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Armistice and the Aftermath

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

This blog looks at the immediate Post-war period in Falkirk District and Scotland at large. The war left a psychological affect both on those who had served in the armed forces and seen front line action and the civilians at home.

Armistice and the Aftermath

The Armistice was signed at 0510am on the 11 November 1918, and the fighting officially ended at 11am on all fronts. After 1,564 days the war had come to an end. In Falkirk, for days before, rumours of an end to the fighting had been rife. The Town Clerk advised that on receiving the notification of the Armistice that the steeple bell would be rung for half and hour and a thanksgiving service would be held in the Parish Church. On the 7 November it was rumoured in the town that the Germans had surrendered. On the 9 November the Falkirk Herald reported on a crowd that had gathered, in hope, outside the Post Office to read the news of the surrender.

When news of the Armistice arrived on the morning of 11 November it was Rear Admiral S Clinton Baker, at HMS Rameses in Grangemouth, who received the news via a wireless signal. He subsequently informed Provost Jackson who announced the Armistice at the dockyard gate and at 9.30am the Cooperative Soap Works’ Factory siren sounded. The Falkirk Herald reported in its edition of 16 November 1918 on the Armistice day celebrations in Grangemouth: ‘A group of lads and lassies from the Mining Depot joined hands in a wild ‘jing-a-ring’, bands of youths with explosives in old tins added deafening reports to the general clamour, rockets flared, and fog signals laid along the railway line made a series of deafening explosions.’ The paper further reported that: ‘ A band appeared and at twenty minutes to eleven the church bells rang out, not stopping until the war ended. All day rejoicing crowds filled the streets in the sunshine.’

As the news spread across Falkirk District similar scenes were reported in the Falkirk Herald of 16 November with the paper reporting that: ‘...9.40 at Falkirk, 9.55 at Denny, 10.30 at Bonnybridge, 10.40 at Slamannan - and everywhere there was a sense that the moment called for more than mere high spirits.’ At Bonnybridge the paper reported that: ‘…. the honoured dead were very near the thoughts of everyone.’ Church services followed the announcement with the Parish Church in Falkirk overflowing. An open air service was held at the Cross with the Falkirk Herald reporting on 16 November 1918 that these services were: ‘Impressive almost beyond the power of words to describe, and part of the day’s proceedings which will always be prominently associated with a historic day in the annals of Falkirk.’ Elsewhere, in the village of Standburn a concert was held in the public hall.

The Linlithgow Gazette of Friday November 15th 1918, reported the celebrations on the Forth. Ships on the Forth played their searchlights across the sky and sounding their horns.

Influenza Epidemic

Despite the Armistice The Falkirk Herald continued to publish the ‘For King and Country’ column each week with the deaths being reported as a result of missing now being confirmed as dead or from illness. The dying also continued in Falkirk District as the influenza epidemic took hold. There had been an outbreak in July and in October the village of Laurieston was affected. By November there were fifty deaths in Falkirk. There was the tragic case of two sisters who died and was reported in the Falkirk Herald on Saturday November 8th 1918.

Death of two sisters reported in the Falkirk Herald of 8 November 1918.

The Town Council also made arrangements for cases to be treated in the fever hospital or the sanitorium. Schools were closed and evening classes suspended with the Medical Officer of Health for Grangemouth reporting that: ‘..while public opinion necessitated the closing of the schools, keeping children in crowded households in bad weather rather than in airy schoolrooms had done more harm than good.’ By October 1918 the pandemic was claiming 7,000 lives per week in Britain. Despite closing schools, spraying streets with disinfectant and wearing face masks. Other measures included energetic walks, washing the inside of the nose with soap and water and eating porridge. The total death toll in Britain from the influenza pandemic was 228,000 with a world wide death toll of 30 million.

Franchise Extended To Women

The Provost of Falkirk Town council, the war was the fault of women.

