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County Durham on Armistice Day 1918

The end of the war - how the news was received across the county

On Monday 11 November 1918 bells rang out, colliery buzzers sounded, there were crowds on the streets, festoons of flags and fireworks. Schools, shops and workplaces closed. Many felt unable to participate in the rejoicings because they had lost loved ones or were afraid to join the crowds during the influenza epidemic.

The following extracts from the Auckland Chronicle and County Chronicle newspapers published on Thursday 14 November 1918 describe how local towns and villages received the news.


The end of the War! After more than four years of such conflict as no other generation has ever been called upon to endure the roar of the guns and the dash of the arms has ceased. What wonder, therefore, that when the Prime Minister’s announcement that an armistice had been signed in the early hours of Monday morning was spread broadcast men, women, and children should join in an outburst of thank-giving to God that all the slaughter, all the hideous devilry of warfare was at an end. And in the midst of all the rejoicing, and the raucous, delirious shouts of those who crowded our thoroughfares there was to be seen in the churches, the chapels, and in the homes that deeper and more human expression of thanks to Almighty God that deliverance had come at last from the bondage that has held us all in a vice-like grip since those fateful days in August, 1914.

To those who can recall the “Mafeking” scenes associated with the Boer War there was something intensely more stirring in the feelings which gripped all our hearts on Monday, for the simple reason that on every home throughout the length and breadth of the country the blight of this war has fallen. To many the bitterness of despair and the hideousness and cruelty of a worldwide struggle which has robbed us of those nearest and dearest was too real yet to permit of any outward participation in the scenes of rejoicing. In the silence and quietude of the home these people have already offered heartfelt expressions of gratitude, and they will face the future with the courage and determination which comes from such outpourings.

By ten o’clock on Monday morning the news had reached the North. The screeching of the colliery buzzers, the clashing of the belfries made certain the news for which all were anxiously waiting. People flocked from the villages to the towns as if drawn by some mysterious and impelling force, against which it was impossible to battle. Newgate Street, in Bishop Auckland, soon had a crowded appearance, and, as if a magician’s wand had suddenly waved, flags and banners floated from every window, and streamers linked up one shop with another across the street. Above all the din and bustle could be heard the joyous singing of the school children lined up in the playing-grounds and underneath the furled flags, giving vent to the general feeling of thankfulness in such an outburst of national song as has rarely been heard. Above, and soaring majestically through the cloudless sky, an aviator passed over the town to the accompanying cheers of those who crowded the streets.

Shops which had heavy stores of flags and bunting were besieged, and people hurried homewards to join in the big scheme of peace decorations. Youngsters invaded other shops for fireworks, and ignoring custodians of law and order, gave vent to pent-up feelings by throwing lighted squibs and crackers here, there, and everywhere. Revelry was everywhere. A party of boisterous youths threw open the window of a café and they made sport of those below, and led the singing of popular war songs. The discharged soldiers, underneath the Federation banner, marched up the street, accompanied by wounded soldiers, and sang with all the greater force because they realised only too deeply what the cessation meant.

And so the revelry continued throughout the afternoon and evening. In all places of amusement the spirit of unrestrained happiness was uppermost. Performances were constantly interrupted by explosions from crackers, and although the more timid were in a continuous state of alarm the fun went on and was continued until a late hour.
Those who felt the greater need of spiritual consolation flocked to the churches. To a crowded congregation at St. Ann’s, the bishop of Durham voiced our pent up feelings of gratitude and praise for the day of deliverance from strife.

The armistice terms are not terms of peace. The final treaty of peace may not be signed much before Christmas, but we know there is now an end in fighting and so we look forward to many new phases and to a vast amount of reconstruction. We shall need all the skill, the care and anxious thought of those upon whom will devolve the tasks that lie ahead to bring order out of chaos. There is a tremendous responsibly in which we must share alike but we shall approach the problems with all the greater courage and fortitude for having gone through the fires of a devastating war.

