THE END OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR

“It is almost impossible to believe that when a fortnight ago I was dictating here, we were not only vehemently at war, but almost everybody believed that we should be vehemently at war for at least six months or more to come.” (Davidson 13, f.354)

LC104f1

Archbishop Davidson (ref: LC 104 f 1)

In the run up to the Armistice it is clear that although the war was expected to continue for some time, plans were being made for the eventual end of hostilities.  Despite fears expressed to Archbishop Davidson that Germany would resolve to fight on rather than accept humiliating terms, he noted in his diary that “If fighting ceases a few weeks hence, we ought to be ready for immediate handling of the demonstrations, speeches, and religious services which will forthwith be necessary”. (Davidson 13, f.348)

At this time there was much discussion involving Foreign Secretary Balfour, Viscount Bryce and Arthur Bigge (Baron Stamfordham) regarding the King’s speech, announcements to the Houses of Parliament, thanksgiving and memorial services, and demobilisation plans which would be required.  The writing of the King’s public speech was trusted to Bryce, with Davidson providing assistance, but the question remained of when the speech should be delivered: on announcement of the Armistice? When peace was formally signed?  Davidson noted that waiting for the peace treaty would mean a long delay and “the whole thing will fall a little flat”. (Davidson 13, f.350)

Regarding this activity Davidson noted on 3rd November that “All this is very private at present, and I can well imagine that it may have to be changed when it is worked out, but I think it is worth recording what is being practically planned to-day”. (Davidson 13, f.352)

From this point it seems clear that events moved at pace.  On the 9th November Lloyd George announced the abdication of the Kaiser at a Guildhall Banquet, and Davidson describes a sense of elation and enthusiasm, and some shouts of joy. (Davidson 13, f.356)

Within half an hour of the Armistice being signed fireworks were going off and London was in ‘hubbub’.  Sir Lewis Dibdin, Dean of the Arches, describes visiting London at the time the Armistice was announced and the wild celebrations which ensued: “in a moment as if the people had been waiting in the side streets – the place was crowded …  Hundreds of flags suddenly appeared in the people’s hands, on the buildings, on the buses, everywhere.  The people cheered and shouted and sang and laughed.  Motor horns, hand bells, trumpets were set going as if by magic.  Every moment the crowd increased”. (MS 1586, ff.256-257)  Dibdin also records the ‘erratic’ tolling of Big Ben, which had been silenced since the beginning of the war, and states that the Archbishop had suggested to the King on Sunday 10th that he should instruct this to happen as soon as the Armistice was signed. (MS 1586, f.258)

Services were held throughout the day at St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey, and in some places late into the night, while St Martin-in-the-Fields held services on and off for 12 hours and was still crowded at 11:30pm.  Davidson reports that attendance was ‘remarkable’ at a service he preached in the parish church, and that the congregation was ‘not merely attentive, but visibly moved’. (Davidson 13, f.357)

The King attended a Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s on the 12th November where Davidson had to take the place of the Bishop of London and Dean of St Paul’s, as both were absent on other business.  Davidson notes in his diary how speeches made by himself and others at this time were either unprepared or made in haste but turned out impressive in their simplicity, since the subject matter spoke for itself.

A further Thanksgiving Service was held on 17th November, followed by a meeting at Buckingham Palace to finalise the King’s speech.  The records show discussion over the surrender of the German fleet, terms of peace, and prospects for the impending election.

Following the period immediately after the Armistice, in December the main issue for Davidson was whether or not he should go to France in January 1919 to see chaplains and higher officers; he obviously ended up going as he records on 16th February that it has been more than three weeks since he returned, but he does not offer information on the trip itself. (Davidson 13, f.381)

Further down the line a memorial service for chaplains who fell in the war was held at Westminster Abbey on 27th June 1919, while the formal peace celebrations took place on 19th July 1919, perhaps, in typical British fashion, somewhat hampered by the weather: “Late afternoon we drove in the car round the route of the procession to see the adornments and the crowd, and at night we looked from the top of Lollards Tower at what ought to have been a great display of fireworks.  There was much to commend in the plucky fire-working in spite of the rain”. (Davidson 13, ff.408, 417-418)

This post concludes a series published on the Library blog to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. For more information on Library sources on the war, please also see our source guide.

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