It is a well known fact that the First World War ended at 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The end of over 4 years of fighting was marked with jubilant and spontaneous celebrations across the country. According to the Courier on 12th November in Fife, Perthshire and Angus “Shops were shut and workmen ‘downed tools’ and formed enthusiastic processions accompanied by instrumental and rag time bands”. In Dundee a clear sunny day was marked by the ringing of the bells. At 10:30 when the announcement of the signing of the armistice was official, Naval ships in the Tay sounded off their sirens. Flags were rustled up out of thin air and displayed on buildings and in windows. The Courier stated that little work was done in Dundee after 11am.
People descended on the city centre, cheering, marching and waving flags to the music of impromptu bands. There were so many people in town the trams had to give up making their way through the city. At noon the Lord Provost addressed the waiting crowds, reading the official notice of surrender and a few choice stirring words, he led the crowd in a rendition of the national anthem. The party continued well into the night. One of the Naval ships sent up rockets and students led a torch lit procession through the city centre. The celebrations were spontaneous and many people got swept up in the mood of the day.
However it was decided that an official day of festivities should be set aside, which could be planned for and serve as a proper thanksgiving and celebration. Nationally it was decided that Saturday 19th July 1919 would be designated a public holiday. Factories would fall silent and offices would close. As many people as possible would have the day off.
In Dundee, planning for this holiday and day of Peace Celebrations started in April 1919, the final programme only being agreed on 2nd July 1919. The Council’s minutes record the decisions at meetings, and the local papers give us more detail and opinion on the goings on. Luckily for us, a file retained by the Town Clerk has also survived. It contains copies of a few documents produced for the event.
Events started in Dundee on Friday 18th July. It was arranged that every OAP in Dundee would get a free pound of tea . Lists were drawn up with the names of OAPS in 5 districts: Lochee, Northern, Eastern, Western and Broughty Ferry. Each pensioner was issued a ticket and would have to present their ticket at a local library to get their free tea. In the Town Clerk’s file there are lists of the 3209 pensioners who were issued with tickets for free tea. The Evening Telegraph recorded the event in their issue of the night of the 18th. One old man they interviewed said: “This tea’s a richt treat. We havena had awfu’ muckle o’d this whilie syne”. So its fair to say that it was well appreciated.
Children were also given something special. Every school child was issued with 3oz of sweets – chocolate and plain pan caramels from Keillers. Small medals commemorating the day were also distributed. Those children who had lost their father in the war would receive a special red, white and blue ribbon with their medal. As the schools were now closed for the summer, it was agreed that the gifts would be distributed when the schools restarted in August. Although that would be later than usual, as the schools were given an extra week of holidays by order of the King.
The main events took place on the Saturday. Many people had the day off, but some needed to work. Restaurants were urged to stay open, and of course the emergency services were needed to supervise events and be on hand in case the worst should happen. It was agreed by the Council that any Corporation employee that worked on the Saturday, such as tram drivers and conductors, would get an extra days pay. There was a plan to have a swimming gala at the main Swimming Baths, but it was decided it would be better to give the staff a day off.
At 11:30 the bells rang and flags were lowered as a sign of respect for those who had died in the fighting. At 12:00 the bells rang out again and the flags were raised again. The Town House was decorated with more flags, bunting and flowers taken from the city parks. Throughout the parks there were 9 bands playing at various times through the day to entertain the general public. Poorhouse inmates were given tobacco or snuff and treated to a special dinner accompanied by a pipe band dinner. Patients at the Dundee Royal Infirmary got a similar special dinner but were also given cigarettes and chocolates. Ex-servicemen were gathered together for a procession from the Esplanade, into town and back out to the Drill Hall on Douglas Street. The day was rounded off with a spectacular firework (or rocket) display from the Law. This way it was visible from most of the rest of the city.
On Sunday 20th July there was a special service of thanksgiving at St Marys in the Steeple Church. A grand procession of demobilised soldiers and sailors, councillors, St Andrew’s Ambulance Association, the Women’s War Relief Committee, University College officials, the Police and much more. Processionists met at the Victoria Art Galleries at 10:15 and proceeded down Reform Street for the service at 11am.
A special ‘Peace Picnic’ was arranged for widows and children of fallen sailors and soldiers from Dundee. It was take place at Monikie on Saturday 30th August 1919. Those eligible and wishing to attend had to apply via their local library. 700 widows and 1300 children attended. They were conveyed to Monikie on 3 trains leaving the East Station, all arriving by 11am. A dinner of roast beef sandwiches, tarts, buns and sweet milk was served at 12pm by 200 members of the Boys Brigade, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. There were sports competitions, performances by the TFA and Dundee Police Bands in a specially built pavilion. This was followed by performances by the Ferrier family of musicians and dancers, Professor Jenkins the conjurer, and the most popular of all – a Punch and Judy show. The day was topped by tea at 4:30 and everyone headed back to the city.