(The Gazette, 6th July 1919)

To celebrate and mark the end of the First World War, a Bank Holiday was declared in Britain, having been decided by a committee chaired by Lord Curzon, foreign secretary (Gazette issue 28547):

The British contingent of the Victory Parade in Whitehall passing the Cenotaph on Peace Day, 19th July 1919
© Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans

‘We, considering that, with a view to the more wide-spread and general celebration of the Conclusion of Peace, it is desirable that Saturday, the Nineteenth day of July instant, should be observed as a Bank Holiday and as a Public Holiday throughout the United Kingdom’

Though November 1918 had marked the end of fighting on the Western Front, negotiations were to continue at the Paris Peace Conference until 1920, with the ‘high and tremendous task of settling the peace terms’ (Gazette issue 31223).  The Treaty of Versailles was not signed until June 1919 (Gazette issue 31427).

Once negotiations were nearing their end and ‘proper peace’ was within sight, a peace committee was set up with the intention of deciding how Britain would publically mark the end of the war and do justice to the widespread feelings of jubilation.

The committee first met on 9th May 1919.  Its members, led by Curzon, at first considered a 4-day August celebration, including a river pageant.  But this was simplified and reduced to a single day on 19th July, under the perhaps more reserved direction of David Lloyd George, prime minister (Gazette issue 31506).

Though the prevailing mood was in the main triumphant, the proposal of a day of celebration and victory parade attracted some criticism from those who felt that the money would be better spent supporting returning servicemen who faced physical and mental injuries, and who needed work and a place to live.  The Unemployment Insurance Act of 1920 (Gazette issue 32118) attempted to address this by raising the amount of contributions given and the number of workers who could claim.

Peace Day 1919

(The Gazette, 6th July 1919)

On the morning of the 19th, thousands gathered in London, having arrived overnight.  It was a spectacle never seen before, with nearly 15,000 troops taking part in the victory parade, led by Allied commanders Pershing (head of the US Expeditionary Force), Foch (Allied supreme commander) and Haig (British Commander in Chief), who saluted fallen comrades.  Bands played, and the central parks of London hosted performances and entertained the crowds.

That morning, King George V issued a message: ‘To these, the sick and wounded who cannot take part in the festival of victory, I send out greetings and bid them good cheer, assuring them that the wounds and scars so honourable in themselves, inspire in the hearts of their fellow countrymen the warmest feelings of gratitude and respect.’

A monument to those killed and wounded was unveiled in Whitehall, to mark the end point of the victory parade, soon to be decorated with flower wreaths.  Architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (Gazette issue 30607) was commissioned by Lloyd George at the start of the month to design the monument, and had just 2 weeks to create a piece befitting of the memory of the fallen.  Though it was a temporary wood and plaster construction, another made from Portland stone was to replace it in 1920, which still stands today.

Though the main spectacle was in London, other celebrations organised by local authorities and communities took place in cities, towns and villages across the country.

Local Celebrations

The Belfast News-Letter, 11th August 1919

There was very little time to organise official Peace Day celebrations.  Following on from the government announcement in May 1919, cities and towns in Ulster formed committees to agree how peace would be celebrated. 

Newspaper articles in the Belfast News Letter of 11th July 1919 detailed the initial plans for some of the places in Ulster:

Antrim – It was agreed by the organising committee that Antrim’s  peace celebrations would be on 19th August.  School children would be entertained in Fir Field (courtesy of Lord Massereene) with sports and other amusements.  The local inhabitants are to be asked to decorate and illuminate their houses.

Ballymoney – The local committee decided that the celebrations in Ballymoney would be on 19th August.  There would be sports in the park, confined to ex-soldiers.  In the evening, there would be a dance at the Town Hall followed by a torchlight procession.

Belfast – Belfast Corporation agreed that a grant of £6,000 be authorised.  The celebrations would take place during the first week in August.  The Corporation’s General Purposed Committee would work with the Citizens Committee.  It was emphasised that Belfast should not lag behind in spending lavishly on peace celebrations.  Belfast would give a reception to all Ulster soldiers and sailors who had served.  There would be entertainment also for children and old people.  All creeds and classes should be included.  Local clergymen advised that they would be willing to cooperate with the Citizens Committee.

