At the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month…
Armistice Day. As we set to see this day come around again, those two words bring ideas of hope, peace, and remembrance. In times past, those who lived through the Great War probably could never fathom those words during the long, desperate years of struggle. When that day finally came, what happened to the people of East Lothian? Looking back through the archives of the Haddington Courier and Musselburgh News of November 1918, we catch a glimpse of the past on this momentous occasion.
Looking through the archived newspapers we have on microfilm here at the John Gray Centre, we can get an interesting view of how the Armistice affected the people of East Lothian. At that time, the Haddington Courier came out on a Friday, and therefore, the first newspaper after the war didn’t publish until 15 November 1918, four days after the official ceasefire. The paper reported stories and events one would think would be included after such a historic moment such as: county-wide religious services of ‘thanksgiving’ for the war’s end, memorials from family members (including poems) to those lost in battle, reports of bells ringing ‘a merry peal,’ pipe bands parading, flags flying, shops festooned with banners, bonfires, dancing, and ‘boisterous goodwill and revelry, reminding one very much of former Hogmanay nights.’ In the paper, again a mere 4 days after the end of the war, an advert for a meeting to discuss memorials to soldiers was already scheduled, as well as an ad offering advice for military pension recipients. There was also an extensive publication of the official terms of the Armistice for everyone to read and understand.
However, at the top of this newspaper was the written statement of ‘business as usual.’ This seemed to be true as the majority of the newspaper was simply ‘normal’ news and advertisements. One report stated that schools in Haddington were closed for a fortnight due to an influenza outbreak. Another article relayed the death of the oldest man in Dunbar, a Mr Robert Melville, at 98 years old. Football match results were described alongside bereavements of the dead, and a shortage of feeding stuffs for livestock was listed near adverts for wedding stationary.
The people of East Lothian who lived through these difficult times really had to make every day ‘business as usual’ and keep the home fires burning for the brave soldiers who were fortunate to return after the war. While they took the time to celebrate the Armistice and mourn the loss of their loved ones, they also recognised that their lives had to continue. Today, we wear our poppies with pride and pointedly make the first Sunday in November a time in the year to remember the sacrifices of those who came before us, lest we forget.