NOSTALGIA: Armistice in Boston in 1918 and scenes from war memorial unveiling in 1921

This photograph was shared with the Standard by Neil Watson, of Boston. It shows a crowd at the opening of the war memorial, in Strait Bargate, in September 1921, with the tank presented to the town at the end of the First World War.
This photograph was shared with the Standard by Neil Watson, of Boston. It shows a crowd at the opening of the war memorial, in Strait Bargate, in September 1921, with the tank presented to the town at the end of the First World War.
  • Town among first in country to learn of ceasefire
  • Celebrations run into the night in town centre

Boston was among the first places outside London to learn of the end of the First World War, with news breaking in the town at about 10.20am on November 11.

Word came via Messrs A. H. Read and Sons, who as shipping agents were entitled to priority telephone calls and as luck would have it were communicating with the capital at the time the ceasefire was announced there.

Another scene from the unveiling of the war memorial in 1921. Picture: Neil Watson.

Another scene from the unveiling of the war memorial in 1921. Picture: Neil Watson.

“Prime Minister has announced that Armistice was signed at 5am and hostilities cease at 11am. You can put your flags out,” ran the message received by Alfred Read that morning.

The business moved quickly to see the news spread across the town (helped by the Standard) and at 11am the Stump hoisted the flag of St George and began ringing out the bells in the church tower.

“When the GPO received their telegram, in Wide Bargate, staff joined in cheering and singing the National Anthem and their enthusiasm communicated itself to the public collected outside,” the Standard wrote. “Civilians and military fraternised over the glad tidings. The streets were quickly ablaze with bunting, and flags were carried and waved in all directions.

“In the Market Place, first the Suffolks’ Band, and than a decorated street piano, played patriotic airs and supplied music for an impromptu dance, in which many young folks participated.

It was May Fair, Mafeking Day and a parliamentary election (after the poll) rolled into one!

“Much excitement prevailed, and there were everywhere expressions of relief and exchanges of congratulations.”

For many, including schools, the day became a half-holiday.

“It is indeed many years since such a manifestation of public rejoicing was witnessed in Boston,” The Standard wrote of the afternoon’s celebrations. “The people – young and old, civil and services – abandoned themselves to the occasion, and made high festival of it. The spacious Market Place and its approaches – Bargate, and the Town Bridge into High Street – were packed with a surging throng, cheering, shouting, and singing. It was May Fair, Mafeking Day and a parliamentary election (after the poll) rolled into one!”

Fireworks were let off, confetti thrown, and at about 3.30pm, a barrel of beer was rolled out of Still Lane to ‘the hill’ to ‘deafening cheers’, The Standard said, adding: “It was quickly breached – and consumed. All, however, passed off in the most good-humoured way, and there was no disorder beyond boisterous fun.”

'Flags! Flags! Flags!' Oldrids' advert in the Standard the week after peace was declared.

'Flags! Flags! Flags!' Oldrids' advert in the Standard the week after peace was declared.

The celebrations continued into the night, when – as the Standard described it – ‘the scene was rendered weird by the burning of coloured lights, and flying squibs and crackers, and the Market Place continued fairly crowded till a late hour.

“The crowning exhibition was on Bargate Green, where a bonfire of old chairs etc. was lighted and fed with benzoline, and about 20 star shells were shot into the air.

“Military offices revelled in the display, and the delighted crowd cheered itself hoarse as the fire blazed and the exploding shells illuminated the neighbourhood.”