Coleraine – A huge procession is planned with the Urban Council members, ex-soldiers, the Boys’ Brigade, Girl Scouts, Girl Guides, Fire Brigade, local athletic clubs, trade societies and school children taking part.  There would be sports events at Anderson Park with school children being entertained.  The inmates of the workhouse will be granted extra fare.

Dromore – A meeting of residents agreed that there would be a parade of school children, similar to that on Empire Day.  Discharged men, demobilised men, local bands would also take part in the parade.  An athletic sports day would be organised. 

Gilford – The Gilford celebrations would take place on 19th August.  There would be a cricket match, a procession, a fancy dress parade, a concert, and bonfires amongst the festivities.  School children will be entertained at Moyallon House (courtesy of Mr and Mrs Richardson).

Lurgan – Lurgan selected 2nd August for their celebrations.  A subscription list is to be opened to raise funds.  £200 will be committed from local rates.

Newcastle – It was agreed that 600 school children will be entertained at the Mill field (courtesy of Lady Mabel Annesley).  The town is to be illuminated at night.

Portadown – The town is to be decorated.  Returned soldiers and school children will be entertained.  The Town Council will donate a reasonable sum to supplement public subscription.

Portrush – A comprehensive programme of celebrations was agreed.  There would be a parade of ex-soldiers, school children and others.  In addition, the Blue Pool and Harbour would be the venues for free bathing.  The committee will provide dinner for the ex-soldiers and tea for the school children, who will also get free rides on the hobby-horse

A week later on 19th July 1919, advertisements for the events would be published in the Belfast News Letter:

Belfast is to celebrate peace officially on Friday & Saturday, 8th & 9th August.  The Lord Mayor requests that [today] the official day [London and the rest of GB] 19th July should also be recognised with a military procession and citizens displaying flags and other emblems of victory and peace. 

Friday & Saturday, 8th & 9th August are to be regarded as peace holidays say the Belfast Chamber of Commerce. 

The Childrens Victory Excursion – donations are requested for the Poor Children’s Holiday Fund by the Rev R M Ker, Grosvenor Hall, Belfast. 

The first list of subscriptions to Belfast Peace Celebrations and Reception are published with the sum of £2,760 being subscribed.

The route of to-Day’s Military Pageant was publicised.  The procession would leave Victoria Barracks via Clifton Street, Donegall Street, Royal Avenue, Castle Place, High Street, Victoria Street, Chichester Street, Donegall Square North (with a Salute being taken at the city centre platform), Bedford Street, Dublin Road, Shaftesbury Square, University Road and into Botanic Gardens Park where the troops will be entertained to luncheon.

Belfast Peace Day Parade, By Weekly Telegraph, 16th August 1919 – courtesy Nigel Henderson

Reports of Saturday’s events were detailed in the Belfast News Letter of 21st July 1919 and 22nd July 1919:

Antrim – On Saturday there was a parade formed of mobilised and demobilised soldiers, 150 in number.  At the rear of the military fell in over 1,000 school children of all denominations under their respective teachers.  In a display in Massereene Park, there was an unmistakable spirit of joyousness associated with the observance, as one would expect to find in that loyal centre [Antrim].  From whatever standpoint, the project  may be looked at, Antrim proved itself a thoroughly exemplary community.  All combined as one family in celebrating the peace that the world had so much longed for, and they were one also in doing honour to the memory of the glorious dead. 

Armagh – Armagh’s event had been postponed from 19th to 26th inst.  However, on Saturday the Cathedral bells rang at noon and successful sports were held at Milford and Loughgall. 

Ballycastle – A wreath was placed on the Roll of Honour at the courthouse.

Ballyclare – All the children from the town and surrounding districts paraded with ex-soldiers marched to ‘Craig Hill’.  To mark the occasion each child was given a coin of 1919 as a souvenir.

