The Peace Day celebrations of July 1919 in which the Town Hall was burned down are notorious in Luton's history – and an event the town seemed to want to forget for decades afterwards. Recorded here will be contemporary accounts as they were published in newspapers, documents and ex-servicemen's magazines at the time.
[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: March 22nd, 1919]
Last night was a great night for the staff of The Luton News, when the whole of the employees, with the wives of the married members, were guests of the firm at dinner. The event was held by courtesy of the Mayor in the Council Chamber and was in the character of a reunion.
The last gathering of the kind was held in April 1914, when the anniversary of the firm's present buildings was celebrated, but the outbreak of war later in the year has prevented any repetition until now.
The century-old Luton timber firm of Henry Brown & Sons returned to private ownership on March 22nd, 1919, after the business had been commandeered by the Ministry of Munitions during the war. The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph (March 15th) reported:
In recognition of service rendered by the members of the town's Special Constabulary, Luton Watch Committee summoned them to a dinner at the Winter Assembly Hall on February 12th, 1919.
Proposing a toast to the Specials, Mayor Henry Impey said that in Luton they had found men of all ranks of business prepared to give up their leisure and some of their business time to help in a time of need, as special constables. Now they were being demobilised and the difficulty for them was to re-accustom themselves to their old civilian life.
Luton had enjoyed entertainers from the military, thanks to the Biscoteers from Biscot Camp, who had given their final concerts in December 1918. But a Royal Engineers concert party from Bedford previously unseen in the town gave a concert at the Winter Assembly Hall on February 26th, 1919, to raise funds to help enable the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Association to furnish their new members' club, the Ivy Leaf in Park Street.
On Thursday, March 13th, 1919, Luton Borough War Prisoners Committee entertained around 200 men who had returned from enemy captivity at a dinner in the Winter Assembly Hall in Waller Street. The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph published a page of names and pictures following an event chaired by Councillor Walter Primett.
ABBOT Pte E., Black Watch - 61 Adelaide Street.
ABBOTT: Pte F. E., Royal Naval Division - 11 Moreton Road.
At 11 o'clock on the morning of Monday, November 11 – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 – four years, three months and a week of bloody conflict came to an end in the war that it was hoped would end all wars.
November 11th, 1918 – Armistice Day. And, by coincidence, Luton was able to celebrate with the opening night of what was claimed to be the finest variety bill that the Palace Theatre had ever presented – featuring the legendary music hall star Marie Lloyd.
The show was reviewed in the Luton Reporter of Tuesday, November 12th, 1918, as follows:
Luton had witnessed some spectacularly destructive fires unrelated to the conflict during World War One. They included a blaze at the Diamond Foundry in Dallow Road in September 1916, at the Brown & Green Foundry in Windsor Street/South Road in November 1915, and at the Wing, Arnold & Wing hat factory two days later. On Sunday, September 15th, 1918, a blaze at the T. Lye & Sons dye works in Old Bedford Road lit up the night sky. This was how The Luton News reported the Lye blaze.
At the outbreak of war in 1914 Britain still relied on volunteers to serve in the armed forces. But there were others prepared to do their bit at home as a civilian army in the event of an enemy invasion.
Although at first meeting official antipathy, the home guard volunteers continued to organise themselves, forming local Volunteer Defence Corps that began to find respectability. By January 1915, Luton had its own Volunteer unit.
Saturday, June 1st, 1918, was Maiden's Day in Luton, and the girls in smocks, breeches and leggings made a brave show in the town in the appeal for recruits for the splendid Women's Land Army.
A public meeting was held outside the Town Hall, and there was a stirring call to those of the large audience of women and girls who could do so, to join the land workers. The response was very satisfactory, for many recruits were afterwards obtained.
[From The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, November 13th, 1917]
Luton has been honoured today by a visit from the King. The Royal parties motored in from London Road, arriving shortly before 11 o'clock and proceeding by way of Castle Street and Church Street to the Thermo Works, off Hitchin Road.
(Pictured, below right, is George Fern, a disabled worker employed at the Thermo Works for whom the King had some sympathetic words.)
What the Luton News hailed as one of the most interesting of Society events took place on July 20th, 1917, with the wedding of Major Harold Augustus Wernher, second son of the late Sir Julius Wernher and Lady Wernher, of Luton Hoo, and Countess Anastasia (Zia) de Torby, elder daughter of the Grand Duke Michael Michailovitch of Russia and the Countess de Torby.
Just before midnight on Sunday, July 9th, 1917, disaster struck the Dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard as she lay at anchor in Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. An internal explosion ripped through the vessel, which sank almost immediately.