By Stephen Wainwright

ONE of the greatest celebrations our town has ever known took place 100 years ago today, July 19.

According to newspapers, St Helens Peace Day was the “joy day” when the town joined the rest of the country in formally commemorating the end of a brutal war.

The event’s centrepiece was a huge parade comprising schoolchildren, old age pensioners and discharged and demobilised soldiers.

If I tell you that it took the section featuring the school kids more than an hour to pass the Town Hall, then you get an idea of just how long the procession was.

The St Helens Newspaper described the scene as “one not soon to be forgotten” with the youngsters “decked in the neatest and brightest attire, adorned with gay ribbons,

carrying flowers and waving flags and banners.”

Accompanied by several bands, the lengthy parade started in Corporation Street and journeyed into Shaw Street, Church Street, Bridge Street, Liverpool Road, Eccleston Street, Boundary Road, Duke Street and then back into Victoria Square, where a “dense multitude” had assembled.

The Newspaper wrote: “For the children it was a great day. And they sang amid scenes of gaiety and happiness. Everywhere flags and banners were flying; everywhere there was evidence of the people’s gladness. From the topmost height of Beecham’s tower, visible in every part of the town, there floated freely in the breeze the Union Jack; and it was that it might float freely that the fathers and brothers of the children had gone out to fight the foe, while mothers and sisters remained behind to make the shells and provide other necessities for carrying on the war.”

However women were not well represented in the parade, with only a small party of land girls taking part.

The Newspaper said these were dressed in “white smocks, breeches, and stout boots. They were smiling and happy, and were frequently cheered by the watching crowds.”

The term “old age pensioner” was a fairly recent invention with small pensions for the over 70s having only been introduced ten years earlier. Many OAPs participated in the procession “driven along in style in motor chars-a-banc and wagonettes”.

Over the leading vehicle there was a banner bearing the inscription: “Old age pensioners, the backbone of the British Empire. We went to school together.”

After the parade had ended various centres in the town gave a tea for the elderly and entertainment was also provided for hospital patients and disabled children.

During the evening the Town Hall was bathed in electric light, which the Newspaper described as “strikingly picturesque”. In Thatto Heath an effigy of the Kaiser was tried and found guilty to the great delight of a huge crowd that included many discharged soldiers and sailors.

And to cap a memorable day a beacon was lit on Billinge Hill as part of a chain of beacon fires throughout the country.

It had been a very special day in the history of St Helens, although those who had lost loved ones in the war would have had mixed feelings. In a subsequent court case it was revealed that Hannah Greenall had put up a black flag and drawn her blinds as the huge procession went down Eccleston Street. She had lost two sons in the war and was embittered against those that had safely returned home.

However most people in St Helens were happy to celebrate the end of hostilities, as summed up by one local paper: “Memories of this day will, as they should do, live as long as life animates the present generation of men, and the children will always look back upon the 19th of July, 1919, as a Red Letter Day.