Ballymena – The town presented a more imposing spectacle with huge streamers of bunting fluttering in the breeze at all the principal squares of the town.  The Castle grounds were thrown open to the public.  Many  school children marched in a procession with the demobilised soldiers.  A sports programme and fireworks display ended the evening.

Ballymoney – Upwards of 150 were entertained to supper, and an attractive concert followed.

Banbridge – Each child was presented with a miniature Union Jack, and also with an ornamental plaque containing the flags of the Allies.

Bangor – There were scenes of enthusiasm, gaiety and animation as thousands of people promenaded the streets, happy and care free, and proud of the knowledge that Bangor had nobly done its duty, in war as well as in peace.  It was estimated that some 2,500 children assembled at the Esplanade and marched, accompanied by bands to Ward Park where Peace Medals bearing the inscription ‘To commemorate the Victorious conclusion of the Great War’ were presented to the little ones by Miss Connor.

Belfast – The newspaper reporter described the Military Parade as a ‘route march’ with around 1,100 men taking part.   It was anticipated that there would be a much larger parade on 9th August.  This parade will be composed of Ulstermen or men who have served in Ulster regiments.  The troops parading on Saturday  included a large number of recruits, but there were also many men who wore the British War Medal and other decorations. 

Belfast – In a report entitled ‘Rejoicings in the Workhouse’, the Board of Guardians placed £350 at the disposal of a committee to provide a sumptuous tea, large quantities of fruit, and sweets, pipes, tobacco, snuff and suitable prizes in a sports tournament.

Belfast – In a report entitled ‘Treat for Hospital Patients’.  The Lady Mayoress visited the Ulster Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, Clifton Street; the Hospital for Children and Women, Templemore Avenue; the Children’s Hospital, Queen Street and entertained the whole of the patients to tea, in addition to presenting gifts to the children.  Her kindness helped make ‘Peace Day’ memorable.

Clones – A parade of ex-servicemen to Hilton Park.  Shooting competitions and other sports took place.  A splendid firework display in the Diamond.

Clogher – Demobilised soldiers were entertained to lunch at Clogher Park.  Procession of ex-soldiers and school children of all the neighbouring schools.

Coleraine – A large detachment of discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors took the lead of a fine procession, followed by the members of the Boys’ Brigade, V.A.D., industrial concerns, sports’ club, Masonic lodges, and immense numbers of school children.  The streets were thickly lined with spectators, and the houses along the route were handsomely decorated, although no public scheme was undertaken.  Several bonfires ended the evening.

Cookstown – Following a parade, the chairman of the urban council welcomed the men home and thanked them in the name of the town for what they had achieved.  A decorated cycle parade, football, other sports, bands and a huge bonfire ended the night.

Derry – Derry’s Victory March.  The day was observed in Londonderry in loyal and enthusiastic fashion.  Business establishments were closed and the day regarded as one of general holiday and universal rejoicing.  A victory march through the city by discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors and men of the Mercantile Marine.  The men marched to a field at Boom Hall.  A sports programme ended the evening.

Downpatrick – The Celebration Committee carried out an elaborate programme at the grounds of the Downpatrick Cricket Club where a gymkhana and band promenade afforded enjoyment to over 4,000 people.  A concert party and dancing ended the evening.

Dromore – At an early hour the bells of the cathedral rang out a merry peal. and the sounding of factory horns proclaimed the glad event.  There was a procession of ex-soldiers and school children, accompanied by local bands. to a field at the Old Bishop’s Demesne. 

Dungannon – The celebrations were of a slight nature.  Only a few shops were closed.  Childrens sports and other forms of rejoicing took place in Newmills and Moy.

Enniskillen – In a gala day at Enniskillen there was a grand Victory parade followed by athletic sports, a bicycle carnival and dancing on the Fort Hill.  Bonfires ended the evening.

Gilford – A cricket match between the district and the boys at Rockford School took place.  A procession of some 500 children made its way to Moygallon House where they were entertained.  A fancy dress cycle parade followed.  Sports, open-air concert and bonfires ended the day.

