A Moment in London’s History – Peace Day Parade, 1919…

November 17, 2014

With Remembrance Sunday having been observed earlier this month, we thought it was an appropriate time to take a quick look at the Peace Day Parade of 19th July, 1919, at which the Cenotaph – the National War Memorial – was first unveiled.

London-Victory-ParadeThe parade, organised by a Peace Celebrations Committee appointed by the War Cabinet, was seen as the high point of a series of celebrations to mark the end of the war which had only officially ended on 28th June with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Prime Minister David Lloyd George, on hearing French troops were to salute a ‘great catafalque’ (a raised structure upon which sits a coffin) built beside the Arc de Triomphe in honour of their war dead as part of their victory march, commissioned architect Edwin Lutyens to create a similar monument for the occasion.

Lutyens had apparently already started sketching, having been sounded out earlier about the possibility of such a structure, and eventually opted for a cenotaph, an empty tomb erected in honour of people buried elsewhere, in place of the catafalque.

The Cenotaph, one of a number of temporary structures built for the day, was unveiled in Whitehall early on the morning of Saturday, 19th July. Made of plaster and wood, it had been constructed in just two weeks (and, of course, it was replaced the following year with the stone Cenotaph which now stands there). Wreaths were soon piled high around its base.

As many as five million people reportedly turned out for the parade along a seven mile route from Knightsbridge (depicted above) through to Westminster and onto Buckingham Palace on Saturday – many of them had arrived from other parts of the country the previous night – and, eager not to miss out, had secured their space by sleeping in parks or streets overnight.

Also known as the London Victory Parade, the procession included some 15,000 Allied forces representing 12 victorious nations including, of course, Britain as well as France, the US, various European and Asian nations and small contingents from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Also marching were military commanders such as Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig – the British Commander-in-Chief, French Marshal Ferdinand Foch – Supreme Allied Commander during the last year of the war, and General John J Pershing, head of the American Expeditionary Force.

Some veterans apparently refused to take part, seeing the parade as “militaristic celebrations”.

After splitting into two columns and filing past the Cenotaph – inscribed with the words ‘The Glorious Dead”, those in the parade then marched down the Mall, which was lined with stands set aside for widows and orphans before King George V took their salute standing beneath a golden cupola erected at the base of the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace.

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