Armistice means the ending of hostilities before peace negotiations start. At the end of the First World War several armistices were signed by different countries before the main agreement to end the war, now known as ‘The Armistice’, was signed between the Germans and the Allies on November 11th 1918, over four years after the war started.
The Armistice was formally signed at 5 a.m. on the morning of 11 November 1918, in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne, north-east of Paris and came into effect six hours later at 11 a.m. – the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the six hours between the signing of the agreement and and it coming into effect some fighting continued and many men on both sides died totally needlessly.
How the news came to Rawtenstall
When the news of the signing of the Armistice was given out it was greeted throughout the country with outbursts of wild celebrations. In Rossendale the news was given out just before 11a.m. on Monday 11th November. There was no public announcement, but news came from Manchester by telephone to local work places and factories. News also came into the Town Hall, the police station and the library. Reports say that in a very short time the news had ‘spread in an extraordinary rapid way throughout the whole district’. The hoisting of flags on public buildings and mills was to many the first indication of the good news.
Most of the slipper factories stopped work immediately. Soon bunting and streamers were stretched across streets from house to house and flags fluttered from windows. One reporter wondered where all these decorations had sprung from. Enterprising folk who had stored materials up for four years for such a day quickly hung them out, while those less enterprising quickly raided the local shops. By noon there were few shops in the centre of Waterfoot or Rawtenstall that had coloured material left to make bunting or streamers. The whole of the area was given a gala appearance.
In the hour after midday people poured out of the factories, shops, and houses on to the Valley’s main streets. All the mills and workshop were closed at noon and Armistice Bonuses were later paid to the cotton and footwear workers. Schools were closed and children told not to return to the following Monday! There was a holiday spirit as the population paraded up and down celebrating. Even though it was mid November the weather seemed to smile on this happiest of days as, according to local reports, it was bright and sunny, even though there was chilly wind -typical Rossendale!
There wasn’t much for the Rossendalians to do that Monday afternoon, apart from walking up and down, talking about life and taking an interest in the colourful peace decorations that had been hurriedly put up. There were no trams as at noon the staff had walked out and all services were suspended. Later in the day special services of thanks were held in the local churches and chapels. Local church bells were rung from late afternoon into the early evening. In the evening the theatres and picture halls were open, but people had to walk because of the tram service being suspended.
Politicians made patriotic speeches and bonfires made from tree branches were lit and fireworks set off.
Later, in Stacksteads, at Waggoner Tunstead, they burned an effigy of the German Kaiser on a bonfire, while 10,000 turned up at The Recreation Ground to burn an effigy of the Kaiser’s eldest son, “little Willie’! One enterprising Waterfoot chip shop owner had an amusing sign in his window joking about the newly announced peace: ‘Peas, perfect peas’!
But human nature doesn’t change no matter what the occasion and one local resident was robbed by two men while being taken home after ‘over-celebrating’ the victory! Two men were charged, and although one had his case dismissed due to lack of evidence, the other found with stolen property in his possession was fined £5 – quite a large amount in those times. While in Waterfoot, according to the local press, ‘a well known Conscientious Objector and Socialist’ hung a red flag out of his window to celebrate the Armistice. An angry army pensioner took offence to this and taking a clothes prop, put a light on it which he used to set fire to the offending red flag!
The first local soldier who had been a prisoner of war returned home to Rossendale less than two weeks after the Armistice was signed. He was Private Harry Digby of Edgeside, Waterfoot and was taken a prisoner by the Germans a year before the war ended. He spent the first two weeks in captivity behind enemy lines in French villages. He complained of the meagre food he was given: a slice of bread for breakfast and later, a ‘soup’ consisting of water with a few hard black horse beans or sauerkraut.
A ‘gradely’ poem, ‘Peace Day in t’Owd Vale’, celebrating how the news of the Armistice came to the Valley, written in local dialect, was published in the Free Press. The first few stanzas are reprinted here:
Peace Day in t’Owd Vale
A w’se ne’er forget that Monday morn
W’en th’ news coom into th’ vale,
Ud Garmany ud chucked up th’ war=
My, it wor a welcome tale!
It browt sweet smiles to th’ moast o’ foalks,
Un lots it browt to tears;
Bud this news ud lifted sich a load,
Ut ewer vale wor full o’ cheers.
Th’ forenoon wor one o’th’ grandest
Ut yo’ could wish to see;
To say it ‘twor in November-
It favourt Spring to me.
Owd Sol he just wor smilin’,
He winked, un seemed to say
To th’ workers, “Just yo’ drop yo’re tools;
Yo’m do no work to-day.”
Then Gaghills’ horn just blew a blast
Ut caused a reg’lar stir,
Un very soon o th’ foalk wor cawt,
Un wor stonnin’ at ther dur.
“Wot’s up?” ewer wesherwoman cried,
“Wot’s o’ this noise abeawt?”
“Th’ wars o’er,” they sed.”its comed eawer turn
To do a gradely sheawt.”