Celebrating the Armistice in Pakenham

A rumour that peace had been declared was greeted in Pakenham on 8 November with jubilation, with the town being decked out with flags. Although the rumour proved premature, people knew peace was now very close (PG 15/11/1918, p. 2). That the Armistice had actually been signed on 11 November reached Pakenham at 9pm that night. Despite this late hour, the news was received “with the greatest of enthusiasm. Cheers were heard on every hand, patriotic airs were sung and a ‘band’ paraded the streets. Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour an impromptu meeting was arranged and about 100 residents gathered at the public hall to do honour to the occasion” (Ibid). People had been roused out of their houses by “cheering, kerosine tins, bells and fireworks” (DA 14/11/1918, p. 2). At the hall, impromptu patriotic addresses were made, including by Mr Fonder of the Presbyterian Mission, who spoke of how “right had triumphed over might”. Cr Bill Stephenson also spoke of a need for a “fair deal” for the soldiers: “They had made great sacrifices on behalf of the people, and they were worthy of the best that can be done for them”. In this regard, Cr Stephenson was concerned that some people had shown a degree of “antipathy” to those who had already returned. Dr Douglas White asked people to remember those who had given their lives for the Empire, as well as their parents. Those gathered sang the national anthem “God Save the King” with the added verse “God bless our splendid men”. Other patriotic songs that night included “Rule Britannia”, the “Marseillaise” (in honour of the French ally), “Australia will be there”, “Long Trail” and “Tipperary”. The celebrations ended with a dance which continued into the early hours of the morning (PG 15/11/1918, p. 2). The following day, the students at Pakenham State School “cheered and cheered again”, saluted the flag, sang “God Save the King” and the “Marseillaise” and were given a day’s holiday, as were the students of other schools in the district (Ibid).

The coming of peace was marked in the local churches with special services.  A thanksgiving service was held at St James’ Church on 13 November, led by the Reverend F.J. Evans. This had originally been scheduled as an intercessory service, but with the Armistice having finally been signed, “there was no need for that now, as all hearts were filled with deep joy for the Allies glorious victory. Right had prevailed over wrong” (PG 15/11/1918 p. 2). In Reverend Evans‘ sermon, jubilation and joy mixed with faith and jingoism. He even claimed that “God had fought with the Allies, hence the victory” In remembering those who had fallen, Reverend Evans said although their families’ hearts would be sad, “all rejoiced that the sacrifice had not been made in vain” (Ibid). A special combined thanksgiving service was held a few days later, presided over by Dr White, with all of the local Protestant ministers participating. The following resolution was carried: “That this meeting of Pakenham citizens assembled, renders its reverent thanks to the Divine Ruler on granting victory to the British and Allied nations in the great struggle for freedom and justice; and expresses its heartfelt thanks to the soldiers, sailors and airmen of our Empire, and especially to our Pakenham boys for their steadfastness and gallantry in the titanic struggle just successfully concluded. Furthermore, that we heartily express our devoted loyalty to the Throne and Empire, and trust that an enduring peace for the British Empire and all mankind may be assured” (PG 22/11/1918 p. 2). Meanwhile, local Catholics put on their own “impressive peace celebrations” at St Patrick’s Church, including a special choral mass, a Te Deum (an ancient hymn of thanksgiving), the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “God Save the King”. Naturally, “peace” was the theme of the homily that day (Ibid). 


