Armistice Day in the Shire of Heidelberg, November 11 1918
Posted on Saturday, 10th November 2018 by Janine Rizzetti
THE ARMISTICE IN THE HEIDELBERG DISTRICT
When peace finally came on 11 November 1918, nobody was surprised. In fact, the Shire of Heidelberg had already begun planning for peace celebrations in mid-October with the different ridings of the Shire making initial plans for children’s picnics, bonfires and thanksgiving services, with separate functions to be held in Fairfield, Ivanhoe and Heidelberg.
In the days immediately preceding what we now know as Armistice Day, peace celebrations had already begun even though it was not yet official. Melbourne Town Hall was filled to overflowing at a great meeting on 6th November, attended by the Acting Prime Minister, where the crowd rejoiced “with song, speech, laughter and hearts over the collapse of the enemy alliance and the dawn of peace”.
At 2.30 p.m. on the 7th November, a rumour swept over the Oaks Day crowd at the Flemington Races that peace had been declared. Hats and sticks were thrown in the air, women wept and men cheered. The delirium lasted only half an hour before the ‘great lie’ was discovered.
The next day, Friday 8th November, Melbourne woke to the scream of factory whistles and the peal of bells as a message was received from Vancouver that the armistice had been signed. The news spread quickly throughout Victoria, reaching Ballarat by 8.00 a.m. Railway navvies threw up their hats and declared a holiday when the whistles blew. Tram cars were decked with colours, and crowds surged into the city. Fearing unruliness, the Government ordered the hotels closed, adding an implicit authority to the news. Crowds gathered around the newspaper offices and outside the Melbourne Town Hall which was bedecked with flags. Workers tried to close the Town Hall doors, but the crowd sang “We Won’t Go Home Until Morning”. But by 4.00 p.m. when no official confirmation of the news of peace had been received, the government rescinded the order to close the hotels. The realization spread that these celebrations, too, were premature.
The Heidelberg district was not immune from this wave of anticipation. The ‘false alarm’ on Friday prompted the churches to make arrangements for thanksgiving services, and so on Sunday 10th November the Heidelberg and Ivanhoe Churches provided leaflets advising of the thanksgiving service arrangements for when the armistice was announced- when ever that might be.
They did not have to wait long. At 7.30 p.m. on the night of Monday 11th November a cablegram announcing the signing of the armistice was conveyed to Melbourne through America. The small crowd of about 100 people that had gathered outside the newspaper offices in Melbourne rapidly swelled as the cablegram was posted up. This time, there was official confirmation from London, and the Federal government (at that time, based in Melbourne) notified the State Premiers throughout Australia. Once again, bells rang out and crowds surged into the central city, singing patriotic songs and completely blocking Elizabeth and Swanston Streets. The tram cars were lifted off their tracks and taken to where people could get a better view. A striking feature of the crowd, wrote the Age was the presence of so many women of “mature age”. The crowds did not begin to thin until after 11.00 p.m. Tuesday 12th November was declared a public holiday.
When the news reached Heidelberg on the night of Monday 11 November,church bells and the fire-bells at the fire station in Cape Street opposite the school were immediately set ringing. Scots Presbyterian church was opened up, and a Thanksgiving service conducted. An impromptu meeting in the Heidelberg Shire Offices, attended by fifty men, including Shire councillors,brought those earlier October plans for peace celebrations into a more definite form. At Ivanhoe, several hundred people were attracted into the streets by the ringing of the bells.
Meanwhile, at the Fairfield Rifle Club, the Racketty Coo Club, formed by the young ladies of Fairfield, was entertaining the local returned soldiers from Mont Park with a dance. As the news came through, the music stopped and they burst into the National Anthem. Church bells rang, and within a few minutes a crowd gathered in front of the Church of England in Station Street Fairfield. As soon as the church doors were opened, people flooded in – so many, in fact, that an overflow service was held in the adjacent Fairfield Hall. After the service, people didn’t want to go home. Mr Brown, the proprietor of the large Fairfield Theatre across the road, opened his doors and the people poured in, waving flags and singing. People were no sooner seated before the lights went out and a picture of the King was shown on the screen.
As the Heidelberg News reported: This seemed to just touch the right spot, and the people responded to their feelings of enthusiasm by rounds of applause. Pictures of prominent leaders in the navy and military, Lloyd George, President Wilson etc. followed, succeeded by patriotic pictures, such as the unfurling of the Union Jack flutter in the air, John Bull and Uncle Sam shaking hands etc. Each picture seemed to increase the enthusiasm and applause, until at the end of about ten minutes or a quarter of an hour of intense excitement, and everybody had shouted themselves hoarse, the lights went up and the councillors and ministers took the platform and led by the shire president, carried out a programme of singing and speeches till about eleven o’clock, when the singing of the Doxology and National Anthem and God Bless Our Splendid Men brought the meeting to a close. (HN 16/11 p.3)
But still the people lingered in Station Street, unwilling to return home. Cr May announced from the balcony window of the theatre to the crowd in the street that a bonfire would be held at midnight near the railway siding at Broomfield Avenue, Alphington. The crowd formed into a procession and marched around the streets while the committee built the impromptu bonfire. At 1.00 a.m. it was lit, to the accompaniment of cheering, ringing of bells, beating of kerosene tins and general rejoicing. This was kept up for an hour, until the fire started to abate and people drifted home.
The next day, thanksgiving services were held. On Tuesday Ivanhoe Hall (the present HATCH gallery) was crowded with over 400 people for a service conducted by local Protestant ministers. On Wednesday at noon, a service was held at Scots Presbyterian Church in Heidelberg. All the churches planned special services for Sunday 17th November, and a large thanksgiving service was held at Fairfield Park at 4.00 p.m. with the Salvation Army band and a combined choir.
And all that planning for peace celebrations, that had started back in October? That was to reach fruition on 23 November, when the Shire declared a public holiday and celebrations were carried out across the Heidelberg District.
Sources: The Age 7-13 November, Heidelberg News 16 November. All available on Trove