Old and young joined in the jubilations, and fireworks, crackers, and all kinds of festivities were indulged in to mark the cessation of hostilities. The pits both here and in the neighbourhood were laid idle on Tuesday.

When the bells of St. Mary’s rang out a merry peal during the dinner-hour there was very little inclination to resume work, not even the gong at Messrs. Smith’s foundry could induce the hands to return. The appearance of the Union Jack on the church tower and at the Barracks were quickly followed by a display of bunting on all sides, and many were the expressions of thankfulness which came from the inhabitants as they assembled in the streets. Business was in several instances suspended for the rest of the day. At night the Boy Scouts lent colour to the lively scene with a torchlight procession through the principal streets, while children joined in the demonstration, waving flags, and singing to the accompaniment of the church bells, and fireworks. The York and Lancs. held a dance in the Witham Hall, which was largely attended. Some of the business establishments remained closed on Tuesday.

A meeting held at Wesley Church, Bishop Auckland, on Monday night in support of foreign missions was well attended. Mr. A. R. Doggart presided, and the proceedings began with a verse of the Hundreth sung as an act of thanksgiving for the cessation of fighting on all fronts. The Rev. W. Wallace led the gathering in prayer. The Rev. J. J. Smith presented the financial report, which showed that during the past year Wesley Church had contributed £136 14s 7d toward foreign missions. The total raised by the Bishop Auckland Circuit was £311 16s 2d, and by the Darlington and Stockton district £4,152 2s 10d. An address was given by the Rev. A. G. Gush, formerly a missionary in West Africa.

The missionary sermons were preached at Wesley Church on Sunday by the Rev. W. Wallace, and the evening service was preceded by a short organ recital by Mr. H. W. Brotherton, who had a very large audience.

The good news was received shortly after 11.a.m, and soon flags and buntings were displayed and rousing cheers given. Owing to the cause, the church bells at Coxhoe were not rung, to the surprise and disappointment of many.

Work was suspended at many places, and workpeople gave themselves up to an enjoyable holiday, although the means of celebrating such were restricted. The school children did not get a holiday as expected.

The victory was celebrated on Monday night by a large torch-light procession round the village, headed by the Working Parties’ Minstrel Band. Afterwards, in the village and schoolyard, both old and young had a dance. The school children had a rare time. Some had a good start in the afternoon with their own procession and thought it better than turning into school. On Tuesday most of the collieries were idle, and a general holiday was observed.

The colliery buzzer was blown. The men at the collieries immediately left work, and have been idle since. The afternoon shift of the coke ovens did not turn out, and the only people at work were the officials and the office staff. Processions, consisting of the Church Lads’ Brigade, paraded the streets. Fog signals and fireworks were fired.

The welcome news was received very quietly in Cockfield, due in a large measure to a restraint of feelings in respect of those who are bereaved of loved ones. The bells rang out a glad peal, and the colliery buzzers also loudly proclaimed the receipt of the tidings. The band played the National Anthems on the green and the children disported themselves by the “letting off” of fireworks.

When the news arrived the usually quiet streets soon presented an animated appearance. The back shift men at the local collieries did not go to work. Councillor G. Richardson, Mr. T. Weston, and Mr. J. Thompson, assistant overseer, made the arrangements for a torchlight procession in the evening, and headed by the local Volunteer Band and the Church Lad’s Brigade Band and bugles, a monster procession paraded round the parish. At the conclusion of the procession patriotic airs were played by the Band, cheers given for the various Allied leaders, and the singing of the National Anthem concluded a very patriotic gathering. At the Parish Church a thanksgiving service was held, the large edifice being filled. The sermon was preached by the Vicar (the Rev. F. J. W. Hill), who took for the text the words: “But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Appropriate hymns were sung, the service concluding with the singing of the Te Deum.

