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Great War Armistice was marked in Devon with joy and sadness

Those on the “Home Front” in Devon marked the end of World War One with both joy and sadness, a University of Exeter historian has found.

News of the Armistice a century ago was greeted with celebration and relief by people across the county, but there were also displays of poignant reflection, particularly among those who had lost loved ones.

Dr Richard Batten researched the way people across Devon reacted to the end of the Great War by examining records and newspaper archives.

On November 11 a large crowd eagerly waiting outside the offices of the Western Times newspaper in Exeter’s High Street began cheering as they saw the news of the ending of hostilities posted in the office window. A correspondent for the Devon and Exeter Gazette described the sight of thousands of people from all parts of Exeter who had “become engulfed in a wave of thankfulness, relief and enthusiasm”. There were similar scenes in Barnstaple, Brixham, Crediton, Dawlish, Exmouth, Tavistock, Tiverton and Newton Abbot.

In Plymouth, a correspondent for the Western Morning News reported boisterous celebrations, but also a “happy absence of wild and unrestrained behaviour” – perhaps due to restrictions in the opening hours of public houses and the sale of alcohol.

The news of the Armistice meant religious services at Exeter’s churches for that day turned into services of thanksgiving. After a service at the Cathedral a military and civic parade processed through the streets of the city and came to a halt at the statue of Sir Redvers Buller. The Mayor of Exeter Sir James Owen declared to the assembled crowd that “the hearts of the citizens of Exeter were not boastful but were instead filled with thankfulness” and “he was certain that it was the divine authority of God which had guaranteed Britain’s victory against the Germans”.

In his sermon after the Armistice the Reverend of Tavistock Parish Church, H. L. Bickersteth said the people of Tavistock had congregated to thank God for the Armistice in the same solemn way parishioners in the same church had given thanks for the victory at Agincourt, the defeat of the Spanish Armada and also for the result of the wars in the time of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Local author Stephen Reynolds described the intense sense of relief that he felt upon hearing the news of the Armistice. But he also described being swamped with a kind of “backwash”, an anti-climax as he reflected on human cost of the war. Reynolds watched the festivity in the streets of Sidmouth as the people of the town celebrated the Armistice, and recorded that the spectacle gave him the morbid feeling of witnessing an orgy in a graveyard.

Dr Batten said: “During the centenary of the Armistice it is equally important to reflect and remember the people on the Home Front in the county alongside our remembrance of those who fought in the conflict. Those who stayed at home during the war that supported the British war effort through a multitude of ways on a local level and the Great War played a significant part of their lives.

“It is vital that interest in the Home Front in Devon during the Great War should continue past 2018 and not end with the conclusion of the centenary of the First World War.”

Date: 13 November 2018

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