A century ago, on July 19th, Southborough joined the rest of the nation, in celebrating the peace, which had been inaugurated by the signing of the Armistice, in 1918. After the sacrifices of the First World War, made by so many families, communities must surely have felt the need to come together, to celebrate that “the war to end all wars” was finally over. A hundred years later, we know that there was another World War to come, only twenty years on from the celebrations of Peace Day. But that, of course, is to anticipate. Anyone on Southborough Common on July 19th 1919 was more likely to be worried about the looming dark clouds (it did rain) or the intimidating appearance of the High Brooms tug-of war-team (they won!).
The programme for the Southborough Peace Day celebrations could be bought for 1d and you would certainly want buy one, to ensure you knew what was going on. The cover of the programme shows a female figure, looking rather like a Greek goddess, her elegant draperies, coloured a dusty pink, falling to her feet. Is she a symbol of Peace? She is certainly far removed from the doughty figure of Britannia which featured in First World War propaganda. Flowers and leaves twine around the figure, who seems to be looking wistfully into the distance.
The day of festivities began with a Royal Salute fired on the Common, followed by the pealing of the bells of St. Peter’s Church. At 1.30 pm singing “by the children”, launched the afternoon Sports. The prizes for adults must have tempted some to take part: 1st, 7/6; 2nd, 5/-; 3rd, 2/6. We know that some 250 children also received prizes. Twenty races are advertised in the programme. The familiar three-legged race, the egg and spoon, the potato race and the sack race all feature as well as the Veterans Race, for 50 years and over! There was also a Firemen’s Race.
And then there was the mysterious “Tilting the Bucket”. Luckily, a postcard of the event has survived which shows what must surely be that event. The picture depicts someone riding on a kind of barrow, pushed by a partner, under a framework, from which a bucket is suspended. It’s hard to see quite how it all works, but it looks as if the bucket is set to pour water on to the head of the luckless victim below. The gleeful stance of schoolboy spectators suggests they would enjoy that very much indeed. And the Courier reports that “no competitor succeeded in getting through without being somewhat damp”!
There was, fortuitously, an interval for Tea at 4.00 pm. The report in the Kent and Sussex Courier describes 1,400 children sitting down to tea on the Common in front of St. Peter’s; that was quite a picnic! The provisions seem to have consisted of bread and butter and cake.
The plan was to conclude the days’ events with a bonfire and fireworks at 9.45pm and before that, Mrs Edward Hutchings would give out prizes. It must have been a poignant occasion for Mrs Hutchings, as she perhaps thought of her son, Kenneth. He had died in 1916, aged 33, during the Battle of the Somme, bringing to a brutal end his future career as an England cricketer.
The events of the day were planned by a sizeable committee: 17 (all men!) organising the sports and 30 in charge of the tea. One might expect the tea committee to have been the ladies’ domain but, intriguingly, the subcommittee is chaired by a Mr. Draper and a good number of men joined the ladies in this group. There were also six clergymen, who were part of the tea committee; perhaps participation in sports was considered unseemly for a cleric! The Hon. Secretary for the Sports events was a Mr. Muggridge from 13, Edward Street, while the Tea Committee Secretary was a Mr Cox, whose address is simply given as “The Common”!
For some of those in charge of the celebration, the day must have been coloured by memories of lost sons, brothers and cousins. There were committee members from families whose lost ones are commemorated on Southborough’s War Memorial: Messrs Emery, Muggridge, Miller, Brown, Moore, Malpass, Luxton, Fletcher, Cooke. However, it’s clear that the Peace Day was meant for sheer enjoyment. “All inhabitants are respectfully asked to decorate their houses” is the request printed on the programme.
Not far away, Tunbridge Wells was also enjoying its own Peace Day celebrations. Large decorated arches spanned the roads at various points, and a huge procession marched through the town, led by bands and “decorated motors” carrying wounded soldiers. Following them were Police Cadets, VAD nurses, Scouts, The Life Brigade, the Fire Brigade, the Salvation Army, the Friendly Societies, many tradesmen’s decorated carts, the Mayor, Mayoress and Councillors and many, many, more.
There were Sports, as in Southborough, although strangely, in Tunbridge Wells, some races were reserved for “married men” and “married women”. Perhaps the cares of married life were thought to be a handicap for competitors in races? We were more liberal in Southborough, simply categorising races either for “Adults”, “Boys” and “Girls”, with the exception of a special 100 Yards race for Ladies.
By the time Mrs Hutchings was giving out prizes on Southborough Common the rain had begun to set in, so the ceremony was held under the trees. In Tunbridge Wells, the children’s entertainments in Calverley Grounds (conjurors, clowns and Punch and Judy) had been a great success but the steady rain, which began after tea, led to the postponement of the Festival of Song.
Decisions had to be made about how to proceed with the programme for the evening. Southborough had hoped for dancing on the Common, concluding with a bonfire and fireworks. In the event, it was too wet for both fireworks and dancing, but the bonfire went ahead on the Lower Cricket Ground. It was “lit at 10 o’clock, a large crowd being present, in spite of the rain. The bonfire burned brightly, and an effigy of the Kaiser was burned, greatly to the delight of the younger element. This brought the day’s celebration to a close”.
We can imagine Mr Muggridge and Mr Cox, the two Hon Secs, going home, pleased with their day’s work. And let’s hope that Mr E B Usherwood, so nearly winner of the quarter-mile flat race, retiring within twenty yards of the tape because of “overstrain”, felt much better the next day.
By Heather Evernden