Fireworks were discharged in the streets and bonfires lit in various places, while towards night the inhabitants were delighted to display lights in their windows as in pre-war times. Coxhoe Brass Band paraded through the village, followed by crowds of children and adults singing and cheering. Some of the collieries were loosed out, and were again idle on Tuesday. The celebrations were kept up to a late hour. Coxhoe residents are arranging to hold a larger celebration, and for the purposes of completing details held a public meeting in the Wesleyan School last Wednesday night.

No sooner did the buzzers begin to blow then there was a general rush into the streets. Before noon Hope-st. was lined from side to side and from end to end with bunting, and the spacious Market-place was streaming with flags. The school children were promptly gathered together, and the National Anthem sung with much feeling. From the tower of St. Cuthbert’s the flag floated and the bells chimed joyously far into the night. Fireworks were heard all over the town, to quite a late hour. Lights were noticed on the fine tower of St. Cuthbert’s Church at night, each light said to represent a fallen hero identified with the church. Father Hayes also gathered a choir of young choristers on the top of the commanding tower, where they sang the National Anthem and other patriotic pieces. News came, rather late, on Tuesday that all the schools in the district would have holiday for the remainder of the week.

With amazing quickness streets, and thoroughfares in the city and district were transformed from their dull sombrous appearance on Monday into a spectacle betokening the great joy which the message had brought in its train. Flags and streamers, festoons and garlands of bright hue were unearthed after years of obscurity and fluttered in the breeze outside practically every shop and dwelling; the bells of Durham Cathedral and the many churches rang out the great tidings, buzzers tooted forth in various keys, and on every hand the magnetic effect of the news was manifest. But, yet, there was no untoward sign of boisterous hilarity.

The official message was made known to a vast concourse of people assembled in Durham Market-place in the early afternoon by the Mayor (Ald. G. H. Proctor) from the Town Hall Balcony. Accompanying him were the Mayoress, the Dean, the High Sheriff (Mr. Broderick Dale), Ald. S. Galbraith, M. P., and members of the Corporation. Addresses appropriate to the occasion were made by the Mayor, the Dean, the Deputy-Mayor (Ald. D. Pattinson), and the High Sherriff, cheers were raised, and re-echoed again and again round the old Market-square for Marshal Foch, Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and others of the Allied leaders, and the Durham miners, and the Band of the 52nd Batt. Northumberland Fusiliers interspersed the memorable proceedings with patriotic and popular airs.

In the evening a number of students, in humorous affair, and headed by an energetic bellman, conducted a torchlight procession through the crowded thoroughfares, and from afar and near reports of fireworks could be heard and flares of many bonfires seen.

At Broompark an effigy of the Kaiser was placed in a wicker chair and committed to the flames.
The school children of the city were liberated at noon on Monday for the remainder of the week, and on Tuesday it was announced that the public elementary schools in the County area would be closed until next Monday.

All the collieries in the district were idle on Tuesday, and many of the men were absent from work again yesterday.

Message from the Dean
The Dean of Durham (Dr. Weldon), asked for an expression of opinion on the signing of the armistice said:
“The armistice, if it leads, as I do not doubt it will lead, to peace, may almost be said to be the greatest event in human history. It is the deliverance of humanity from the most formidable evil which has I think ever hung over it. Napoleon’s downfall was not so dramatic as the Kaiser’s, and whatever Napoleon’s ambitions may have been he did not plunge the whole world into an ocean of bloodshed.
“Nor was there then so clear an issue as there has been in the present war between the principle of military force and the principle of international morality. There can be no doubt that if Germany had conquered France to-day she would have been prepared for war against Great Britain to-morrow, and she would have looked forward to a war with the United States of America in the future. In other words, might, armed to the teeth, would have been triumphant all over the world.
“Mankind is now delivered, as it were, from a nightmare – from a horror of great darkness.
“I hope the Allies will solemnly inaugurate an era of peace and goodwill. I hope there will be ample security exacted for the peaceful development of national life all the world over, and ample reparation for the injury which has been done to so many innocent peoples. But I hope the peace which will be made will be a righteous and not a vindictive peace, because it would not be a gain that Germany should be left with a rankling sense of injustice in the heart of her people. Only the world must be made safe, and safe for democracy, as President Wilson has said, in all time.
“I look forward myself to a League of Nations, and as its consequence a gradual reduction of armaments, naval and military, to the minimum strength necessary for the preservation of order. I believe, too, that out of all this welter of sorrow and suffering will emerge a new world, better and brighter than the world has ever been before.
“It is my earnest prayer that the British Empire, standing as it does on an eminence unknown before in the judgement of the nations, may lead the way in a new era – that the nations of mankind will treat each other in the spirit of Christian gentlemen, realising in the long run the nations are not natural enemies, but natural friends, bound together by ties so intimate that the good of each nation, if it is truly understood, is the good of all and the good of all is good of each.”