Larne – Joy-Bells at Larne.  There was an early start at 8:00 am for the ringing of church bells for 5 minutes. followed by the sounding of factory hooters, engine horns and sirens.  A United Thanksgiving Service was followed by a parade and march past of ex-service and serving men.  School children assembled at the Market Yard where souvenir medals were distributed.  A sports event and fireworks ended the evening.

Limavady District – In addition to a luncheon to hundreds of ex-soldiers, there was a procession of school children, many hundreds strong who were marched to Roe Park, where they were entertained.  In the evening many bonfires blazed on the hills encircling the Roe Valley.

Lisburn – A formal celebration would be held early next month.

Lurgan – Peace Day celebrations have been fixed for 2nd August.

Magherafelt – A procession of ex-servicemen accompanied by the local Scout band made their way to a field beside the railway station.  Sports were held and tea was distributed to the children and ex-soldiers.

Monaghan – A march of the demobilised and discharged soldiers, sports, and an entertainment of schoolchildren took place in Rosamore Park.

Newcastle – All the principal shops were closed and the town was bedecked with flags.  A children’s march with a local pipe band marched to the Donard Demesne where sports took place.

Newtownards – The day started with 5 minutes of ringing of the church bells at midnight followed by the sounding of factory hooters.  Bands paraded through the streets later in the morning, followed by a united thanksgiving service.  The main parade took place in the afternoon.  The school children assembled at their respective schools, where souvenirs suitable to the occasion were presented to them.  The evening ended with patriotic songs and dancing in the Square.

Newtownards Peace Parade, Belfast Telegraph, 26th August 1919

Omagh – In honour of the occasion no market was held and all the business establishments and public offices were closed.  A military pageant was held with a march past afterwards.  A sports carnival with an attendance of about 5,000 was followed in the evening by a grand fancy dress cycle parade, torchlight procession and fireworks.

Portadown – Peace was celebrated by the inhabitants of Portadown with great cordiality.  About 700 demobilised soldiers were entertained to luncheon in the Town Hall.  In the afternoon, an imposing procession of the demobilised soldiers and over 4,000 school children was accompanied through the town by bands.  A fancy dress parade with prizes and tea for the children followed by sports events at the Show Grounds.

Portrush – In Portrush there was a day of joy and thanksgiving.  The famous North Antrim watering-place never, perhaps, looked so brilliant.  Flags, streamers, and bunting in almost endless variety fluttered gaily in the breeze, and loyal emblems were everywhere worn.  A grand procession headed by a military band, followed by sailors, soldiers, ex-servicemen, a St John’s Ambulance detachment Church Lads, school children, people in fancy dress, decorated jaunting cars, motors, vans, bicycles with thousands of cheering spectators lining the route.  One of the bicycles was a very smart representation of an aeroplane.  In the afternoon was a free matinee at the Main Street Picture House supplemented by a concert.  A great sports meeting with a fireworks display at Ramore Head followed in the evening. 

Portrush Peace Day Programme – 19th July 1919

Portstewart – A procession was formed at the harbour that included a Scottish pipe band and Portstewart fishermen.  School children were given a treat with free rides on the swing-boats and hobbyhorses.  A social evening and a bonfire ended the day.

Tandragee – A fancy dress parade, a most successful sports programme, a procession and a bonfire made up the celebrations.

Warrenpoint – The town was gay with flags and bunting when festivities commence in the afternoon.  The local Boy Scouts were presented with new colours.  Various exhibitions of physical and ambulance strength, and Morris dancing were given by the Scouts.  An impressive ceremony of the saluting of the flags of the Allies took place in the afternoon.  The evening consisted of a grand patriotic concert  in the gardens followed by illuminations and a water pageant on the sea front.

On 26th July 1919, more advertisements for events would be published in the Belfast News Letter:

Belfast – The second list of public subscriptions was published and added to £2,760 previously collected, brings the total to £4,010.

