Peace Day Centenary 2019
History of event.
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’ The Treaty of Versailles was not signed until June 1919
Once negotiations were nearing their end and ‘proper peace’ was within sight, a Peace Committee was set up and chaired by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, with the intention of deciding how Britain would mark the end of the war and do justice to the widespread feelings of jubilation.
The committee initially met on 9 May 1919. Its members at first considered a 4-day August celebration, including a river pageant. But this was simplified and reduced to a single day on 19 July, under the perhaps more reserved direction of David Lloyd George, Prime Minister.
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 attempted to address this by raising the amount of contributions given and the number of workers who could claim.
On the morning of the 19th, July 1919 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 entertainment for 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 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 including East Dereham and the surrounding villages.
We hope you will enjoy the day as much as the people of Dereham 100 years ago did.