Armistice parade and picnic

The Monday following the Armistice was declared a local holiday in town, with businesses and the post office closing for the day (PG 15/11/1918 p. 2). A special program of events was quickly arranged, including a fancy dress procession and a picnic sports carnival at the Recreation Reserve. The parade, which was described by the Pakenham Gazette as “lengthy” and “picturesque” kicked off at the Pakenham State School in Main Street. It was led by Miss Flint dressed as “Australia”, followed by six returned soldiers on horseback: Lionel Malcolm, Richard Doherty, Harry Worship, Methuselah Covey, Jack Simmons and Bert Ellett. Students then marched down the street in fancy dress costumes, including as soldiers, nurses, flower girls and Japanese (Japan having been an ally of Britain’s during the War). Thirty wagons then completed the procession, mainly decorated with “greenery, flags and flowers” (PG 22/11/1918 p. 2). Some were decked out with themes such as “the Original AIF” and “Australia’s First Warriors”. One wagon carrying Olive Paternoster and Avis Smith had a “peace” theme. Drawn by two ponies, the wagon was decorated in blue and white complete with doves, olive branches and a “herald of peace”. William Close’s wagon paid tribute to “America”, while Dick and Geoff Ahern (sons of Shire Secretary James Ahern) “commanded” a battleship drawn along by two billy goats! Masters Harry Ellett and John & Frederick Dyall and R. Little of Pakenham South manned a fire brigade themed float, while Master Fred Stevens came as an ice-cream vendor. Pakenham Upper’s wagon was decorated as the “Waybacks from Dingo Flat”, complete with a bark hut, kookaburra and possum! Mr Arthur Birch and his son even made an effigy of the dreaded Kaiser for the occasion. At the railway station, the procession was met by the Longwarry Brass Band before proceeding to the Recreation Reserve. There, the program of events included including races, games and contests for the children, together with patriotic addresses and afternoon tea. All the children were served ice-cream free of charge, which must have been particularly memorable for them! In the evening, a dance and social was held, with musical numbers provided by local talent (PG 22/11/1918, p. 2).


Peace celebrations - July 1919

There were further peace celebrations on 19 July 1919 to mark the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war with Germany. Uncertainty about when the peace treaty would actually be signed meant that the programme had to be published pending confirmation of the date itself (PG 27/6/1919 p. 2). This time, the weather was most “unfavourable”, being cold and showery. Nevertheless, some 250 students took part in a fancy dress parade (schools within a seven mile radius having been invited to participate). Heading the parade was Miss Joan Chisholm, dressed as “Joan of Arc”, a symbol of Britain’s French ally. She was followed by thirty returned soldiers, the Koo Wee Rup Brass Band, school students carrying banners, and decorated wagons. A jinker driven by  Theodore Ellis (who worked for the TVO and later the Pakenham Fruit Company) was judged the best, carrying a “miniature monument“ with the inscription ”Gallipoli, France and Palestine. Lest we Forget. To the Memory of the Fallen”. Amongst the other vehicles was a covered wagon from Messrs Toll and Shankley (Frank Toll was licensee of Bourke’s Hotel, while the Shankleys owned the. Pakenham Hotel near the Railway Station), decorated with a Carlton Ale advertisement and an eight line verse in praise of Fosters Lager! Of the school banners, St Patrick’s “peace” banner was judged the best, with second prize won by the Pakenham South State School, whose banner was in the colours of the various allies with the words “United We Stand” surmounted by a Crown. Corporal Jack Ellett won the prize for the best turned out returned soldier, with Gunner Ern Gabbett in second place (PG 25/7/1919 p. 3).

At the Recreation Reserve, the Ladies’ Committee had catered an “abundance of food” which was served to the children, who “had a royal time of it”. Each child also received a bag of sweets. As for the formalities, speeches were given by a number of dignitaries, including the Shire President, Cr Cunningham and Cr Bill Stephenson. As expected, there was much praise for the heroism and bravery of the soldiers themselves. There was also a minute’s silence for the fallen. Poignantly, former councillor William Carney, who had played a prominent role in early recruitment drives, extended his deepest sympathies to the families of those men he had recruited, but would never return home. Given the sacrifices made, there was an overwhelming hope that the peace treaty would provide a lasting peace. More than one speaker also mentioned the divisions which had appeared in parts of the Australian community during the War, including industrial disputation and the sectarianism that had occasioned the conscription referenda. The hope was that these divisions could now be put aside for the sake of Australia’s future. The foul weather put a real dampener on the sports carnival which followed the formalities, with many people spending their time in the Recreation Reserve pavilion with the children or otherwise going home early (Ibid). On Dr White’s advice, the planned evening social and dance was cancelled due to concerns that such indoor events might help to spread influenza (the deadly “Spanish flu”), which Pakenham had been largely spared from (PG 11/7/1919, p. 2). The celebrations turned a profit of £20 which was donated to the Warragul Hospital, where many patients from the district were treated in those days (PG 8/8/1919 p. 2).