Stop 10. Victory and Aftermaths

After walking alongside the Minster, continue across the grass of Dean’s Park towards the war memorial: a series of stone arches set in front of the trees.

The Minster bells pealed out with joyous news that the war had ended, and the citizens of York took to the streets to sing and dance in celebration. November 11, 1918 marked the last day of fighting, and this war-fatigued city made a great display in tune with celebrations the world over.   

From the barracks came the sounding of bugles, and nearly a half an hour of cheering as the British flag was hoisted atop the clock tower.  At the police court, crowds gathered and joined in the signing of the national anthem. Flags were draped out every window, dressing the houses and businesses with patriotic colours.

It was a day for indulgence and festivities, but was also a day tinged with sadness. The gathered crowds remembered those who would not be returning from the front lines; those whose sacrifice had made victory possible. One reporter recalled that “the sight of women with tear-dimmed eyes but with a smile lighting up their countenance filled one with strange emotion”. It was a melancholy happiness, both of pride and grief.

That evening, celebrations turned to a more sombre time of tribute, as some 10,000 citizens attended a thanksgiving service at York Minster. With the aisles packed, the Very Reverend began, “this is no opportunity for a sermon” and paused for agreement from the congregation. He continued, “At the same time it is occasion for recollection. The war is over. Hostilities ceased...The guns that have roared and thundered for four and a half long years are silent”, then added that the Minster bells could ring out proudly once again.

England had paid a price for victory. Over 700,000 men had been killed in the fighting, leaving wives, children and other family members bereaved and without any source of income. Thousands more returned bearing the physical and psychological scars of the conflict, and the process of rehabilitation into their former lives was fraught with difficulties. York was no exception, and the legacy of the war was felt long beyond the 1918 Armistice. In 1918, York residents established a branch of the National Association of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors (NADSS), a pressure group founded to lobby the government on key issues such as disability pensions, medical provisions and employment opportunities for former servicemen. Naburn, Clifton and Bootham Hospitals, and the Quaker-run Retreat on Heslington Road continued to treat patients suffering from war neuroses for a number of years. Thomas Abbott, a resident of Walmgate, recalled war-disabled soldiers on his street: “You saw men in a terrible state. They just existed in lodging houses and some had no legs, just stumps, leather aprons on the end so they could shuffle along. These men used to be gradually fading away, used to die off in the lodging-houses, nobody could care less”. It was clear that the long path to recovery was only just beginning.

It wasn’t until the following year that the formal peace treaty was signed with Germany, on June 28th, 1919. This agreement, The Treaty of Versailles, laid out recovery plans for the nations involved. Among the provisions of the treaty were the allocation of lands from Germany, and amounts of reparations to be paid. Another clause outlined plans to disarm Germany, rendering them incapable of forming such an army again.

With this sense of ease, England again celebrated peace. Through July and August, parades and festivals took place throughout the city of York. School children were excused from class, and businesses closed for a week to allow employees to take part in the civic activities. Boat races along the Ouse, fancy dress contests, and evening fireworks displays were on the official programme of events were. One activity was advertised as the “slippery pole walking contest” which involved several men dressed in funny costumes. By night, a big brass band was set up in the field along Leeman Road and played to revellers dancing under the stars.

However, victory seemed bittersweet. As the country tried to move on from the war and recover, many of those who lived through the First World War found, in one way or another, that their lives had been changed forever.


Oral history from Thomas Abbott taken from “The Walmgate Story”, Voyager Publications, Oct 2006 (ISBN: 0952539233). Reproduced by kind permission of Van Wilson.

Stop 10. Victory and Aftermaths


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