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An Uneasy Peace?: Peace Celebrations in Lancashire in 1919

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>30/04/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>The Local Historian
Issue number2
Volume49
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)108-120
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article discusses the way in which the national celebration of peace, held in the summer of 1919, was manifested locally. It begins by pointing out that 1919 itself was a year of major tensions and political dangers, and that in some places the celebrations themselves saw scenes of violence and rioting. Although peace celebrations were intended as, and usually portrayed as, a focus for national and local unity and harmony, the reality was more complex and they could ‘unmask conflicting perspectives and values in communities up and down Britain’. The bulk of the article looks at the experience of Lancashire, and Michael Hughes observes that it ‘is striking, and in some ways surprising, that most disorders ... occurred in such places as Luton and Coventry rather than in the older industrial settlements of the north of England’ with their tradition of radical politics.Extensive use is made of newspaper reporting of the Armistice, its aftermath, and the peace celebrations themselves, with close attention to the often wide discrepancies between what the government was proposing and what was acceptable to local authorities in Lancashire. A particular source of disagreement was the question of expenditure, with some councils taking the initiative, setting up special committees to plan and manage events, and voting significant sums for the funding of celebrations, but others being condemned for not spending enough. There were arguments about whether the money would be better spent on, for example, demobilised and disabled soldiers, a conflict illustrated by a vocal and passionate disagreement in the borough of Haslingden.The article shows how the celebrations took different forms in different places – for example, whether there was a military parade or a war veterans’ parade as the centrepiece – and how in some places, such as Manchester and Liverpool, the mood was notably subdued in comparison with the joy which had greeted the November armistice. In contrast, in Bacup, St Annes and Clitheroe, among others, there was evidence of community harmony and overt enthusiasm. In many places the question of drink and its evil consequences was raised ahead of the celebrations.Michael Hughes draws the following conclusions: 1) that there was tremendous diversity within Lancashire and more widely, and that patriotic pride could not supplant differences of class, education, community and region; 2) that time had moved on with extraordinary speed and much less than a year after the end of the war the spontaneous exhilaration at the coming of peace had long since been spent; 3) the role of organisations representing ex-servicemen was very important and, in dramatic contrast to their German equivalents, they sought an ‘official’ and ‘constitutional role; while most local councils in Lancashire worked with and for the community and these organisations (in contrast to, for example, the experience of Luton); 4) local responses to war and international politics after 1918 reflect a national discourse mediated through local circumstances, producing distinctively local characteristics; with a dearth of anti-German feeling, a desire to return to normality, and clearly without any significant questioning of the purpose or outcome of the war itself.