When the joyful tidings arrived at Easington Colliery the men and boys “downed tools”, and rejoicing began. As if by magic, the streets were soon gay with flags and streamers, and the band was out in the shortest possible time, followed by a massed crowd of hundreds of people. On Tuesday no work was thought of; the band was again in the streets and the town en fete. In the afternoon the Horden Rag-Time Band added considerably to the hilarity of the occasion. Thanksgiving services are being held in Church of the Ascension.

Provision stores and drapery establishments closed immediately for the day. Coal mines and many other works were idle of Tuesday. Fireworks were freely used until a late hour.

Local buzzers were blown as a signal that hostilities had ceased. The glad event was celebrated by young and old. The village band played national and patriotic tunes on the village green, and some dance music, to which many “tripped the light fantastic toe”. Free dances were also held at the Unionist Hall and Railey Fell Institute. A large number of men laid idle on Tuesday, both at Randolph and Railey Fell Collieries. The child attending Evenwood National and Ramshaw Council Schools were given a half-day holiday on Tuesday afternoon. Randolph Colliery was idle yesterday (Wednesday). A feature of Monday night’s celebrations was a parade of the village by hundreds of children waving their flags and marshalled by Mr. John Thorburn, of Chapel St.

Much rejoicing was experienced in the Ferryhill District. The night shift lads at some of the collieries took upon themselves to have a holiday, and this led to the collieries being loosed out, and on Tuesday the whole of the collieries in the neighbourhood were idle. The Union Jack was hoisted at the collieries, and the places of business and in the miners’ dwellings. The Dean Bank Salvation Army Band headed a procession in the evening, and some hundreds of adults and children took part in the arrangements.

In the evening the church bells rang out, and an amateur brass band was organised, which paraded the village, playing suitable pieces. The children were supplied with fireworks free by a local shopkeeper.

When the news reached Horden flags and bunting were immediately streaming from the windows of nearly every house. The news spread rapidly into the pit, and many of the night and middle shifts men and boys laid idle. The rag-time band was out, and the streets lined with people. Rockets were sent up by the local soldiers and squibs, crackers, and fireworks of every description were going all day and night by the children. The pits were left open, but many failed to be present on Tuesday.

The glad tidings were first made known to the people by the blowing of the colliery buzzers and the ringing of the church bell. Rapidly people began to display flags and bunting. At night the village band paraded the streets, and gave programmes of music. Most of the local works ceased work. On Tuesday the band gave further concerts in the neighbourhood during the day.

The blowing of the buzzers caused jubilation in the village. A thanksgiving service was conducted by the Vicar (the Rev. T. H. Hurrell) on Tuesday night in Helmington Square. The band was out on the Monday, and dancing took place in the Square, and the band had organised a dance in the Infant School, which realised £7.

In the Langley Moor and Brandon district processions of the inhabitants in peculiar garb took place on Tuesday and the Salvation Army and Brandon Colliery bands paraded through the streets and generally contributed to the joyfulness of the occasion. Since Monday the holiday spirit has been in the air. The local colliers were idle on Tuesday, and many of the colliers are likely to remain off for the remainder of the week to celebrate the good news.

