A belated Happy New Year to you all
Looking at Newspapers for December 1918/January 1919 there were many familiar stories to be found. Families were still being informed of the deaths of their loved ones. In some cases, where the deaths had occurred in a hospital in the UK details of their funeral service were published. Influenza continued to claim lives, including those of nurses. The work of Nurses and VAD’s made them particularly vulnerable to infection. Various events were reported which had been arranged to welcome home soldiers, and in some places plans were already being considered for local memorial.
A number of towns expressed their support for a resolution passed at The Lewisham Union ‘ That immediate steps be taken to hand over the ex- Kaiser for trial, his presence in Holland being a grave menace to the cause of the Allies’.
Families were still anxious for news of their loved ones who had been reported as missing but whose deaths had still not been confirmed. A typical plea in a newspaper came from the parents of Private Evan Evans Royal Welsh Fusiliers reported as missing since April 1918. ‘ His parents will be glad to receive any information respecting him’.
The families of those prisoners that had been held behind enemy lines had often received no news of their sons and feared the worst. There were daily reports of former prisoners finding their way to Allied lines. These reports must have encouraged the families to believe that their loved ones could have been amongst them, as it was clear that the majority of these men had never been registered as Prisoners of War. They had been kept in unofficial camps behind the lines and many needed urgent medical attention.
One such family was that of Corporal Anthony Newman from Birmingham. He had been kept behind the lines for some time, had never received a food parcel and had to rely on the totally inadequate rations the Germans provided, and anything he could scrounge. On one occasion he was sent to collect a horse’s head.
He and his fellow prisoners had been abandoned by their guards on 13th November, but they had left a note to tell them to make for Ath, which was one of the designated centres for the collection of returning prisoners. Having walked all day to get there they fell asleep on a factory floor totally exhausted. The next morning they were given ham, bread and butter and tea, a great feast. Prior to this the only food they had for three days were turnips taken from a field.
Despite their treatment they were clearly considered fit enough to return to England as soon as possible. They were among 846 prisoners who embarked on the liner France for Dover. There was great excitement on their arrival in Dover as they were the first group of prisoners to reach England. They were met by The Prince of Wales who told them that the King regretted he could not be with them, but had provided a parcel containing pipe tobacco, cigarette’s , chocolate and toffees.
After a meal in the Station Hall they were taken in motor cars to North Wall Camp, the streets being lined with enthusiastic crowds, anxious to welcome them home. It was the first time for a long time that they all slept in a bed and following three days of de briefing and medical examinations they would be on their way home.
Corporal Newman arrived in Birmingham by train to New Street Station on 21ST November. There was no welcome, in fact one man asked him if he was home on leave. His family were both shocked and overjoyed to see him as they thought ,having had no news for such a long time, that he had been killed.
The following day, 22nd November, The Birmingham Mail reported what they said was the first batch of prisoners to return to Birmingham from Germany and Holland. These men had arrived at New Street from Ripon Camp after returning to England via Hull. These were mostly men that had been interned in Holland and the newspaper conceded that as a result they were in good physical condition. Those that had previously been in captivity in Germany expressed their thanks to the representatives of the Lady Mayoress’s Depot, who were present, for the food parcels they had been sent.
The welcoming party included the Lord Mayor, Chief Constable and other civic dignitaries and the Police Band. After a private welcome from their families, transport had been arranged to take all the men to their homes.
General Election December 1918
Called after the Armistice this was the first election for ten years. It was held on Saturday December 14th. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘Khaki Election’ as serving soldiers were allowed to vote. As a result the final result was not declared until 28th December.
A key factor in the election was the split in the Liberal Party. Asquith had opposed Lloyd George, especially his moves towards an element of control over the conduct of the war, such as the constant demand for offensive action. When these matters were debated in Parliament in May 1918 Lloyd George won a resounding victory, and the Liberal Party split along the lines of the smaller group who supported Asquith, and those who supported the Coalition.
Those Liberals who supported the Coalition were sent a letter of endorsement by Lloyd George. These were described as ‘Coupons’ by Asquith, so that the election is also referred to as the’ Coupon Election’. It was also the first election since the passing of The Representation of the People Act 1918. This ensured that all women over thirty ( There was a small property qualification) and all men over 21 could vote. This added about eight million voters to the electorate.
Some expressed surprise at the extent of the turnout of women voters at the election, but it destroyed the argument constantly put forward against women’s suffrage that women were not interested and did not want to vote.
The election gave the Coalition led by Lloyd George an overwhelming victory with a total of 474 seats in Parliament (338 Conservatives and 136 Liberals ) with only 26 seats for those Liberals who supported Asquith.
Asquith lost his seat in East Fife, but later returned to Parliament following a by-election. The Labour Party won 59 seats.
The result in Ireland was also very significant. The Irish Republican Party, Sinn Fein, won all the seats they contested. Their manifesto contained a pledge to establish an Independent Irish Republic.
They refused to take their seats in Westminster, as is the case today, but set up a breakaway administration declaring Irish Independence. The Irish War of Independence, also known as The Anglo-Irish War, began shortly after. Reprisal and counter- reprisal, arson and atrocity continued from 1919 until 1921.
One of Sinn Fein’s victorious candidates was Countess Markievicz who was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, but as an Irish Nationalist did not take up her seat.