Peace Day and Luton's children

Under the headings: “Luton's Peace Day; the cry of the children, where do we come in?” the Luton News (May 29th, 1919) said it may be something of an exaggeration to suggest that the children of Luton are themselves actually asking this question in relation to the forthcoming peace celebrations, but there are many among the residents of the borough who are beginning to ask it on the kiddies' behalf.

Said the newspaper: “We have ventured on more than one occasion to solicit information from the Town Council as to what steps are being taken by the authorities to ensure that the great occasion shall be worthily signalised in the town. At last week's meeting of the authority, his Worship the Mayor casually directed the attention of the Press to the fact that a report of the proposed scheme had been presented by the responsible committee in February.

“While this is perfectly true, nothing in the nature of a considered and official statement has since been forthcoming. Certain details have become public property through other channels, notably in regard to letters asking various organisations to provide decorated and emblematical cars for the purposes of the procession. Communications of this type have been addressed to, among others, the Chamber of Commerce and the Farmers' Union.

“For our own part, we are inclined to think – and we believe there are many who think with us – that this is a great mistake. No consideration of psychology appear to have governed, or even actuated, the Committee's decision.

“Yet we cannot help thinking that, if the day is to be the success desired – if it is to remain for all time indelibly marked upon the mind and memory of the people – it is the children to whom the greatest appeal should be made.

“The children, we are often told, are the hope of the nation, the citizens of tomorrow. But their representation in the peace celebration in Luton is apparently to be restricted to a unit composed of 24 scholars from each school. One wonders if the Council have considered the dilemma of the headmasters and headmistresses? Upon what basis is the selection to be made – the biggest, the brainiest, the children of fallen men, those men who have served? No one will envy the task of the teaching staffs in this direction.

“And, after all, it is the children upon whom the hopes of the world must be centred. The celebration is to mark the close of the greatest conflict in history. Unless, from the welter of wholesale slaughter, there emerges a wider vision and a more humanitarian standard of the value of human life, in perhaps its most vital aspect the war will have been fought in vain.

“The present generation have, in large proportion, known from experience the horrors of war: there is hardly a man or woman who has not had cause to realise how sweeping are the effects of international conflict.

“If we realised the ambition of the early days of the struggle - “Never again!” - it is the youth of our nation who must be impressed with the fact that war is a curse and a crime; a survival from the barbaric ages; a crude, costly and eminently unsatisfactory method of setting disputes between nations.

And we imagine the manner in which this result is most likely to be secured is to make the kiddies the fulcrum of the celebration – to make them the cornerstone upon which the fabric is based. Instead, the reverse appears to be the case, and the youngsters are, if report be true, to be allowed to witness the procession in its passage to the rendezvous at Wardown and then to attach themselves to the rear.

“In our view the scheme is in this particular entirely wrong, and we do not wonder that the teaching profession is moving in the matter.

“We shall be told, possibly, that there is included in the programme a display of fireworks; and members of the Council will perhaps think they have discharged their duty to the youth of the borough in arranging this. We prefer to differ. Fireworks are quite good things in their way, but the entertainment they provide is in the widest sense ephemeral and produces no lasting impression.

“In the course of the Council discussion in February, relative to this point, it was mentioned by frequent speakers that 'we had fireworks before'. Many of them remembered the fact – but it seemed a dim and hazy kid of recollection. They will be far more likely, in years to come, to recall the present celebration through the medium of the “subscription banquet” than any display of Brock's latest.

“The same observation applies to the children. Fireworks, while they will provide pleasure for the moment, are merely an adjunct. To reach, and reach effectively, the hearts of the younger element, these must have their full part in the day's doings – they should be, as we have suggested, the feature instead of a sideline. Otherwise, as Mr G. Wistow Walker put it, it is highly probable that the terse childish comment on the whole performance will be either that there is 'nothin' doin'!' ot that is is a 'wash-out'.

The argument may be advanced that the cost would be prohibitive, if the children of the town are to be given an approach to an al fresco tea. The statement has been made, we believe, that the Council are levying only a halfpenny rate and that the proceeds would not cover the entertainment of the children on a bigger scale.

“We are not prepared to believe that Lutonians would fail to rise to this occasion, any more than they failed when called upon during the period of the war. If the view here put forward is general, as we believe it is, then there would be no cause to fear the financial aspect. The money could be raised, given the necessary enthusiasm, with no great difficulty; for the generality of mankind is such that he infinitely prefers his kiddies to have a 'good time' rather than himself to be the centre of a spectacular demonstration. And he is usually prepared to demonstrate this predilection in tangible fashion, within the limits of his capacity.

“We repeat that, on behalf of the children, the cry of the moment is, 'Where do we come in?'

And the question for the Council is, in relation to this matter, 'What about it?'”