By November 11th, 1914, the full horror and tragedy of world war had become only too evident. The hoped-for quick end to conflict was obviously not going to materialise and it would be another four dour years before hostilities would cease formally at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918.
Thanks to a tip-off to a reporter, Luton was among the first towns to hear the good news that an Armistice had been signed at 5am on the morning of November 11th, 1918. Special Monday editions of the Saturday Telegraph, sister paper of The Luton News, were produced (pages for the Saturday edition had not been taken apart, so it was easy to produce a full edition with a new front page) and news vendors rushed on to the streets with bundles of copies hot off the press in their arms. National newspapers would not be on the streets until the following morning, and, of course, there was no radio or television news.
On November 11th, 1998, reporter Dick Dawson wrote an 80th anniversary story in The Luton News, describing the exhilaration in the town at the news of the signing of the Armistice. Extracts are printed below.
On the morning of November 11, 1918, a Luton Saturday Telegraph reporter reported for work, no doubt contemplating another week of gloomy news ahead.
But he was electrified when he got a phone call from a friend at an army camp saying that he had heard on the military wireless that the armistice was to be declared.
The paper was not functioning at the time because electricity was cut off for use in ammunition factories. But the editor quickly got on the phone and the authorities agreed to switch on the power so that the Saturday Telegraph could have a special edition announcing the armistice.
When the paper came out many people still did not know that an armistice had been declared. As the paper hit the streets word spread round the town "like magic". Factories stopped work and thousands of people came out into the streets shouting with joy and shaking hands with each other.
The Luton News, which came out three days later, reported: "At noon the main thoroughfares, especially Park Square, were a promenade of shouting, smiling joyful people, some of whom were weeping for sheer joy of deliverance. The rain mattered not, men and maidens were drenched, but not deterred from giving vent to their gladness. The crowds diminished for a time, but eventually returned in greater numbers reinforced by villagers.
"Along the beflagged and garlanded streets they passed to and fro cheering and singing and some of the less responsible elements threw fireworks to the danger and annoyance of others. Soldiers and munitions workers linked arms while many of those who had been bereaved stole away to church."
The armistice was officially announced by the Mayor from the Town Hall balcony and the Luton News reported that the whole of George Street and all the approaches were filled with eager crowds. That evening for the first time lighting restrictions were withdrawn and the whole town became a blaze of light resounding with jubilation.
The following day was declared a public holiday and the celebrations continued.
The slideshow below shows two special editions of the Saturday Telegraph produced on November 18th, 1918; The Luton News building on the corner of Manchester Street and Alma Street; how type was set up into pages; the Alma Street press; and news vendors dashing out into Alma Street with the latest edition hot off the press.