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Victory and Celebration

Armistice Day 1918

People crowd around Buckingham Palace on Armistice Day, cheering the Royals on the balcony.

Early on 11 November 1918, in a railway carriage in a forest clearing close to Compiegne, Germany agreed to Allied peace terms, and the Armistice came into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Around the world, the news was greeted with jubilation.  Shops and schools were hurriedly closed and millions thronged the streets in spontaneous celebration.  The Bystander magazine, located just off Fleet Street, was well placed to witness the wave of rejoicing that swept through London.  In its previous issue, it had debated on the proper way to behave when the much-anticipated moment came asking, ‘Should we shout?  We have never shouted during this war.  Even our church bells have been dumb…How can one cheer when one thinks of those silent figures with their faces to the sky?’

In the event, emotions overtook any propriety and the magazine admitted, ‘After all, we did cheer and sob and thank God with a fervour such as never before had swayed us…Nothing even like the scene can have been witnessed before.  We stolid English folk flung reserve to the winds.’  In the capital, thousands thronged the streets and made their way to Buckingham Palace, to cheer the King and Queen who appeared on the balcony to acknowledge the crowds.  At theatres, exuberant audience members invaded the stage while in restaurants, there were reports that people were dancing on tables.  There were, inevitably, critics of this extravagant celebrating and there were many for whom the joy of peace also brought with it the eternal pain and sadness that accompanied the loss of loved ones.  Overall, a million of the British Empire’s population had lost their lives, and to those who had lived through the last four years it seemed as if a whole generation of young men was gone, an incalculable loss to society.

Though always mindful of the tragic cost of the war, in months following the Armistice, the ILN delighted in revelling in this new state of peace.  The Bystander brought out a humorous, ‘What if the Germans had Won?’ issue while other titles filled their pages with photographs of the Victory Ball at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by a who’s who of society.  Matania painted a joyful composition for The Sphere of crowds in London cheering the King and Queen through the streets.  In July 1919, the signing of the Peace Treaty at Versailles led to Peace Day celebrations in London and correspondingly colourful Peace Numbers among the magazines.

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