This month is the 100 year anniversary of the Peace Day celebrations which followed the signing of The Treaty of Versailles, officially marking the end of the First World War. Assistant Curator Lauren Padgett looks at related objects in Bradford Museums and Galleries’ collection and Bradford’s post-WW1 history.
Join us on Sunday 21 July 2019 at Bradford Industrial Museum for our Centenary of WW1 Peace Day Celebrations event for a day of living history and local WW1 history.
The Treaty of Versailles: A Dictated Peace?
While the 11th November 1918 is considered to be when the First World War ended, on the contrary, the armistice may have been signed but the war against Germany was not over until a peace treaty could be agreed. Tense negotiations lasted for six months at the Paris Peace Conference.
Essentially it was Prime Minister George Clemenceau (representing France), Vittorio Emmanuelle Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (United Kingdom) and President Woodrow Wilson (United States) who were the architects of the peace treaty. Despite being allies, they had their own views on how their country should be compensated and how Germany should be punished. Lloyd George said he ‘was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon’ as Wilson wanted fair conditions while Clemenceau wanted revenge.
Eventually the terms of the peace treaty were drafted and ratified. The most significant term was Article 231, known as the War Guilt Clause, which made ‘Germany accept the responsibility. . . for causing all the loss and damage’. At first, Germany refused to accept the terms but the Allied forces threatened to invade Germany if it did not agree to it. On the 28th June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was begrudgingly signed. Germany referred to it as ‘the Diktat’, a dictated peace. Several more peace treaties were agreed with individual Central Power countries; the peace process finally ended with the Treaty of Lausanne in July 1923.
‘Festival of Victory’: Peace Day Celebrations
While the peace negotiations were taking place, the British government wanted to acknowledge the upcoming official end of the war. Pre-empting the signing of a peace treaty, the British Peace Committee was formed to organise nation-wide celebrations. They met on the 9th May 1919 and outlined a four-day celebration for when peace was declared, later reduced to a one-day celebration. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28th June, Saturday 19th July was declared a bank holiday, known as Peace Day. National celebrations were planned in London with other cities and towns arranging their own celebrations. On Peace Day, there was, as King George V called it, a ‘festival of victory’ in London, including a victory parade with 15,000 Allied forces troops led by their commanders and thousands of people in attendance.
But not everyone was in the mood for celebrating. During the war, Pals battalions had suffered heavy causalities and communities felt the loss of their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, friends, neighbours and colleagues. Demobilised soldiers had come home, some with life-changing injuries and suffering from the effects of war, and found themselves unable to work, hungry and homeless. Many people felt that these peace celebrations were insensitive and disrespectful, and the money spent on them wasteful. Sensing such opposition, a few Councils refused to organise Peace Day celebrations. At the London celebrations, groups of troops staged protests, waving banners with slogans such as ‘Demobilised, demoralised and pauperished’. In Luton, veterans who had been excluded from a peace celebration dinner jeered officials and burnt down the Town Hall.
‘Dimmed by Personal Grief’: Bradford’s Peace Day Celebrations
In Bradford, a committee was set up to plan its Peace Day celebrations. The Leeds Mercury (14 May 1919) reported that Mr C. Glyde (Charles Glyde, a Bradford politician, socialist and supporter of the Independent Labour Party), ‘entered a protest against a proposal of the Finance and General Purposes Committee to make a grant of £6,500 to the Lord Mayor for the purposes of celebrating peace’. Glyde argued that,
…to rejoice about the peace as being one the biggest mistakes and one the most shameful acts had ever known during his lifetime. He felt they could not rejoice when they remembered that in Bradford alone over 6,000 people wore out employment and throughout the country over one million people who were walking the streets for want employment.
Glyde’s sentiments were shared by others. Philip Snowden, a Yorkshire-born politician who had been active within the Keighley branch of Independent Labour Party, called for Peace Day to be boycotted. Regardless of the opposition, the Bradford Peace Celebrations Committee pushed on with their plans. The Daily Herald (12 July 1919) reported that ‘Difficulty is being experienced in many districts in generating enthusiasm about Peace celebrations.’. It singled out Bradford stating:
that the Committee is receiving vary little encouragement in its labours, and the prospects are that the celebration would prove a fiasco. . ..
The Shipley Times and Express (18 July 1919) revealed that,
the idea of a procession and pageant in Bradford on July 19th has been abandoned by the Bradford Peace Celebrations Committee. They had invited the naval, military, other organisations to take part, but met with only a poor response.
They added that the Bradford Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers had declined to participate in protest of ‘inadequate pensions and allowances, a lack of employment for demobilised men, and in view of the fact that thousands of soldiers are still fighting and dying.’. While the procession and pageant were cancelled, others planned events went ahead.
In contrast to the pageantry and spectacle of London’s Peace Day celebrations, Bradford’s was mostly a solemn affair. The Leeds Mercury (21 July 1919) reported that
‘Bradford’s celebration of Peace was earnest, but restrained, and free from any boisterous blatancy which might have grated those in whom the collective joy was dimmed personal grief.’.
It then described some of the events that took place. There were moments of light relief as,
The school children were manifestly delighted with their medals and the treats which had been provided for them. They themselves contributed greatly to the success the day their excellent music in Lister Park in the morning, to which thousands of people listened. . . at night search lights were at work from the Town Hall, whilst beacon flares were lit at 10.30pm on the hills around the city. The illuminated car, which went round the districts, attracted much attention.
In Bradford Museums and Galleries’ collection, there are several of the aforementioned medals. They were specially made by Bradford jewellers Fattorini & Sons to commemorate the peace celebrations. One side of the peace medal depicts the God of War, Mars, offering his sword to a child and an angelic female figure, representing peace.
The other side says ‘Bradford Peace Celebrations 1919’ and ‘Counc. W. Barber J.P. Lord Mayor’.
Barber was a controversial figure at the time. He had been a stuff dyer labourer before becoming Deputy Lord Mayor of Bradford. He became Mayor in June 1919 when the previous Mayor had died in office. During the war, Barber had been the Secretary of the Bradford Trades Council who had an anti-conscription stance and campaigned for negotiated peace. Barber’s son had been a Conscientious Objector, imprisoned for his refusal to fight.
As well as the children’s entertainment and music, the day had a sombre unveiling ceremony of a commemorative shrine in Victoria Square (at the memorial statue to Queen Victoria in Bradford city centre). The shrine had ‘the colours of the various regiments associated with the city’. After the unveiling, Barber laid down a ‘laurel wreath as tribute from the city a tribute from the city those who had fallen. Bradford, he said, had contributed some 30,000 or 40,000 men to the Army.’. In what was described as a ‘touching scene’, ‘quite a number those who had suffered bereavement during the war filed the base the shrine and laid its foot commemorative wreaths.’. And many had suffered bereavement during the war. In the first two days of the Battle of Somme alone, there had been 1,039 Bradford Pals causalities (killed and wounded) and around 5,000 died throughout the war. It is easy to understand why for many Bradfordians they did not want to celebrate peace day 100 hundred years ago as for them peace was bittersweet.
On Sunday 21 July, Bradford Industrial Museum will be hosting an event to celebrate the centenary of WW1 Peace Day celebrations. WW1 re-enactors will be bringing history to life with living history displays.
Representatives from The Peace Museum, Bradford WW1 Group and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will have exhibitor stalls and be giving talks about Bradford during and after WW1 and the peace process. The Halifax Branch of the Yorkshire Volunteers Association will be selling food and drink from an army field tent. Free entry, but donations help us continue to put on events. Open 10am – 4pm.