On 28th September 1918, The Falkirk branch of The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) planted a tree in Newmarket Street, Falkirk behind the Boar War Memorial, to commemorate women receiving the vote. They also took the opportunity to raise money for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals to which they had a close association. The event was reported in the Falkirk Herald of Saturday 5th October 1918. The Provost of Falkirk Town Council in his address explained that the First World War and other violent historical events were the fault of women!

The franchise was extended to women under the Representation of the People Act in January 1918, all be it to women over 30 and with property, full voting rights for all women would have to wait until 1928. Despite the war still raging German suffragists congratulated their British counterparts seeing the event as promising them ultimate victory in their campaign. However, 6 million women remained disenfranchised. The myth that women received the vote for their war work is to ignore the years of long and painful struggle by the women’s movement including the NUWSS, Women's’ Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the Women’s Freedom League (WFL). Sylvia Pankhurst of the WFL drew attention to the fact that some 6 million, mainly working class women, remained disenfranchised.

She was supported in her view by Eleanor Rathbone, an NUWSS member and to be elected to Parliament in 1929, who expressed her concerns that such a franchise would be of no use to the female factory worker.’ Millicent Fawcett, leader of the NUWSS, saw the limited enfranchisement and the age limit as a necessary compromise. The hopes of equality that rested on the partial enfranchisement of women were to unfounded as it was not just disenfranchised working class women and factory workers who saw no benefit from women’s voting rights, but the misogynistic post-war backlash also affected middle class professional women with, for example, the medical schools reimposing restrictions on women entrants.

On the 27 May 1927, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin announced during a speech at the Albert Hall in London, that he would honour the 1924 Conservative election pledge of Equal Franchise and he would present a Bill to Parliament. To assist Baldwin in getting his Bill through Parliament the women’s movement supported by Trade Unions held a demonstration in Trafalgar Square on 16 July 1927, with veteran campaigners such as Charlotte Despard of the WSPU speaking. Many women veterans wore their prison medals none more proudly than those who had the ‘Hunger Strike’ clasp. With the passing into law of the 1928 Act women would no longer be demeaned as an ‘inferior species’ but as equal citizens, women would, as they had done during the war, contribute to and enrich our national life.

The Psychological Effect on those at Home and The Front

The war left a psychological affect both on those who had served in the armed forces and seen front line action and the civilians at home. This was true of those who had suffered both physical and mental injuries with some soldiers unable to forget what had happened to them. This was an age when men were supposed to suffer in silence however, the suppression of their war memories and experiences could not hide the fact that many veterans suffered from the effects of the war. It is easy to make assumptions about the trauma of war and its impact on the social fabric of the nation so, it is important that we understand and acknowledge that not every veteran exhibited the symptoms of emotional distress and war trauma.

Many veterans returned from the Front exhausted but exhilarated about their part in the war and not injured either mentally of physically. However, we must also acknowledge that it is undeniable that hundreds continued to die after the Armistice from war related injuries and illnesses: the total of British wounded being put at 1,676,037. Until 1939, the Registrar-General for Scotland recorded the number of veterans who died of their war related injuries and illnesses in their annual reports.

Death of Falkirk District man reported in the Falkirk Herald of 15 May 1915.

The Disconnect between Men and their Families

There was discussion in the press about the disconnect between the men and their families and their accounts of their lives in the trenches. Comrades of the dead man when writing home to the man’s wife or mother always tried to hide the hideous nature of that death by using such words as instantaneous … shot through the heart A letter that appeared in the Falkirk Herald on 15 May 1915 is a good example. The families at home lived day in and day out with the stress of not knowing what was happening to their loved ones and how they lived in the trenches. Equally, the men, particularly those who fought in the trenches, did not let their families know about the reality of trench life. There was also the continuing pain of wives who had been widowed or lost a son they would never see grow to manhood. Of children who had lost fathers or brothers. For them the war would never end. To these families the First World War had been won at a terrible price.

Mental Health Issues

As early as 9th October 1914, the Linlithgow Gazette carried an article on the impact of the war on the veterans and their families. They mentioned that ‘Happily, many who are wounded will recover, although some will carry with them to their dying day marks of the ordeal they have passed through.

