Woodford Northamptonshire

The end of World War One

Over the past four years a number of obituaries have been published on this site commemorating the fallen of the first world war from Woodford. Not all are listed on the memorials, some were born in Woodford but lived elsewhere, others moved to the village as children or young men. It is estimated that over 200 men from the village were either in the forces as regulars or joined the king’s army after 1914. At the start of September 1918 there were still five further families who unknowingly would be bereaved. See Woodford Remembers.

Armistice and Northamptonshire

The Armistice was signed at 5.00am (French time which in 1918 was the same as UK unlike today) on the 11th November 1918 and the ceasefire came into effect at 11am. News travelled slowly in those days (pre-BBC radio), generally by telegraph to the various newspaper publishers. As a result, it was later in the morning that news of the Armistice reached the county. In Northampton there were celebrations and some flag flying although the Borough Council was unable to fly a flag in celebration as the only one they had at their disposal had been used the weekend before to celebrate a new mayor, and had then become shredded in a storm.

The news reached Wellingborough shortly after 11am and as had previously been arranged the buzzers at the furnaces and ironworks sounded loud and prolonged lasts, while the whistles of the engines on the railway joined in the babel of sound. Factories ceased work almost immediately and flags and streamers appeared as if by magic at shop windows and dwelling houses. Practically all work ceased and many also had the following day (Tuesday) off work.

At 1pm certain aspects of the “Defence of the Realm Act” were lifted permitting the ringing of church bells again. Many factories closed in the early afternoon, in Wellingborough the Salvation Army gave an impromptu performance on the Market Square. Some street lights in towns were lit that evening for the first time in a number of years, but fireworks and bonfires were banned due to the fire risk and limited fire brigade resources. The following day, November 12th many churches held services of thanksgiving.

Woodford

The news reached Woodford on the 11th November at 11am and school children were sent home at 11.45am. The factories also closed. Flags and banners were displayed on some buildings but celebrations were muted. As in many close-knit village communities, many of the fallen would have been known to the whole village, in fact in Woodford almost every street lost at least one resident

At the Front

What of the soldiers “at the front”. Cpl J Dorrington (Middlesex Regiment), later Pastor of Woodford Baptist Church wrote the following in his memoirs “On the morning of 11th November, a number of us were waiting at the station (Camiers) for our train, to go back to the front. We were fully kitted up, and were not surprised when our train failed to turn up. As we waited, there began to sound a strange, distant humming which grew in intensity till the whole air seemed to be pulsing and throbbing with this clanging, ringing tumult. The significance of this was made clear. It was all the church bells ringing their message of joy - the Armistice had been signed - and hostilities were ceased.

Everybody went wild with relief and I remember a soldier (he was one of our Royal Engineers on railway transport duties) issuing from his little hut between the railway lines, with his rifle, which, perhaps, he had carried around with him, and never "fired a shot in anger". Now he pointed it to the sky and fired off five rounds into the air in exultation!....... “

Celebration and Hardship

Northampton Chronicle and Echo reported that a visitor to Northampton, “…. who knows intimately all the industrial towns in the midlands, was enthusiastic in talking to us this afternoon about the way Northampton celebrated the news on Monday. “It was a model” he said “for such rejoicings. The people were filled with joy, they showed it, but their demonstrations were free from the excesses which I have heard of elsewhere. You may be proud Northampton” …”.

Rural areas were struggling to produce food to feed the country during the autumn of 1918 despite significant illness affecting the population. There had been a flu epidemic in July of that year which greatly affected the harvest workforce. In order to boost the fruit reserves children, during September and early October were given half days off school to collect blackberries and by the middle of October, Woodford children had collected 1,583 pounds (719kg).

The school was ordered to close (the last in the area to do so) on 29th November due to another flu epidemic, re-opening again on 16th December only to close for Christmas on 20th December. The new term started again on Tuesday 31st December but on 2nd January 1919 the school once again closed due to a measles epidemic, not reopening until 24th February.

In Woodford, a Memorial Committee had been set up in late 1918 and this is evidenced by Baptist Church records which reveal that on 5th January 1919 Thomas Freer was elected represent the Church on the committee.

Peace Agreement

The Peace Agreement was finally signed on 28th June 1919 at Versailles and two days later on 30th June there was a celebratory day’s holiday. A “peace celebration weekend” was nationally scheduled for 19th July when many thanksgiving services, parties and events were held. Woodford was no exception with events taking place on the Saturday and Monday.

The Saturday programme started with an Open Air United Thanksgiving Service at 9.30am, followed by sports at 10.00am. held in Days Close (first field on left when leaving Woodford along Addington Road).

 By all accounts some of the Saturday events were affected by the weather, however, Monday was a day enjoyed by all.

Home, At Last

Whilst some demobilisation took place in early 1919 many soldiers remained in service until general demobilisation on 31st March 1920 almost seventeen months after the end of hostilities.