Remembering the Armistice a Century Later
On November 11th 1919, Wellingtonians gathered on the first anniversary of the Armistice to honour the memory of their fallen sons. A century later, the format of the national ceremony of remembrance in which they took part (invented barely a week before the event) remains largely unchanged. Other aspects of that fateful day, however, have long since vanished…
One subtle difference between 2019 and 1919 was the focal point for Wellington’s remembrance ceremony. While All Saints parish church formed the backdrop for the event a century ago, the town’s Lych Gate memorial was still three years away from being unveiled — in May 1922. That long delay reflected a genuine moral dilemma on the part of the townsfolk about how best to remember their fallen (which you can read more about elsewhere on this website). This was an era before any official guidelines about commemoration existed; indeed the national format of the ceremony itself was only conceived around a week before the event, with a letter from the King rushed to all corners of the realm on the Tuesday before it took place. The suggested guidelines laid out in that Royal missive, however, seem very familiar as a report of the event in the following Saturday’s Wellington Journal and Shrewsbury News confirms. Assembling at the entrance to the church, a large group of civic officials and townsfolk gathered before ‘a beautiful cross of laurel leaves’ assembled on the Green by Messrs Jones and Son of Market Square and erected by the local branch of the Comrades of the Great War ‘in loving memory of all who have fallen’. The temporary monument was ‘surrounded by many floral tributes which were laid about the plinth of the cross prior to the service’. Just before eleven, the bells of the church were rung in notice of the two minutes silence to follow and again on the hour when rifles were also fired to mark the moment, just a year earlier, when the Armistice came into effect:
‘People stood bare headed while the “Last Post” was sounded by buglers’ and prayers were then offered by the Vicar. ‘The Union Jack hoisted at half mast on the tower of the Parish Church and also at the Journal Office and Messrs Barclays Bank’.
Celebrating the League
One very notable distinction between then and now was the idea of the event being regarded as a ‘celebration’ — which is how the Wellington Journal described it. Coming only a few months after the national peace celebrations that is not, perhaps, entirely surprising. Like the day long event in July 1919, the ceremony at All Saints was part of a wider programme of festivities that included a fireworks display in the grounds of Wrekin College. The same evening, a public meeting to commemorate the signing of the Armistice also took place at the YMCA in Walker Street, the intention being to form a local citizen’s committee in support of the League of Nations. In the chair that night was John Wesley Clift, undoubtedly the leading figure in Wellington public life in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Laying out the lofty ambitions of the League (‘settling international differences by reason and not force’), the veteran councillor was joined on stage by various members of the clergy including the Vicar of All Saints, Reverend Sinclair-Moore — who would later take inspiration from the temporary cross erected on the Green that morning for the Lych Gate memorial itself, which he largely masterminded. Although the League was not officially founded until 1920, the Reverend was in no doubt it should be ‘supported by all’ because it promoted ‘combination and not competition’, which he regarded as a major cause of the last conflict. With local MP Sir Charles Henry elected President, a committee (consisting of local clergymen, councillors, headteachers, doctors and trade unionists) was duly formed and the local group remained active in promoting peace throughout the 1920s. Sadly, the noble ambitions of the League of Nations were eventually undone by the course of history, with the Second World War providing further opportunity for reflection on this most poignant of days.