The long journey home for Doncaster's soldiers, Armistice Day 1918. Â
In a few weeks, the nation will be honouring Armistice Day, marking 100 years since the end of theÂ First World War. Doncaster's crowds cheered when Armistice was announced on Â November 11, 1918, but the end seemed far from sight for many of Doncaster's brave and battle-weary soldiers,Â caught on distant shores far from home - as local volunteer Lynda Regan has been discovering.
Through personal accounts and newspaper reports, Lynda has been exploring what life was like forÂ Doncaster's men in the weeks surrounding Armistice 1918, as part of Doncaster 1914-18, aÂ community heritage project supported by National Lottery Players for the Heritage Lottery Fund
(HLF) to mark the centenary of the First World War.
Although Armistice had been announced on Novembe 11,Â 1918, getting Doncaster's men backÂ home was a huge undertaking '“ not to be achieved in a day. What's more, it would have beenÂ unwise to send men home until the actual peace treaty was signed in case fighting broke out again.
The treaty wasn't signed until July 1919. This meant that many men were stranded abroad, often forÂ considerable lengths of time.
Soldier George Newson spent nine months waiting for his travel permit, playing pantoon andÂ doodling in his book,Â '˜Rhymes of a Rifleman' to pass the time, eventually returning home in September 1919.Â George's poemÂ book illustratesÂ how memories of conflict clearly played on these young men's minds, including friends who had lost their lives, and the horrors of the battleground.Â Food also seems to have been a major preoccupation, as theÂ poet T. B. ClarkÂ writes in his '˜Commentary on Rations':
'The record up to date has been, One tin of jam among sixteen;
We used to get served out with meat, That had a smell like sweaty feet,
And now, the bully is no good,Â It's just like eating lumps of wood,
And the biscuits, they are great '“Â We sometimes use them, as a plate'¦'
Many men were caught on the battle-lines when Armistice was announced. Able seaman ErnestÂ Smith was killed in action on the eve of Armistice, while Harold Burden Hipkins was serving in FranceÂ when the news filtered through on November 11, 1918. Harold wrote a heart-breaking account ofÂ Armistice Day in his diary (written in 1965), an experience shared by so many local men:
'Now it was our turn to advance'¦ it was tiring trying to catch the Germans up, we were onÂ the move all the time, no respite for our tired bodies, even when Armistice Day came weÂ were moving into the unknown where danger was concerned, roads were laid with mines,Â ammunitions trains were being blown up'¦ for us there was no rejoicing at the end of theÂ war, it has all been so senseless and futile'¦ At home there was great rejoicing but it wasn'tÂ for us to indulge, our memories were too deep, we needed rest, the horror of it all was tooÂ near to us'¦ yet it was a triumph to know it was all over.'
The long journey home was even more complicated for Doncaster's prisoners of war. Many hadÂ suffered terrible treatment in the war camps, including untreated battle injuries, starvation andÂ beatings. They were 'back from a living death', wrote the Doncaster Chronicle on December 13, 1918 about three Doncaster men - Private John Allen Scott, Corporal Harold James Beaumont, andÂ Private Thomas Ernest Stones - who were rushed straight to hospital on their return home thatÂ winter. Thomas, just 19 years old, arrived 'in a state of collapse'¦ (he) was a bag of bones, thin andÂ emaciated, and on the journey back'¦ had to be fed on brandy.'
After their harrowing experiences, many prisoners of war were treated like heroes '“ both in EuropeÂ and Britain - with special trains to carry them home and jubilant receptions crowded with peopleÂ insisting they take gifts of cigarettes, tobacco and other wartime '˜treats'. One Doncaster soldier,
Private Harry Buffham, remembered: 'I slept in a champion bed at Rotterdam'¦ with sheets, pillows,Â and all these things. I wondered what had got me, and hardly knew how to get in bed.' (reported inÂ the Doncaster Chronicle,Â November 29, 1918).
To honour the words of George Newson, it's so important that we 'Remember the'¦ gallant men,Â who valiantly behaved, Who nobly sacrificed themselves, that others might be saved'.
The projectÂ team at Doncaster 1914-18 are appealing to local people to uncover more insights into Doncaster'sÂ men during those final months of the First World War. By sharing their own family orÂ neighbourhood stories and photographs on www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk, local people are notÂ only helping to piece together Doncaster's wartime past, but also helping to build an everlastingÂ digital memorial to our First World War local heroes, free for everyone to use and share.Â
To find out more, including news of events, exhibitions and roadshows taking place around theÂ borough of Doncaster,
visit www.doncaster 1914-18.org.uk.