Last night a social and dance on a large scale was held in the Parochial Hall, Meadowfield. Whist was followed by music and dancing, patriotic addresses were delivered and the proceedings generally were infused with a splendid feeling of good-fellowship.

Langley Park was bright with colour as a result of the signing of the armistice, and a general feeling of thankfulness prevails. The school children paraded the streets on Tuesday afternoon, and in the evening a concert was held in the Hippodrome, at which addresses were delivered by Coun. R. Davis, Mr. Cheetham and Mr. Lawson. The whole of the proceeds, amounting to about £10 were generously handed over by Mrs. Winter to the local Welcome Home Fund.

Shildon has been badly hit during the war, inasmuch as a large number of her sons have made the supreme sacrifice, and many have returned home maimed for life. It was not surprising that when the news came through that the war was ended there were general rejoicings on all sides. The feelings of joy had their outward manifestation in the profusion of flags and bunting displayed within a short space of time, the ringing of the Church bells, blowing of buzzers, and the smiling faces of young and old alike.

There was a cessation of work at the N.E.R. shops and the collieries, the shops and schools were closed for the rest of the day, and the people flocked into the streets of the town.

A public celebration at Shildon must needs have a procession, and shortly after 3.0 p.m. the sound of a band, under the leadership of Mr. H. Gibbon, heralded the coming of what was a splendid procession, considering the impromptu manner in which it had been arranged. Following the band came Inspector Bennett and Sergt. Bowe, Coun. W.R. Hopps, J. P, and members of the Urban Council, the Rev. R. B. Watts (vicar) and the clergy of St John’s Church, together with the surpliced choir, members of the V.A.D., B. P. Scouts, Church Lad’s Brigade, employees of the Co-operative Stores in conveyances, accompanied by Mr. M. Watson, J. P. (manager), discharged soldiers, and hundreds of school children with their flags making a brave show.

After a parade around the town the procession wended its way to the Recreation Ground, where speeches were made from the bandstand. Coun. W. R. Hoppes, J. P., said they were met under very happy circumstances. In the providence of God the enemy had not reached our shores, and there had been a splendid turning of the tide. We had been fighting for liberty, and fighting against the doctrine that might should rule, and our cause had succeeded. (Applause.)

The gathering that day was only a preliminary for the Government would be fixing a general Thanksgiving Day. When that day came Shildon would not be behindhand. Shildon had not been behindhand in sacrifice for the war, for the flower of manhood had been freely offered. They were sorry that some would not return home, but their sacrifice had been a noble one and for a noble cause (Applause.)

Councillor R. Morton paid a tribute to the lads who had fought and suffered and died. He appealed for assistance for the Permanent Memorial Fund and for the Christmas Cheer Fund. Some people had thought that the latter fund would not be necessary, but surely if gratitude were to be shown to our soldiers it should be now. Coun. Morton asked that any relatives of soldiers who had won decorations would communicate with the Roll of Honour Committee.

The Rev. H. B. Watts, vicar of St. John’s Church, then invited the audience to a thanksgiving service in the church at 7.p.m., and an enthusiastic meeting concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

There was a large congregation in the Parish Church at night, and the congregation included the members of Shildon Urban Council. The Vicar preached the sermon, and the hymns included the National Anthem. A thanksgiving service in the New Shildon P.M. Church was conducted by Mr. T. A. Martindale and Mr. C. A. Brown, and the service concluded with the singing of the National Anthem.

The news was received in Spennymoor with mingled feelings of joy and sadness – joy that the long struggle was over and sadness on the part of those whose loved ones will never return. The town was soon en fete, and the children paraded the streets, singing patriotic songs and shouting, “Daddy will soon be home again.” At night there was an abundance of fireworks, and the Whitworth and Salvation Army bands played selections of music. Work ceased at some of the collieries, and many places of business closed for the rest of the day.

