Armistice 100: How the Falkirk Herald told the story of Armistice Day, 1918

Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders men, in the trenches.
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders men, in the trenches.

Falkirk went crazy on November 11, 1918 - of that there can be absolutely no doubt.

But for the hard-working hacks of the Falkirk Herald the story of just how the town celebrated Germany’s official surrender couldn’t be told in full until two whole days later - in the Wednesday edition of the paper on November 13.

It would have been a colossal frustration in one sense, but on the other hand it gave the journalists time to assemble an enormous amount of detail about when, where and how the news had filtered through to the general public.

By the time the paper came out there had already been a “A Thanksgiving Service” in the parish church (subtitled “A Memorable Gathering” in the paper) and “Patriotic Entertainment in the Town Hall”.

This last event was a great success, but a let-down in one respect.

During the festivities a collection for the Falkirk’s Poor Fund had aimed to collect £50, but only netted £36 18s 6d.

That historic edition of the Falkirk Herald - crammed with many thousands of words of text, but few if any pictures - did not announce the big event with a banner page one headline such as “War is Over - Germany Surrenders”, because that simply wasn’t how things were done.

The front page was full of adverts, and an article about poultry farming, just as in any other normal week.

It might be the end of the most holocaustal war in human history, but there was no need to get carried away.

However out on the streets it was clearly a different story.

The paper’s highly skilled writers tied themselves in linguistic knots trying to put a genteel face on the plain fact that many citizens were inebriated.

Falkirk was a notoriously boozy town and had innumerable pubs, and a fine brewery, but the interaction of these assets with the general public and the end of a world war didn’t, for reasons of propriety, rate a mention.

Instead the paper reported: “People were behaving with a spontaneous,carefree abandon not normally associated with the Scottish temperament”, and “a new light shone in every eye”.

It also noted, opaquely: “Restrained emotions now found their vent”.

Fittingly, the end of the war was made official - in Falkirk - by the bells of the steeple.

The paper reported how people checked their clocks and watches to see if it was “on the hour” or if there was some other obvious, routine reason for the chimes - but there was not.

One citizen was laughed at for being like the Hunchback of Notredame by repeatedly shouting “The bells! The bells!” like Quasimodo.

Years of reserve, tension, get-on-with-normal-life restraint went out the window when the truth was made clear.

The Provost, with other dignitaries, addressed a crowd in the High Street, informing them that he had been given the news by telephone from the Admiral at Grangemouth.

A Falkirk Herald reporter was at the thanksgiving service, where a succession of worthies vented their spleen at the hated enemy.

In opinion columns, reported speech and headlines the Germans are routinely described as “the Hun”, who deserve everything that has happened to them.

In church, parishioners were asked not to grieve for the fallen, because they had been given the privilege of dying for their beliefs in a conflict, supported by God, against a great evil.

“The brave departed”, people were assured, had not died in vain.

In the main body of that historic edition of the paper is what amounts to a history of the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern Dynasties (and why they were such a bad lot), all written - thousands of words of it - in erudite style.

Another section, “Our War Achievements” glories in the final victory over “the Hun” and lists some of the action highlights, never failing to mention the barbarity of the enemy and the saintliness of the victors.

Amid all the cheering and celebration, however, many windows would have remained covered in black crepe, while the question “was it all worth it?” was left hanging, unspoken.

Certainly nobody in the Falkirk Herald was going to spoil the jingoistic frenzy of victory by introducing a sour or discouraging note.

The paper also covered many other towns and districts, of course, typical of which may have been Denny.

Here paper mills and pits simply stopped work when the news was announced on the Monday, the children were sent home from school, and many people took the Tuesday off as well - all, apparently, with the unspoken accord of employers.

The steeple was swathed in flags, and the buildings draped in all sorts of bunting.

Its bell rang out too - incessantly.

Everybody wanted to have a go, and relays were arranged so that it could be kept ringing all day.

In less high profile stories in the Falkirk Herald many other aspects of the war and its aftermath also figure.

In one short article it’s made clear that if Germany were to fall to a Bolshevik revolution (as seemed very possible for a while) the Armistice deal would be off and Britain would invade “to restore order”.

Sadly, a generation later, the Falkirk Herald would have to spend much of its time explaining just how Germany had managed to “restore order” itself - as another generation of Bairns, the children of those people celebrating in 1918, prepared to go off to another war.