The bells rang and rang and rang - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
It had been a long, hard time, with over four years of loss, fears and sacrifices, when there was a declaration of the end World War I. An armistice agreement between Germany and the Allied Forces, signed in a railroad car outside of Compiégne, France, signified the cessation of aggression at 11 a.m., Paris time, on Nov. 11, 1918.
Locally, citizens were alerted to this development in the early Monday morning hours when town bells, church bells and all sorts of noise-making instruments were put to use.
A perusal of local newspapers from that November week gives present-day readers a glimpse of what those celebrations must have been like. Through the war years, there had been great sadness in the local communities caused by the loss of many young men’s lives but, for one day at least, celebration was key.
In Auburn, the return to peace was celebrated in that village by a religious service, held in the Presbyterian Church, that was presided over by George Raithby and led by a joint choir. The young folks got into the mood afterward with a huge bonfire where an effigy of Kaiser Willem was burned. Effigy burning was a common thread in all the celebrations across the area. Brussels folks quickly formed committees to mark the good news and, by 2 p.m., a parade was formed that led the way to Victoria Park. The evening featured a church service at which almost $120 was collected for Belgium relief.
Meanwhile, in Blyth, joy at the news of the armistice was overshadowed by the death of its reeve, Neil Taylor. He had driven some friends home after the celebrations in Blyth and was killed when his automobile struck a bridge.
In Lucknow, when the news arrived in the village, there was a period of hesitation in accepting the report as being true. When confirmation was received, Reeve Johnston proclaimed the afternoon as a public holiday. The day was celebrated with a thanksgiving prayer meeting, a parade and an evening concert and torch light parade.
While all the local community newspapers reported celebrations on the arrival of the news, it was in the Clinton News Record that a reporter painted the most vivid picture of the events of Nov. 11, 1918. Clintonites were first alerted to the good news by the prolonged blowing of a train whistle at the station. And by 8 a.m., all citizens were astir. It was then that the town bell began to ring and it continued to do so until 10 p.m. that evening with only a few intervals of silence during the day.
A procession was formed that morning, consisting of the band, the staffs of the local factories, decorated automobiles, the mayor and prominent citizens and, of course, school children. There was even an impromptu band made up of boys with tin cans, kettles and anything else that would make a noise. All work ceased and that age-old tradition of washing clothes on Monday was abandoned as well. After a quick noontime meal, people gathered around the bandstand for a short religious service, at which time Mayor Thompson spoke of the valiant efforts made by Canadian soldiers to reach peace.
A formal parade was then held that consisted of the mayor and council, the Kazoo band, the Kiltie band in full uniform, the Girls’ Auxiliary and about 1,000 men, women and children. The throng marched down King Street, along Maria to Victoria, up Victoria and Albert up to the mill and back again. In no time at all, the parade reformed and marched up to Vinegar Hill and back again.
But the festivities were not over. After a brief time at home for a quick supper, folks once again gathered for a grand torchlight parade to the post office triangle where a huge bonfire gaily blazed. It was here that an effigy of Kaiser Willem met its fiery fate. Next, sky rockets were sent up and there was music provided by the band.
The Clinton reporter ended his account of Armistice Day with the sobering words “…the gladness and joy of the celebration on Monday was tempered to many by the thought of the brave boys from Clinton and vicinity who have given their lives to make such a victory possible. Many were the thoughts which went out to the parents and friends of such and many a prayer went up that they might receive consolation.”
The Goderich Star ran a poem by R. W. Lillard that had appeared in the New York Evening Post. This poem was a reply to the Col. John McCrae epistle, “In Flanders Fields”.
“Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead,
The fight, that you so bravely led,
We’ve taken up. And we will keep
True faith with you who lie asleep
With each cross to mark his bed.
And poppies blowing overhead,
Where once his own lifeblood ran red.
So let your rest be sweet and deep
In Flanders fields
Fear not that ye have died for naught,
The Torch ye threw to us is caught,
Ten million hands will hold it high
And Freedom’s light shall never die.
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders’ fields.”
When viewed through the lens of over 100 years since Nov. 11, 1918, it seems that humankind has not learned the lessons taught by the “War to end all Wars”. However, if only for one day, there was jubilation and celebration and hope for the future.