Belfast – Advertisement – Civic Reception and Review of Ulster Troops, August 9th, 1919.  A reception in the form of (1) a march past his Excellency the Lord Lieutenant (2) Public Dinner to all taking part in the march-past (3) Presentation of a Memento to all taking part in the march-past.  Free railway warrants to everyone qualified to take part to Belfast from within the boundaries of Ulster. 

Belfast – A Miss Mary E Cunningham intimated at the Catering Sub-Committee that she would give all the luncheon guests cigarettes out of the ‘Welcome Home’ Fund.

An advertisement on behalf of Belfast Lord Mayor appeared in the Belfast News Letter of 9th August 1919 outlining the route of the Belfast parade later that day.  Streets would be closed for vehicular traffic on the said 9th August from 10:30 am till 3 o’clock pm.

Antrim Road from Fortwilliam Park to Carlisle Circus, Carlisle Circus, Clifton Street, Donegall Street, Royal Avenue, Castle Place, High Street, Victoria Street, Chichester Street, Donegall Square North, Donegall Square West, Bedford Street, Ormeau Avenue, Ormeau Road to Ormeau Park.

The Belfast News Letter of Saturday 9th August 1919 prepared its readers for today’s Victory Parade:

Belfast – Following 12,000 children being entertained in Belfast parks yesterday [Friday] as the inauguration of the peace festivities, today there will be a great march of 36,000 men and women who served their country during the war.  Citizens are displaying tremendous enthusiasm and they are determined to give their guests a reception worthy of the great cause they played.  Along the route the streets are decorated with bunting and flags and practically every street within the boundaries of the city has its own array of patriotic emblems.  The feeding of such a large number of adults is a stupendous task with 1,500 ladies giving their services as waitresses.  Yesterday the Corporation agreed to double its financial contribution to £12,000.

The Belfast Evening Telegraph of Saturday 9th August 1919 wrote:

Headlines – Ulster’s Warrior Sons.  Gratitude of Homeland.  Wonderful Day in History of Belfast.  City Peace Celebrations.  Viceroy Reviews Great Parade.

The wonderful response to the invitation to take part in the great march to Ormeau Park was a revelation even to patriotic Belfast.  Over 73,000 men joined the Army in Ulster, not to speak of the Navy.  Many are still serving.  Many are dead.  Many were not available from various causes.  Yet instead of the 20,000 originally arranged for there were 36,000 notifications from demobilised men that would accept the hospitality of the Citizens Committee.

And who had more right to be proud of this day that Ulstermen?  They played a notable part in the war from beginning to end.  Their deeds will live for ever in the story of the great war.  Volumes could be written concerning them.

From an early hour the railway termini of the city presented a busy, bustling aspect.  Thanks to those citizens who responded and placed their motor cars at the service of the wounded or limbless heroes.  The bulk of the provincial contingent travelled over the Great Northern Railway, the numbers aggregating close on 10,000.  They included representatives from Donegal and Fermanagh.  York Street experienced the same and the County Down system had many special trains.

The Belfast News Letter of Monday 11th August 1919 wrote:

Headlines – Ulster Salutes the Dawn of Peace.  Memorable Parade of War Heroes.  Scenes of Enthusiasm in Belfast.  Homage to Our Immortal Dead.  A Moving and Inspiring  Spectacle. 

Saturday was a red-letter day in Belfast.  In celebration of the signing of the Peace Treaty, troops from all parts of Ulster took part in a march through the central thoroughfares of the city, and  at the City Hall the salute was taken by the Lord Lieutenant (Field-Marshal Viscount French, K.P.).

The marching was perfect in smoothness and precision.

Near the City Hall a cenotaph was erected, and this monument was saluted by the whole of the officers as they approached it.  A wreath of flowers was placed on the cenotaph by a detachment of the troops, and subsequently a large number of other memorial tokens were deposited on it.

Weekly Telegraph, 16th August 1919

Written by Gavin Bamford, Chair of History Hub Ulster, with images courtesy of Nigel Henderson, Member of History Hub Ulster.