Manifestations of relief and delight were strongly in evidence in the two townships. The bells at the Parish Church confirmed the rumours which were current. Almost every house displayed a flag of some description. Work ceased at midday at the local collieries, and during the afternoon the Silver Prize Band, accompanied by a crowd of flag-waving and cheering children, paraded the streets. In the evening a service of thanksgiving was held in the Parish Church. The Vicar, the Rev. Dr. Short, preached from the text, “If the Lord Himself had not been on our side when men rose up against us, then they had swallowed us up quick when they were so wrathfully displeased at us.” (Psalm 124 v. 23. Prayer Book version).

There was a sound of revelry by night which continued until the early hours of the morning. On Tuesday the two collieries were idle, the band again paraded the villages, which presented a gay appearance, and the holiday spirit, long supressed, was given a free rein. Sad thoughts, engendered by the remembrance of bereaved homes, tinged with the day’s happiness, but a feeling of indescribable relief at the termination of hostilities was the dominant feature of a memorable day in the lives of old and young alike.

Merry peals rang out on Monday afternoon and night from the old church tower. A thanksgiving service was held in the church at night. The band played in the streets, followed by a big crowd. Flags and bunting were displayed everywhere. The bells, buzzers, and engines in the local quarries were all set going. The German prisoners at work in the quarries downed tools, as did lots of the quarrymen. The schools got holiday, and the children joined in the rejoicing.

Victory and rejoicing had a sombre side, for many are the bereaved by the war of their loved ones. Some 35 Stanhope soldiers have made the great sacrifice for the world’s liberty and freedom, and the feelings of the relatives were saddened by their loss.

The church bells of Heathery Clough parish were rang.

The Trimdons soon put on a gay and festive air, almost every house having flags etc. flying. A thanksgiving service was held in the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Trimdon Colliery, at night, when short and appropriate speeches were given by Mr Minto, of Lumley, Mr Hill, and Mr Preston. Mr E. Rodwell presided over a large attendance. A few minutes were spent in silent prayer, and at intervals during the service appropriate hymns were rendered by the choir. A thanksgiving service was held in St Paul’s Church, Trimdon Colliery, which was conducted by the vicar, Reverend WJ Whitehead.

The news received in Thornley and Wheatley Hill about 11 o’clock on Monday morning caused great delight. The streets at once became animated, and children carrying flags sang through the streets. Many large flags were exhibited from windows and as soon as time permitted bunting was stretched across the streets. Only a handful of men went to work at the pits in the afternoon shifts, many of the younger men hastening on bicycles to witness the scenes in the nearest towns. Unfortunately, the rejoicing at Thornley over the armistice was marred by the receipt of the news at the same time of the death in action of Second Lieutenant John S Youll, Northumberland Fusilier, the young Thornley officer who recently gained the Victoria Cross.

As soon as the news arrived in Willington, colliery buzzers began to blow and bells to ring. Gleeful shouts and singing by school children was heard. The streets were decorated with flags and streamers. An effigy of the Kaiser was suspended from a clothes-line in one street. Many of the surface workers at Brancepeth Colliery ceased work at noon. Detonators were exploded from mid-day to midnight. In the evening Willington Silver Prize Band headed a monster procession through the streets, playing patriotic airs. Many in the procession wore fancy costume, and carried torch-lights. A public meeting was held, near the Police-station.

There were scenes of jubilation in Wingate especially among the children. The schools had holiday on Tuesday. There was a great demand for fireworks by the youngsters, but there were not many on sale. The boys’ life brigade paraded the streets.

The first public intimation (although it was known privately in the town earlier in the morning) was the blowing of the Steelworks buzzer at about a quarter to twelve. Immediately flags, banners, and bunting, were floating from windows, and business premises, and workmen taking “French leave” were soon streaming out of the works. Large numbers of Canadian soldiers were soon in the town from the Shull Camp. The church bells pealed forth in joyful sounds and merry, smiling friends were exchanging greetings in the streets. A jolly hand of improvised instrumentalists kept up a lively “din” until a late hour; whilst a hastily arranged dance at the Parish Hall was kept swinging from 7 till 2 next morning.

Contributed by Fiona | Durham County Record Office