Armistice Day

Page 4 – Armistice Day celebrations

The news that everyone had been waiting for finally came through on the morning of 12 November 1918 – a Tuesday. Germany had surrendered and signed an armistice with the Allies the previous day.

The government had received the news late on the evening of 11 November. By the early hours it had leaked out to a few people - Prime Minister William Massey was treated to cheers and songs about 2 a.m. But the first most people knew was when Massey officially released it later that morning. He arranged for the message ‘Armistice signed’ to go to the country’s post and telegraph offices shortly before 9 a.m.

In Wellington the signal guns went off at 9 a.m. People quickly deserted their ‘desks and benches and counters’. Many gathered outside the Parliamentary Library at 10.30 a.m. to hear the Governor-General’s formal announcement and his correspondence with the King, and sing the national anthem. Speechmaking and singing started at the Town Hall about lunchtime, and later in the day there were processions and a thanksgiving service at the Basin Reserve. Parliament adjourned for the day.

Most other communities received the news, and celebrated, in a similar way to Wellington. Those lacking artillery worked out their own signals. In Masterton ears listened for the gasworks siren; in Rakaia eyes looked out towards the post office flagstaff. In most places bells and whistles spread the news shortly after 9 a.m., when post offices opened. In Dunedin they started to ring out even before the official signal from the Central Battery’s guns.

Mayors presided over gatherings in town halls or squares. They made the official announcement before launching into patriotic speeches and songs. Other gatherings included thanksgiving services presided over by local clergy.

Some communities declared a holiday, but this was largely unnecessary. The government had advised its offices the previous day that on announcement of the German armistice, employees should be granted a holiday for the rest of the day. Others businesses, workplaces and schools closed as soon as they received the news, on their own initiative.

In many places, processions preceded or followed the morning gatherings. Some were spontaneous, like those on previous surrender days, with cars and people bedecked with flags. Others were more organised, including displays of fancy dress or more elaborately decorated floats. In Nelson, a Turkish pontoon and a German machine gun captured during the war took pride of place. In Feilding, children and teachers from the local high school prepared tableaux representing war and peace. One lorry labelled ‘Yesterday, war’ held ‘a wounded soldier attended by ambulance men’; another labelled ‘Today, peace’ held ‘a returned soldier in the bosom of his family’.

Many continued celebrating into the evening and the following days. There were yet more speeches, songs, thanksgiving services and processions, but also dances, concerts and events for children such as sports days and picnics.

Popular evening activities included torchlight processions, fireworks, bonfires and the burning of effigies of the Kaiser. While some communities included the latter in their processions, most concentrated on their destruction. In Waituhuna, South Otago, residents placed ‘a plentiful supply of bombs’ inside the Kaiser; in Southbridge, Canterbury, locals soaked the deposed German leader and firewood in tar – he blazed ‘furiously for about an hour’. Nelson also burnt effigies of the Kaiser’s eldest son, Crown Prince Wilhelm, and the German Navy’s Grand Admiral Alfred Von Tirpitz.

Businesses again got in on the act. Some, such as Wellington tailors Schneideman and Sons, advertised peace sales. Others suggested possible keepsakes. Department store chain D.I.C. encouraged people to buy a piece of chintz china to have as a reminder of peace in their homes, while Masterton jeweller J. Bradbury’s suggested that people give their loved ones a piece of jewellery as a ‘lasting souvenir’.

How to cite this page

'Armistice Day celebrations', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/armistice-day/armistice-celebrations, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 26-Aug-2014

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