celebrations. While some were eager to see them go ahead, others protested that the money would be better spent constructing memorials or funding soldiers’ pensions.
The Doncaster Gazette’s letters page on the 18th July was fully taken up with people’s strong views:
“Disgusted Burgess” wrote “It is now understood that the Corporation, with their accustomed vigour and energy, have decided to celebrate the declaration of peace by doing nothing except giving a treat to school children. If this be correct it will not only be a lasting disgrace to the town but we shall be a laughing stock even to the villages in the neighbourhood. There are now in Doncaster hundreds of returned soldiers. Is nothing to be done to welcome them? Is it all to be left to the YMCA?”
There was an equally critical letter from “A Soldier’s Wife” who wrote at length expressing her disgust, pointing out that it had been known since 11th November 1918 that the peace celebrations would be held around the 4th of August and so 19th July was only a little earlier.
“My husband was an old soldier who re-enlisted voluntarily. The men never said ‘there wasn’t time’…our worthy Mayor had the chance to shine…share the catering contracts if one firm can’t do it. All that is needed is a little more energy. Don’t let Doncaster always be so slow…we all hope we shall never need another Victory Treat”.
Meanwhile, villages and organisations frantically set about finalising their own plans and raising the money themselves. The Workhouse announced there would be tea and sports for all the inmates, while in Moorends they made a bid for independence, deciding to hold their own celebrations rather than travel to Thorne – they called it their “Peace Day at Home”.
There wasn’t universal support for the celebrations though – Bentley Council decided not to mark the occasion at all.
The YMCA weren’t content to let the official Bank Holiday go quiet in Doncaster and they stepped in to “provide a programme of events which will relieve the dullness of Peace Celebration day in Doncaster”. They formed a committee and came up with an ambitious programme which was to include sports events on Intake playing fields, a procession, a concert from the balcony of the Central, a torchlight procession and fireworks. The Mayor gave his official sanction, no doubt pleased to be relieved of the burden and cost!
All over the country there was dissatisfaction among many returning servicemen at their treatment, and strong feeling among them that money should not be wasted on celebrations. Other ex-servicemen however were unhappy about the lack of official celebrations. Doncaster reflected fully those nationwide feelings, illustrated most notably by the “Attack on the Mansion House” on 17th July.
While a charity ball was being held in the Mansion House, which was a blaze of light from the chandeliers within, men outside, including some ex-soldiers, were outraged that the “joy day” celebrations had been cancelled and they were scraping by trying to make ends meet.
They attempted to get in but, despite numerous attempts by police and officials to explain what was going on inside and calm things down, the scene became ugly as the crowd outside grew and feelings ran high. Windows in the Mansion House were smashed and missiles thrown at the police, one of whom, Sgt Gray, suffered a head injury from a piece of lime that went right through his helmet. The crowd also rushed the Mayor’s house and smashed windows there. It took a police baton charge to finally bring things under control.
Mayor Jackson felt that he had been unjustly given the full blame for the failure of the peace celebration plans. He put up posters around the town in which he protested against the events of that Thursday night and the “baseless slander and calumny” heaped upon him. He gave a resume of the proceedings in the Peace Celebrations Committee and the Town Council that had led up to the cancellation of the celebrations. He said that personally he would be only too glad to carry out the plans, but that no money had been handed over to him for the purpose and that nor could it be without the consent of the Council. The Doncaster Gazette supported him in its editorial of the 25th July and called for less of a “carping spirit” within the town.
So the battle for the Doncaster Peace Celebrations had been fought – click here to find out what happened on the day.