Each month a document is put on display in our Searchroom. Our document for July has been chosen by Archivist Chris Lambert to reflect the 95th anniversary of Peace Day at the end of the First World War.
August this year will be heavy with the memory of the First World War, declared 100 years ago. The shattering effects of that conflict continue to mark families and continents. But we have almost forgotten the peace that brought it to an end.
For most of us, the Great War ended on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918, but in fact it was only the killing that stopped. The war itself did not end until 28 June 1919, when, after months of tortuous negotiations, the peace treaty was signed at Versailles. This July marks the 95th anniversary of the celebrations that followed, and specifically of Peace Day itself, 19 July 1919.
Our amnesia is not, perhaps, too surprising. The Treaty of Versailles was controversial at the time, especially in its treatment of Germany, and later came to be seen as the fuse that lit the Second World War. The peace itself was a period of economic and political turmoil. Even so, it remains striking that while the smiling faces of victory in 1945 have entered the collective consciousness, those of 1919 have faded away. Armistice Day too is still with us, albeit under another name; Peace Day is not.
In London, Peace Day was marked by a huge military parade, followed by a firework display in Hyde Park. Essex saw many local celebrations. Saffron Walden, for example, provided a ‘peace celebration dinner’ for returned servicemen (involving among other items 200 pounds of plum pudding and 4 gallons of custard), followed by children’s sports, a procession and dancing. Similar plans for Chelmsford were curtailed by the refusal of local ex-servicemen to take part. However, the greatest spectacle was a naval review off Southend, accompanied by yacht races, swimming competitions and a pageant. The festivities at Southend were commemorated by this paper handkerchief (printed in London to a standard pattern), which remained in private hands until it was deposited in the Record Office in 2008.