First World War: Why & # 39; indecent & # 39; ceasefire festivals ended

American Armistice Anniversary Ball, Charing Cross, LondonImage copyright
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As the United Kingdom recalls the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, commemorations will focus on those who fought and died. But truce was not always so gloomy.

At 11 am on Tuesday November 11, 1919, veterans, relatives and friends of the dead and millions of others thanked for the sacrifices of the First World War.

A year after the end of the conflict, villages and towns held parades, church services and two minutes of silence.

That was during the day. The evening of 11 November was different. Thousands of people – most of them young – wanted to have fun.

"Victory balls" – fundraising for fundraising with fancy dress parties, dancing, singing and drinking in abundance – were held to meet this need.

Pathé statues of the biggest ball of that year, held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, show party-goers in costumes, including turbans, doublets and snakes, and a dress with stars and stripes. An imperious looking woman poses as Britannia.

"These events often had a festive atmosphere about them, because soldiers wanted to mark the fact that they had been through the war," says Chris Kempshall, who gives a fellow in modern European history at the University of Sussex.

"They celebrated with their comrades and marked the sacrifices of their fellow men by living and enjoying their own lives."

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The Armistice of 1918 saw massive celebrations in the United Kingdom

The balls went on and collected money for veterans and charities.

Victory Dance, a poem by the writer and academic Alfred Noyes published in 1920, showed disgust at the frivolity on show:

Shadows of dead men

Stand by the wall,

Watching the fun

From the victory ball.

But every criticism remained muffled until October 19, 1925, the newspaper The Times published a letter from Richard & Dick & # 39; Sheppard, vicar of the St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in the center of London.

He called for the cancellation of the annual Albert Hall ball.

"Dancing is often the obvious and fitting form of grateful commemoration of a happy event," he wrote, "but a fancy dress-ball on a large scale as a tribute to the Great Redemption that followed the unspeakable torment of 1914- 1918 does not seem to me as much unreliable as indecent. "

Sheppard, who had been a chaplain at a military hospital in France during the war, argued that balls and similar "thoughtless and ill-conceived" parties in hotels and restaurants "should not be encouraged, at least as long as this generation retains the heartache of a tender and grateful memory ".

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Alfred Noyes was an early critic of truce balls

The Times was flooded with letters with which Sheppard was considered a murderer.

An employee, described as "Company Commander", argued that, as the only survivor of four brothers, "the last thing they would want is that they should stand in the way of our pleasure".

But another employee, Roger Lawrence, agreed with Sheppard and said that a fancy dress ball & # 39; grotesque & # 39; and a & # 39; piece vulgar & # 39; used to be.

The popular press recognized the significance of the controversy and continued. The Daily Mail campaigned for the balls to end for fear of offending the next of kin. It claimed that social top groups, some of whom had not served, enjoyed themselves at the expense of the dead.

However, the Daily Express, which was engaged in a sales war with its rival, defended the rights of veterans to have a good time and relive their camaraderies after they had taken their lives at war.

The archbishops of Canterbury and York took the same position as the Post.

Ultimately, the organizer of the Albert Hall Victory Ball, Lord Northampton, admitted to the calls, which he postponed until November 12. Before 11 November, existing cardholders could attend a commemoration service – performed by Sheppard.

Who was Richard "Dick" Sheppard?

  • Sheppard was born in Windsor in 1880 and offered to serve in the Second Boer War, but was wounded on his way to the train station, preventing him from being able to serve and handicapped for life.
  • He took part in the first religious broadcast of the BBC in 1924, but had to stop working on the radio in 1926 because of asthma-related problems
  • In 1927 he announced his conversion to pacifism
  • After Sheppard died in 1937, 100,000 people fell by his coffin

Source: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The number of balls decreased during the late 1920s, when Armistice Day started to get the more or less completely down to earth character it has today.

A former officer stopped participating in commemorations and described them as "too much attending to their own funeral".

"Set against the gloomy nature of these moments is the fact that in reality 88% of British soldiers survived the First World War," says Dr. Kempshall, "and they wanted to be able to bring their own commemorations and activities into the light. fact. "

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VE Day is remembered for his party mood

The debate in the 1920s must be seen in the context of society at the time, argues Elisabeth Shipton, author of Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War.

"With an increase in pacifism and increasing austerity, parties with alcohol, dancing and excess were considered more and more inappropriate," she says.

"In addition, was it a" victory "that got such a big loss to human lives? & # 39;

Around 750,000 British soldiers died during the First World War. But while nearly 400,000 British servicemen died during the Second World War, commemorations of Victory in Europe (VE) Day have a much nicer tone, dancers and actors who re-enact famous scenes from the street celebrations of May 8, 1945.

What is sometimes forgotten is that British cities also saw spontaneous parties when the armistice was announced on 11 November 1918. Thousands of people were outside Buckingham Palace, just like in 1945.

Yet the differences in remembrance remain.

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"The two world wars set the tone for how we understand and rationalize wars in this country," says Dr. Kempshall.

The crimes of the Nazi empire make it easier to see the adversary as "clear" malicious, while many of the popular memories of the First World War are "mud, blood, trenches and incompetent generals," he adds.

First World War "seemed less resolved", which means it "has a huge impact on how we talk about modern wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan that have mixed results and sometimes limited support from the people".

Charity-supporting balls, held on or around November 11, make a slight comeback in the UK, the US and around the Commonwealth, Ms. Shipton notes.

But Sheppard's view of Armistice, shaped by his time tending to wounded and dying soldiers on the western front, continues to dominate.