Our Century

Celebrating in the street

War over newspaper reportTowns and cities went wild across the West Midlands on November 11 as the region let its hair down following the announcement by the Prime Minister that the Great War was over. In Walsall the news that the armistice had been signed was greeted by people packing up work immediately and surging into the streets in an excited mass. Cheering crowds paraded through the town's main thoroughfares.

In "an amazingly short space of time" shop windows were ablaze with the colours of the allies and flags and bunting floated in the breeze in "kaleidoscope profusion." Walsall's public buildings and high points of the town were quickly decorated in a burst of colour - and whistles at works and along the railway were shrilling out the message. Sirens, originally intended for announcing approaching air raids, were utilised for signalling the joyful news.

Thousands of townfolk, intent on celebration, sported tri-colours in their buttonholes and traders, bestowing stock on the public as "patriotic favours" had their premises continually besieged as they tried to satisfy the clamouring public. At the Guildhall, the newly elected mayor said it was a pleasure for him to sit for the first time at a moment when hostilities had ceased. In several cases proceedings against defendants were withdrawn to mark the occasion.

In Bilston the news was greeted with the same high degree of excitement as workers again dropped their tools and crowded into the streets to celebrate and give vent to their pent up feelings. The announcement was barely over when flags and bunting began appearing almost everywhere as if by magic - and there was a rush on shops which had flags to sell. By mid-day there was scarcely a building in the town which was not bedecked and people gleefully used the flags to wave greetings to each other.

Bilston town hall offered an eye-catching array of colours and church bells rang out the joyous news across the town. Civic dignitaries appeared on the town hall steps where an announcement was read of the signing of the armistice quoted from the Express & Star. The National Anthem was sung and cheers given for King George, Britain's war leaders and the troops on the ground and at sea. Thanksgiving services were also organised for later in the day at churches in the area.

Wolverhampton staged a thanksgiving service in the Market Place, attended by thousands of people including representatives of every section of civic and religious life in the town. The Police Special Band led the procession and banners were borne high at the scene. Civic leaders spoke of the town's heroes who had helped to bring liberty and freedom. The crowd was also told they must not forget their responsibility to those maimed and injured in the conflict. Mention was also made of the hundreds of homes in the town which had suffered bereavement.

The story was the same in Brierley Hill, Stafford, Wednesbury and other areas of the West Midlands.

Dudley was also in triumphant mood as it was revealed that the total investments of the town in the "Feed The Guns" week amounted to 1,002, 352. Thousands of people gathered round the guns to witness pyrotechnic displays

An estimate of the total casualties suffered in the war on both sides, according to the Daily Express, was 26,000,000. They also said the total cost of the war was 30,000,000,00

Print worker recounts the horrors of enemy cruelty: Express & Star employee, Isaiah Thomas, who was captured by the Germans during the war, spoke on November 27 of enemy cruelty to the prisoners of war.

Private Thomas, who worked in the publishing department of the Wolverhampton newspaper before joining the forces, said that after his capture in France, he and others were put to work emptying trainloads of shells. "It was not a pleasant thought that these were to be used to kill our comrades," he said in interview on his return home.

Private Thomas said that, under the noses of the German guards, they managed to extract vital parts from the shells thus sending "dud" shells to the German lines.

He said they couldn't get food and were reduced to eating potato peelings. He and 283 others went to an internment camp. Hundreds of their comrades had died of starvation or ill-treatment by the enemy.

Private Thomas spoke of the cruelty of his captors. "Many a rifle butt was broken on our men's shoulders, he said. "I was struck several times, though I escaped fairly well from the violence."

He said the Germans robbed the prisoners, taking watches, rings and money. They even took treasured photographs.

Election notice

The state of the parties as Britain goes to the polls: From the Express & Star of Saturday. December 28, 1918 a full page of election returns, proclaiming "surprising results" across the country and reporting the death of former Prime Minister Herbert Asquith.

It was, the sub-headline tells us: "A bad day for the lady candidates."

Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who had only a few weeks earlier had conferred upon him the freedom of Wolverhampton, was re-elected with a personal majority of 12,898.

The make-up of the parties makes interesting reading. Among them were: Coalition Unionist - who swept to victory; Coalition Liberal; National Party; Discharged Soldiers and Sailors Federation: National Democratic and Labour Party ; Unofficial Coalition Unionist; and Unofficial Coalition Liberal.

Victorious in Wolverhampton were Bird (Coalition Unionist) with a vote of 13,329 in Wolverhampton West; GR Thorne (Liberal) in Wolverhampton East, 7,660; and Hickman(Coalition Unionist) in Wolverhampton Bilston with a vote of 10,343.

Bill Wheale
I ate my own boots... the best taste of all was the polish.