The Peace Day story: part 2

Peace Day evening crowd

[The Luton Reporter, Tuesday, July 22nd, 1919]

Most of the police force had proceeded to Wardown Park unsuspecting trouble, and Sgts [Frederick] Smith and [John] Matsell and two constables were all there were left on guard. They endeavoured to humour the crowd and appealed to them not to upset matters on such a day, and in this way gained sufficient time to enable most of the Council to get clear out of the building by the back door.

But the men outside were very determined and, seeing their requests to meet the Mayor and Town Clerk were not to be complied with, they resorted to force. "We want the Mayor, and we mean to have him," they said, and gradually they forced the police back and lent their weight on the doors, with the result that they gave way, Sgt Smith being forcibly knocked through the door in the process and rather badly shaken up.

Just as the mob trooped in they caught sight of the Mayor's Sergeant [Frederick Rignall], and as he was in uniform they followed him upstairs in an instant. Mr Rignall, scenting trouble, was on his way to his office adjoining the assembly hall, where his wife and children were viewing the procession, with a view to getting them out of the building. But as he was in uniform the breakers-in concluded he was off to attend to the Mayor, and this conclusion was not easily dispelled. Having satisfied themselves the Mayor was not in the apartment to which Mr Rignall led them, they did not interfere with that office, but straight away set to work to smash everything they could lay their hands on in the assembly hall.

This building had been used for a dance the previous night, and there were chairs, forms, mirrors, crockery and decorative material lying about, and practically all met with the same ruthless treatment. Then the excited party smashed the front windows, tore down the decorations in and about the balcony, smashed the framework made for the electric illuminations, and finally started throw out chairs.

They would have done ditto with the the forms, but for appeals made to them for the safety of the women and children outside. As it was, it was purely by chance that no one was injured by the missiles literally send flying from the balcony, several people having narrow escapes.

When they had given full vent to their passion for smashing up the place, they proceeded downstairs and did some more smashing of the electric light globes, and so on, in the Council Chamber and then, when they came out, there suddenly occurred to one what had been missed in the first rush inside - the Mayor's parlour.

And little thought they knew it, the Mayor was there with the Mayoress, Aldermen Arnold, Cain and Oakley, Councillor Barford, Councillor and Mrs Escott, and the Town Clerk. Mr Rignall kept the secret well though he had to go through the hoop pretty smartly for his denial of their whereabouts.

When the location of the Mayor's Parlour was observed, some of the men tried the door, but extra precautions had been taken in the meantime. It was locked, of course, and besides steps had been taken to effectively barricade it. What would have happened if the men had persisted in trying to force their way into the room one dreads to think, but, happily, this eventuality did not arise.

Just as the Chief Constable was concluding arrangements for the orderly dispersal of the procession outside Wardown Park a message came along which caused him to proceed post haste to the Town Hall with his mounted constables, and other officers were summoned to follow in a motorcar. Their arrival was well timed, for with the accession of the strength it enabled the men in blue to better deal with the intruders, and, after some amount of discussion, they were got outside the Town Hall.

Still things continued to be pretty lively in the street. Missiles were flying about, and two went through the window of the Town Clerk's private office and another through one of the windows of the small committee room.

At intervals various of the party mounted the pillars by the side of the Town Hall steps, and poured out grievances in very pointed language which, it must be confessed, appeared to very much appeal to a considerable section of the crowd. They were cheered to the echo, and so were their sentiments, and when a marine climbed the tramway standard in the centre of the space in front and cut down the four lines of streamers from various points of the Town Hall front he was quite the hero of he moment.

With the mounted police on the scene the crowd got back a little from the Town Hall, and they became fairly orderly, although obviously excited. This was due in some part to the sudden retreat of some of the ringleaders in the trouble, and some indiscreet whispers gave the police a clue to the sudden lull before a storm and enabled them to ward off the danger.

Their destination was the residence of the Mayor [London Road], and from what was said it was clear they meant turning our the place until they found him. But by getting to hear of this and their knowledge of short cuts the police got on the scene first, stopped the men before reaching the house, and succeeded in dissuading them from carrying out the object of their errand.

The Town Hall continued for some hours to be the centre of interest for a tremendous crowd, many of whom seemed to regard what was happening as great fun. Among those who visited the scene was Mr W. B. Clay, chairman of the Luton and District branch of the Discharged Sailors and Soldiers Federation, who was introduced to the crowd by Mr W. J. Mair JP, and was given a splendid reception in response to an earnest appeal for order and fair play.

Speaking on behalf of the Federation, and in the names of "our noble dead," Mr Clay besought his hearers to refrain from drastic actions on such a day, pointing out that they were only destroying their own property and were imperilling the safety of women and children.

His speech appeared to have an excellent effect, and although a surprisingly large number of people found more interest than in the varied attractions provided in the official peace celebrations at Wardown Park, matters generally ruled very quiet as long as it was light.

Nevertheless there appeared to be general apprehensions of what would happen after ten o'clock.