“The Great Fact of Peace”

Back in 2014, we took a peek at the news the people of Wagga had received of the coming war and the declaration thereof in August 1914 (see Universal Calamity Impending).

Now that it is 2018 and one hundred years since the signing of the Armistice, it is worth looking again. With no internet, television, or radio, when did the people of Wagga know the armistice had been signed and how did they react to the news?

11 November 1918

Only one of Wagga’s newspapers, The Daily Advertiser, has issues which have survived from 1918 and it is that journal which very helpfully provides us with a detailed account of how the news was delivered to the town:

Vancouver to Wagga
“Vancouver to Wagga – One Hour”: The Daily Advertiser article, published on 12 November 1918, on each step the tremendous news took to reach the people of Wagga Wagga.

In that same 12 November edition of the paper, an enthusiastic report was given of the spontaneous gathering in the streets that appeared as soon as the people heard the news that evening:

“As the shot of the Serajevo assassin set alight the finely primed powder barrel of militaristic Europe, so the announcement of the conclusion of an armistice between the Entente Allies and the German democratised Empire early last night loosed the spring, high tensioned by the sacrifices, the loves and hates of four and a half years of bloody war.

“Like a fire the news spread through the town, awakening the motor horns and making articulate all things above or upon the earth capable of uttering a discord or emitting a sound.  The Commonwealth embargo on kerosene tins seemed to have been suddenly lifted, for tin can bands, like Wellington’s famed guards, appeared to leap from the ground.”

Crowds of people converged in the Baylis-Morrow Street intersection, in front of the Town Hall portico.  Flags were waved while songs were sung as everyone waited for the “leading citizens” to announce how the town would officially celebrate the peace.

However… inside the Council Chambers, the newspaper reported later, “an atmosphere of perplexity prevailed”.  Due to a number of false alarms in the last week, some were loath to believe the news.  Apparently only the Mayor (Alderman Collins) and Mr Copland had seen the cablegram at the Advertiser’s office and they had their work cut out trying to convince the skeptics.  Meanwhile, the crowd outside swelled in number and noise!

Wagga WW1 [NRS4481_MS5865P]
NSW Governor Davidson at the Wagga Town Hall, speaking at a recruitment rally on 28 August 1918. Just two and a half months later, these crowds were back in this same spot, but the sign above the building proclaimed victory! [from State Archives NSW, NRS4481 (MS5865P)]
The War Service Committee finally arrived at a decision (after further confirmation of the news was received).  An informal procession would be held straight away and an official programme would be held the following morning.  They went outside to speak to the waiting people; Mayor Collins and Mr Oates climbed onto a motor car in the centre of the crowd to read the armistice bulletins and announce what celebrations would be held.  But their calls for silence were made in vain.

“The people were not feeling orderly, but they were good natured and prepared to cheer anything as long as it had something to do with the victory which had been achieved.  The Mayor shouted out the contents of the the cables he held in his hands but only those in the immediate vicinity heard and their hurrahs acted as a barrage, though which the Mayor’s voice failed to penetrate.  Mr Oates yelled something about a “holiday” which was easily seized on by the crowd as meaning that to-day [12 Nov] would be theirs to enjoy as they pleased.

“… The gas illuminations installed by the manager of the municipal gasworks in front of the Town Hall were set afire and the word “Victory” in burning letters shot across the darkness and was greeted by wild cheers… The singing of the National Anthem [God Save the King] and “Praise God From Who All Blessings Flow” brought the first stage of the evening’s celebrations to a close.”

The crowd then split in half, some following the Wagga City Concert Band down Baylis Street to the Railway Station and back, the rest wending their way behind the Wagga Brass Band down Fitzmaurice Street to the Advertiser’s office in Trail Street. At one point four men were seen dancing “to the playing of two concertinas, aided by the attentions of a master of ceremonies armed with a paling.”

By 10 o’clock that night the crowds were beginning to dissipate, people drifting into supper rooms for cold drinks and ice creams, until it was that not long after midnight, Wagga was once again a quiet country town.  “Thus ended in peaceful tranquility the most wonderful night Wagga has ever experienced, a termination befitting the peace that has fallen at last on a war-harried world.”

Fitzmaurice Street looking North (RW5.546)
A festive Fitzmaurice Street, with Hunters on the left. While we don’t know that this photograph was taken in 1918, it certainly conveys the feeling of celebration that enthused the town one hundred years ago! [From the Wagga Wagga and District Historical Society Collection, RW5/546]

12 November 1918

Notice of the Wagga Peace Celebrations in The Daily Advertiser, 12 November 1918
Notice of the official Peace Celebrations in The Daily Advertiser, 12 November 1918 [Trove Digitised Newspapers, National Library of Australia].
At 9 o’clock the next morning the sounding of the “hooter” was the signal to kick start the day’s celebrations.

“A huge concourse gathered in the precincts of the Town Hall, cars, traps, decorated vehicles and lorries lining up in Morrow-street and backing even into Peter-street…  As the hour of starting drew near the atmosphere [be]came tense with excitement.  Motors tooted and shrieked, horse vehicles rattled to their respective places in the coming procession, and lorries rumbled under their freight of singing celebrators, their flags and bunting set like schooners in full sail.  Eager pedestrians ran to and fro with no particular objective in view except moving about and making a noise.”

Just as the parade was about to set off, in the order set out in the programme, there was a hitch – the Wagga Brass Band refused to march behind the Wagga City Concert Band.

The City Band, meanwhile, “struck up a lively march time and moved down Fitzmaurice-street, the route marked out for the procession, with the returned men, cadets and aldermen following.”  The Brass Band then started off down Baylis Street towards the Railway Station followed by the rest of the procession!

When the Brass Band and their part of the procession arrived back at the Council Chambers, Mayor Collins (who had turned back when he realised half of the parade was missing!) was waiting for them and announced to them that the official part of the celebrations were now cancelled.

To make his point, the Mayor, with the assistance of the Aldermen, then pulled down the platform that had been erected for speeches.  However, the procession simply took off again and both sections finally ended up in Church Street where the people moved into their respective churches for special thanksgiving services.

More celebrations in Fitzmaurice Street, complete with band. This photograph was probably taken about ten years before the Armistice but the 1918 scenes would have been very similar to this.

When the services were concluded, the Brass Band was the first to get underway again, taking the greater portion of the crowd with them. With the official town celebrations having been called off, the processions just marched back up the main street. A halt was called outside the Exchange Hotel [now, opposite Myer] where speeches were given from the balcony, more songs were sung, and more cheers were cheered.

Towards evening, things livened up a little once again, with one final impromtu procession marching to the Railway Station, down to Hampden Bridge and back up to the Council Chambers, gathering participants as it went. Speeches were made outside the Council Chambers and a collection was gathered on behalf of the Wagga Soldiers’ Memorial Fund. And “far into the night and hours after the procession had been disbanded, nomadic groups celebrated anywhere and everywhere the great fact of Peace.

All quotes have been taken from The Daily Advertiser, 12 November 1918 and 13 November 1918.

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