One hundred years ago today Preston was finally given the chance to celebrate peace after the end of the First World War, as Isaac Manasse reports
Following the Allies’ victory in the First World War, the government declared Saturday, July 19, 1919 was to be a national day of celebration of victory, known as Peace Day.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Peace Day, during which the British people took to the streets to salute those who had given their lives to protect their freedom, those who had fought for King and country and celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Versailles three weeks earlier which formally brought the war to an end.
Preston was one of many places up and down the land which hosted Peace Day celebrations across the town.
On July 19 people celebrated in the streets of Fishergate and flocked in their thousands to pay tribute to the soldiers and commemorate Britain’s greatest victory.
The town had been decorated to reflect how important the day was from the centre right out towards Fulwood.
In town, the pavements of Church Street were flanked by rows of evergreen trees which stood to attention, as though marching down the hill towards Fishergate.
Flags hung at regular intervals from the houses, constructing a wall of colour which showed the pride and joy of those beneath.
The Lancashire Post the following Monday reported, “The unconstrained atmosphere of pride, gaiety, and rejoicing was expressed in frequent lines of flags slung across from house to house and in unpretentious emblems that fluttered bravely from most of the cottages.
“Nor was the memory of those whose sacrifices had made this happy expression of a nation’s release from the horrors of war forgotten. The eloquent street shrines were covered with floral tributes.”
Not even the threat of rain could dampen the spirits of the people of Lancashire as the drizzle of the previous night had given way to glorious sunshine.
For one day, the city of Preston welcomed visitors from all the surrounding districts, as many travelled in to take part in the day’s activities, which included an evening carnival procession in the Flag Market.
People shouted and cheered as fireworks danced across the night sky and 12 beacon flares were lit along the banks of the Ribble.
Many residents took the events of Peace Day night into their own hands; there was one story of a man burning a dummy of the former Kaiser of Germany near Ribbleton Lane .
All of this celebration contrasted with the quiet reverence of the crowd watching the parade of the demobilised soldiers of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, which had supplied 14,000 troops to serve abroad, and yet more men who defended the East Coast down at Felixstowe.
That was followed by a procession down to Avenham Park, where 300 ex-servicemen of the 3rd battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment stood on a platform surrounded by a crowd of thousands, while the National Anthem echoed across the park.
Evan Lancashire’s children were able to take part in the celebration in the town’s parks. There was a total of 20,870 schoolchildren gathered in Avenham Park, Moor Park and Haslam Park.
The Mayor of Preston, Harry Cartmell travelled between the three parks by car and addressed the children, praising them for their efforts and they were then entertained by performing dogs, trick cyclists and clowns. The Flag Market also hosted a series of other events, including a church service of thanksgiving for peace, which took place the following day on Sunday, July 20.
The service was carried out by the vicar of Preston, and it offered an opportunity for people to say thank you for their victory and hope the new period of peace would last a long time.
Many people also went to the Flag Market for a fancy dress procession, during which many Charlie Chaplin-like figures milled about in different costumes.
People came up with some really creative costume ideas, and the procession also included someone dressed as “some allotment”, wearing a costume made of garden plants, while carrying a cabbage and wearing a crown of carrots.
Wherever the people of Lancashire were celebrating, Preston’s victory day, which was described by the mayor as “the greatest day we have ever seen”, marked a fitting tribute to the end of an important era, and an important victory in British history, to which the county of Lancashire made a valuable contribution.