Retro: Armistice Day tradition started to mark end of World War One

Soldiers parade past The Old Cinema House, Barkers Pool, Sheffield
Soldiers parade past The Old Cinema House, Barkers Pool, Sheffield
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Today many people will stand in silence for two minutes to remember the sacrifice of troops in two world wars and other conflicts in a tradition that dates back to the end of World War One.

The First World War officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month in 1918, which was called Armistice Day.

World War I - Soldiers marching through Sheffield 30 April 1993

World War I - Soldiers marching through Sheffield 30 April 1993

The act of a two-minute silence began on the anniversary of Armistice Day in 1919 by those who did not want to forget the millions killed, injured and affected. In the early post-war years the Armistice Day events attracted huge crowds as memories of the conflict were fresh in people’s minds.

Now, on what is often called Remembrance Day, millions of people still stop to observe the two-minute silence at 11am on November 11 each year in the memory of those who have been affected in all conflicts.

The Royal British Legion, as the nation’s custodian of remembrance, has been organising ceremonies to ensure that people remember those who lost their lives.

Today Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield held its own Armistice Day ceremony to honour men from the city’s industrial companies who fought or lost their lives during the 1914-1918 conflict.

The event was held to mark the launch the museum’s new display of First World War memorials and rolls of honour from the Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust collection that city companies created to remember the sacrifice of their workers.

The women who toiled in the Sheffield munitions works are to be remembered by the Women of Steel statue that The Star has backed.

These days of course the event is a solemn occasion to remember the dead but the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1918 was a joyous celebration of the end of the war.

Scott Lomax, in his book The Home Front: Sheffield in the First World War, says that city shops and factories were closed as word spread and the only people working were selling flags or newspapers.

Munitions works shut down and “workers were not given permission to leave but they did so anyway and the management made no effort to stop them”.

He writes that Fitzalan Square, High Street and Fargate were described as “one seething mass of humanity” by 1pm with people singing, dancing and celebrating. People cheered the king, the government, the prime minister and the allies and sang the national anthem.

Planes flew overhead to commemorate the end of the first war where aircraft played a key role, including the German Zeppelin airships.

Sheffield had been shocked in 1916 to witness the first aid raid on the city that targeted the munitions works in the Don Valley.

By night the street lights not seen since 1914 blazed away and the Town Hall clock was lit up, writes Scott.

Fireworks were also seen over the city as people made as much noise as possible after years of fear and sacrifice.

Inevitably, though, for many the celebrations were tinged with sorrow as husbands, fathers, brothers, sons and friends who would never return from that dreadful conflict were remembered.

n Scott Lomax’s book is published by Pen and Sword Books Pen and Sword and is available from The Star shop on York Street.