Differing views on Peace Day riots

Two shades of opinion resulting from the Peace Day riots were published in The Luton News on August 28th, 1919. The newspaper said it had received many letters but the strong terms and language used by most of the writers had resulted in them being held over.

From Mr F. C. W. Janes, a letter asking if the Corporation were to blame for the troubles. He wrote:

“May I venture to make a protest against the spirit of unmitigated condemnation so widely manifested against the members of our Town Council in connection with the lamentable issue of our Peace Celebrations? Writing after the event one is, of course, easily able to convict them of many sins of omission and commission.

“The town has been ringing with vehement complaints concerning their shortcomings, real and supposed, until we are in danger of forgetting the magnificent service rendered not only without fee or reward but at a personal financial cost which would surprise the whole community could it be made known.

“It would be impossible to find any town governed by men with cleaner hands and less self interested motives than the men who are now subjected to so much stupid and illogical abuse. And yet the most deplorable feature of our last few weeks' experience, following the dastardly action of out local Bolsheviks, has been the astounding efforts of supposedly sane, respectable citizens of Luton to find some excuse for these blackguards by attaching the blame to the Council.

“Wherein lies the offence of the Council in this matter? The crime most frequently laid to their charge was the refusal to grant the use of Wardown Park for a memorial service. The Aldermen and Councillors are the trustees of the town's property; a trust they have always discharged with conspicuous fairness; and to suggest that they intended to deliberately give offence to noble hearted men who have risked their lives in our defence, and, were still, to show base ingratitude to those who have made the the supreme surrender is surely beneath contempt.

“The statement made by Alderman H. Arnold is on record concerning this and other matters and has not been publicly challenged in any particular. It is quite clear from that statement that whatever blame is due should be fairly distributed; as it is evident our Town Council was not the only body to make mistakes.

“I therefore protest most strongly against the despicable, mean and cowardly treatment meted out to our public men in this tragic moment of our town's history.

“They do not need my defence. They are well able, given fair play, to meet their traducers. But as one who knows something of the anxieties and responsibilities of public life, I appeal for a spirit of 'sweet reasonableness' to dominate the criticisms it is right and proper for use to indulge in when discussing the actions of our public men.

“'Lest we forget,' may I emphasise the implication contained in the statement made by our courageous and efficient Town Clerk in the police court, that prior to 10.10 pm no windows were broken on the night of the riot. From the critics of the Town Council the cry goes forth 'Clear them all out'. Before we do that, would it not be well to ponder the stern fact that the immediate cause of Luton's disgrace was the sudden appearance in George Street at 10pm of hundreds of drunken lunatics.

“Is it not possible that the clearing out process should commence in another direction?”

In offering an opposite view, The Luton News published a letter from 'A Lover of Luton Town and People,' a correspondent not identified but described as “one of the most prominent gentlemen in Luton”. He wrote:

“Never before has Luton stood in greater need of a real friend, of someone who really knows her, of someone who can reinstate her in the good opinion of all whose appreciation is worthy having. Truth waits upon imagination, and without imagination no one can understand her present undesirable position in the eyes of the nation.

“The first question that has to be asked and answered is – What caused out trouble? Cause there must be. It is the easiest thing in the world to express indignation when rioting, incendiarism and every kind of violence is seen and felt by all. But what caused it? The judicial mind must reconstruct the situation. Let us try.

“Luton, like every other town in the country, is called upon to celebrate the great Peace in history. The men who have fought in this most bloody war are home again, many maimed for life. Nothing is too good for those who have fought and bled for their homes and country. Every member of the community is anxious to express gratitude. The men must be feasted and welcomed by a grateful populace. They must be made to feel that those who have stayed at home feel the burden of a lasting debt of gratitude that shall be paid at all costs. What shall they have? Let them speak.

“With deference born of gratitude, the civic fathers in official robes wend their way to learn their pleasure. 'Brothers,' speaks the Mayor, in tones indicative of strong emotion, 'we thank you for all you have done in return for all you have done for us. You have but to speak your wishes and a grateful people will respond with boundless generosity.'

“Such would have been the picture the dullest imagination would have seen before the fateful day, and not a voice in Luton would have failed to say, 'So let it be'.

"What were the facts? Nothing was done for the men who have done so much for us! With a lack of imagination that staggered the silent onlookers, a banquet for the rich was advertised by the civic authorities. To the lasting credit of the town there was practically no response, and the proposal fell through, but the mentality of those who made this suggestion had been appraised at its proper value by an indignant people, and the town squirmed helpless and ashamed at this latest manifestation of incompetence.

“But the great tragedy was the refusal of Wardown. The men's only wish was scorned and summarily refused. Nothing will ever obliterate this act from the minds and hearts of the people of Luton. No special pleading can ever account for the want of imagination on the part of the authorities. No extenuating considerations can ever mitigate the stupidity of such a refusal. No appeal remains for those responsible for it.

“To the eternal disgrace of the town a wise and generous-hearted lady had to do what the civic fathers refused the people the opportunity of doing. All honour to the Lady of the Manor, but where is the imagination? Where the indignation of Luton men and women? Are we to be content to allow one generous-hearted lady to discharge our indebtedness to the men who have fought for us as well as for her?

“Oh, sons of the people! I say we have been wronged, our generosity has been scouted and our indignation cannot spend itself in punishing the poor wretches whose madness is partially explained by an atmosphere of indignation that has not yet been dissipated by the universal abhorrence of their excesses.

“Oh that someone with a little imagination would co-ordinate the factors of Luton's lurid imbroglio and show to the world that when wisely governed she is as peaceful, law-abiding and deeply religious a town as any in the country.”