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.
News of the armistice was telephoned from London to the offices of The Luton News/Saturday Telegraph in Manchester Street at 10.30am, shortly after a tip-off had been received from a military camp. That news was immediately passed to the Town Hall to enable the newly elected Mayor, Councillor Henry Impey, to make a public announcement from the balcony just ten minutes after the Armistice came into effect.
Although carrying an edition time of 6.30pm, a special edition of the Saturday Telegraph was on the streets by midday, allowing Lutonians to read the news hours before any London newspapers arrived. Second and third editions with further updated news followed.
On the following Thursday, under a headline The Dawn of Peace, the Luton News told the story of how its sister paper had spread the good news. Its report read:
It was good to be a journalist, printer and newsboy on Monday morning. We entered the office with the knowledge that there was an expectant multitude without. The day was named officially as one of promise, and in that courageous spirit which has always borne the British nation through war, we named it as a day of hope.
Rumours there had been that the conditions which heralded peace had been accepted, but they were not fulfilled. We knew that our Armies, in these last days, were engaged in a march of liberation, that the designs of the enemy were protection rather than assault, but it was hard to believe the end of the war was so near. As the rumours were laid one by one, we hardened to meet the possibility of a prolonged struggle, but never yielded our confidence that the day would come when the dragon would be slain and trampled in the dust.
The multitude was indoors and out, pursuing the ordinary avocations of everyday life, when the first whisper came through to the office. Whisper? Well hardly that. It had obtained the news from a military camp which had received it by wireless. And ere he had put up the receiver at his end came the call of London, and the schooled voice of an expert Press telegraphist began:
“The Prime Minister makes the following announcement. The Armistice was signed at 5am this morning. Hostilities will cease on all front at 11am today.”
And while we wanted to give the news to the people, the printers were fretting. Their machines were still because the motive power was required for the production of munitions. But, thanks to the Borough Electrical Engineer, he gave the glad tidings the preference, and by 11am the machinery was at work, and before noon thousands of people were scanning the Saturday Telegraph special edition.
Like magic the evangel was spread. Work ceased in hat and engineering factory, in mart and shop, and at noon the main thoroughfares, especially from the News office to Park Square, were a promenade of shouting, smiling, joyful people. Indoors and out, parents, wives, sweethearts were weeping for sheer joy of deliverance, and patriarch and bairn engaged in a common expression of thankfulness.
Soldiers and munition workers salved their differences and linked arms, but many of the older inhabitants of the borough stole away to churches and in silent meditation unburdened their souls. To many the harvest of victory was poignant with memories of bereavement of loved ones who passed hence at the sowing. Yet they, too, were happy that the end of tribulation had come.
At 11.10, in the presence of a great crowd, his Worship the Mayor appeared on the balcony of the Town Hall, supported by the Deputy Mayor (Councillor Charles Dillingham), Aldermen Oakley and Arnold, Councillors Attwood and Merchant and the Town Clerk (Mr William Smith) and other officials, and announced to the assemblage that he had an important announcement to make.
His Worship proceeded to say that he was enabled, by the courtesy of The Luton News, to state that the Armastice had been signed at five o'clock that morning. Further, that hostilities would cease at 11am that day, and that the Great War was over.
The Mayor's sentences were punctuated by rousing cheers. 'Gad Save the King' was then sung, followed by a verse of 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow'. It was evident from the halting and emotional way in which the impressive words were sung that the feelings of the crowd were most deeply stirred.
The never-to-be-forgotten ceremony closed with three rousing cheers. By this time the whole length of George Street and all the approaches to the Town Hall were filled by eager crowds of tonspeople, whose faces clearly indicated the depth of the joy one and all experienced at the glorious news just announced.
At the Town Hall the leaders of public life met in conclave to discuss the initiation of celebrations, and the chief feature of their deliberations was the decision to attend a divine service of thanksgiving on Tuesday morning, led by the new civic head of the town, with a retuinue of representatives of all official and semi-official bodies.
The authorities promptly withdrew lighting restrictions, soldiers were released from duty where possible, and towards nightfall the town was a blaze of light and resounding with jubilation.
When the notices came that the Military Service Act was suspended, the homes of scores were exalted and brightened, and as the armistice terms followed and were published ina third edition of the Saturday Telegraph, the spectre of a resumption of hostilities faded away altogether, for it was realised that the war was finally ended inasmuch as no nation could be reduced to such abject humiliation and then resume the fight.
Services were arranged at all the churches, and so thoroughly had the Saturday Telegraph spread the news that large congregations assembled everywhere.
The Red Cross Band played outside the Town Hall, the Salvation Army Bands were respectively posted at Park Square and the Volunteer Club, and the streets were packed with a dense mass of people until midnight.
The declaration that the following day would be a public holiday was received with cheers, and it was felt at the end of the day that the beginning of the peace celebrations had been comparatively mild but thoroughly successful.
[Saturday Telegraph special edition: Monday, November 11th, 1918, and The Luton News: Thursday, November 14th, 1918]