Doctors were concerned that the stress families were under could possibly see an increase in the numbers admitted to asylums. The Central Board of control for Scotland reported that doctors had anticipated an increase in numbers as a result of the strain the population was under. They had put this strain down to parents and wives when their sons and husbands were away fighting, the death of a son or husband and the general shortages and rationing all of which could induce a mental break down. The medical profession undertook very little work after the war to investigate the impact of the war on the Home Front.

It was generally felt that acts of remembrance would help with the healing process. As they grew older the veterans found it easier to talk about their experiences to their families and the increased interest in the First World War, particularly the 1960’s TV series and later TV programmes, allowed veterans to be interviewed and to relive their war experience. Today, we can rely on contemporaneous diaries, letters and these oral accounts given by the men to appreciate their trench lives. The First World War transformed our society and the way that we look at mental health.

1918 General Election - The Coupon Election

On 14th December 1918, a General election was called. This was long overdue as the Parliament elected in 1910 had perpetuated itself through wartime legislation. In Falkirk District the parliamentary boundaries had been redrawn in 1917 and these now formed the constituencies of Stirling, Falkirk, Grangemouth Burghs, Clackmannan, East Stirlingshire, West Stirlingshire, and Linlithgowshire. As we have seen women over 30 could now vote as could men over 21. The election became known as the ‘Coupon Election’ as coalition candidates were endorsed by a letter signed by both Lloyd George and Bonar Law which Asquith termed as a ‘coupon.’

In 1917 the Scottish Co-operative and Labour Council was formed this brought together the Scottish Co-operative organisations, the Labour Party and the STUC. This was an initiative by the Scottish Co-operative Union which had as a long term objective the formation of a Co-operative Commonwealth. By the 1918 election a separate Co-operative Party had been formed and fought a number of Scottish seats, including in Falkirk were the Falkirk Herald reported on a joint meeting at the Oddfellows Hall in Falkirk during the 1918 election. The Co-operative Party always worked in alliance with the Labour Party. The coalition won the election easily with 474 seats, the Conservatives holding 338 of these and 136 ‘coupon’ Liberals. The Labour Party won 57 seats and Asquith’s followers in the Liberal Party reduced to 26 seats.

Asquith Loses His Parliamentary Seat

In Falkirk District the coalition candidates won all four seats. The Scottish results reflected those that we have seen in Britain as a whole. The Coalition Unionists took twenty eight seats, coalition Liberals twenty four, coalition Labour one, Coalition national Democratic Party one, the Asquithian Liberals eight, and the Labour Party six. There was also two un-couponed Unionists and one ILP. The decimation of the Asquithian Liberals was remarkable given their pre-war dominance of seventy seats. MacKinnon Wood, the Scottish Secretary in 1914, lost his deposit and his successor H.J. Tennant came third and just held onto his deposit. What was worse, Asquith lost his East Fife seat that he had held for over thirty years. Asquith got back into parliament by winning the Paisley seat and they did recoup some of their losses in the 1922 election. The election results established the Tories as the anti-socialist party in Scotland at a time when class was shaping the electoral debate and allegiance.

Labour Moves Forward in Scotland

The ILP opposition to the war had destroyed much of its influence within the Labour Party, it should be remembered that the working class supported the war for much of its duration. Only two ILP councillors on Glasgow Corporation voiced opposition to the war. Indeed, J O’Connor Kessack, a leading light in the ILP and vice-president of the STUC was killed in action. The three Scottish Labour Party MP’s supported the war and voted for the Conscription Bill. The Scottish miners enthusiastically supported the war with the highest proportion enlisting of any coalfield in Britain. John Brown the leader of the Ayrshire miners and a strong supporter of the war won the South Ayrshire seat for the Labour Party in the 1918 election. Duncan Graham, at a trade union rally that he attended during the war, tore up an anti-war leaflet by Ramsay Macdonald to enthusiastic applause. He went on to win the Hamilton seat in the 1918 election for Labour. It was not until the 1922 election and the collapse of Liberalism in the urban central belt that Labour moved forward in Scotland.


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