Planning for Peace Day 1919


Plans for Peace Day celebrations in Luton were first considered in February 1919, three months after the end of hostilities, when the Town Council voted a halfpenny rate (£545) towards meeting the cost, with the hope that there would be other financial contributions from within the community.

At that point £30 was allocated for the official float (Peace Enthroned), £40 for schoolchildren's sashes and headbands, £90 for musical bands, £150 for commemorative medals for children, £50 for sports prizes and £4 5s. for flares - a total of £364 5s, leaving nearly £200 for other purposes.

Peace celebrations advertisementBy June 3rd, 1919, with still no official Government decision on when Peace Day would be held, the Council pressed on with its plans. The feeling was that the celebration would be in August, possible August Bank Holiday which would also be the fifth anniversary of the Britain's entry into the war. But an August date would present problems organising the children during school holidays.

Undeterred by the uncertainty, the Council decided to be prepared for the celebration - largely influenced by the limited sum at their disposal. First, they planned to accept an invitation to attend a Combined Thanksgiving Service at the Wesleyan Church, Chapel Street, on the morning of Peace Day, but most of Luton's clergy indicated they would be unable to attend as they would be holding services at their own churches that morning.

Decorations and illuminations: The Town Hall and the space in front was to be decorated, flags were to displayed on the Corn Exchange, the Public Library and at Wardown House; the Electricity and Tramways Committee was to be asked to arrange, at the expense of the Electricity Undertaking, for the illumination of the front of the Town Hall; the Gas Company to be invited to illuminate the exterior of the Corn Exchange at their own expense; and a powerful electric lamp to be hung over the suspension bridge at Wardown. Inhabitants would be invited to display flags and to otherwise decorate their premises, especially on the procession route.

Procession: This was to assemble at Luton Hoo Park, by permission of Lady Wernher, and proceed at about 2 pm to Wardown Park via Park Street, George Street, Manchester Street and New Bedford Road where it would disperse, Schoolchildren would assemble at East Ward Recreation Ground and join the procession on its arrival there.

Bands: Bands to be engaged to play in the procession and perform during the afternoon and evening were the Red Cross (£30), Salvation Army Temple (£20), Central Mission (£10), Comrades of the Great War (£10).

Medals: Each scholar attending the town's elementary schools (approximately 9,000) to be given a commemorative medal bearing the borough coat of arms and the inscription "Borough of Luton, Celebration of Peace on conclusion of Great War, 1914-1919. Henry Impey, Mayor."

Sports: These to be held at Wardown during the afternoon and evening, organised by Luton Town Cricket Club, Luton and District Cricket League and Luton United Harriers and Cycling Club.

Entertainments: Arrangements to be made at Wardown Park for concerts, entertainments and dancing, and for a gymnastics display by scholars from the Modern School, if the celebration was held before the end of the school session. The gravel field was to be let for fairground amusements.

Fireworks: A £100 fireworks display at the north-west side of Pope's Meadow, with the Mayor inviting subscriptions to defray the cost. Flares to be displayed at Hart Hill, London Road, the Downs and at People's Park.

Banquet: A subscription banquet at the Plait Hall on the day after Peace Day. The Mayor intended to invite the Council, chief officers and others to be his guests, the remainder of the tickets to be sold (15 shillings).

Choral Society: A performance by the Luton Choral Society in the Parish Church on the evening following Peace Day - but this would be doubtful if the celebrations took place in August week.

Floats: Decorated cars emblematic of war industry were to be an important feature of the procession. The firms of Hewlett & Blondeau Ltd, Frickers Metals Co Ltd, Skefko Ball Bearing Co Ltd, Commercial Cars Ltd, Vauxhall Motors Ltd, Thermo Electric Ore Reduction Corporation Ltd, T. Balmforth & Co Ltd, G. Kent Ltd, Brown & Green Ltd, and Hayward Tyler & Co Ltd had promised to provide floats. Messrs R. H. Marks, B. Deacon, S. Horn, A Staddon, A. Strange amd F. C. Webdale had undertaken to provide the Corporation float, Peace Enthroned. Political and business organisations would also take part.

Bands and detachments of the Navy, Army and Air Force plus representatives of prisoners of war, the Volunteer Force, Friendly Societies, YMCA, special constables, WAAC, WRNVR, Land Girls, Boy Scouts, Girl Guides, St John Ambulance and 600 schoolchildren were also to be included in the procession.

After the Government had fixed Peace Day as July 19th, Luton's Peace Celebration Committee on July 3rd kept to the basic format already decided, with an additional £20 to be spent on a balloon demonstration at Wardown in the afternoon. The finalised programme for the day as advertised in The Luton News of July 17th, 1919, is illustrated above. However, the town's disgruntled firemen later complained of not being represented in the procession, and the town's largest ex-servicemen's organisation, the DS&S, did not take part.

While 600 children would join the Peace Day procession, it was agreed a two-day festival for scholars should be held later, with an appeal for public subscriptions to help defray the cost.

But comparing Luton's 1919 peace celebrations with those to mark previous victories, the Luton Reporter arrived at the conclusion "that our forebears seemed to know how to do things better in Luton in the old days".

At the peace celebrations of 1814 [when Napoleon was exiled to Elba, before escaping to fight at Waterloo], two bullocks and eleven fat sheep were given to the poor, and a grand dinner was provided in the Market House for the tradesmen and principal inhabitants.

At the close of the Crimean War in May 1856, a sheep was roasted whole in a field that then existed opposite opposite the Crown and Anchor pub [New Bedford Road/Bridge Street].

The close of the South African [Boer] War in 1901 was marked by the conferring of the freedom of the borough upon Major Alfred L. Green, the non-commissioned officers and privates of the Luton Volunteers who had left in February 1900 to fight. They were also suitably honoured in other ways at the Town Hall.

[Sources: The Luton News, The Luton Reporter]