AS the news filtered through, by word of mouth and wireless, in the morning of November 11, 1918, workers across the region downed tools and headed for the streets and town centres, accompanied by a jubilant cacophony of noise.

The depressing silence of the war years was broken by the joyous sound of peeling church bells, blasting factory buzzers, and even exploding fireworks – as fireworks had been banned for four long years, there was widespread surprise at how many firework dealers suddenly opened up with so much stock.

In high faluting language, capturing the exciting mood of the moment and the feeling that the war, now successfully concluded, really had changed the world for the better, The Northern Echo began its report: “Kings and autocracies are tumbling into the dust, and yesterday no autocrat of the workshop dare lift his head! On Tyneside with one consent everyone appeared to down tools. They poured out long before noon, as the information spread. Offices emptied, shops closed, workshops and factories stopped, and the people flocked in myriads into the streets...”

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But it was jubilation without gay abandon. There was none of the wild boisterousness of 1900 when the news that the siege of Mafeking, in South Africa, had been greeted with such scenes of reckless celebration that a new word had entered the English language.

This was jubilation tinged with desperation.

An Echo reporter on Teesside, using that new word, summed it up well. “The sister towns of Stockton and Thornaby were ablaze with bunting, but there was not the slightest evidence of mafficking,” they wrote.

In fact, it took time for the news to sink in among those who had seen so many false dawns since August 4, 1914. The reporter said: “The news finally prevailed among those who have found Dame Rumour a lying jade during the past four-and-a-quarter years.

“The workmen and workwomen at the munitions works and shipyards left in streams between 11 o’clock and noon…

“It was in the sober spirit of thanksgiving that the people generally received the glorious tidings. Many women were seen shedding tears, some because their loved ones would soon be again with them and others because the very gladness of their fellows brought vividly home to them the fact there would be no welcoming home for them.”

The Echo saw this duality in most towns. “Jubilation throughout the country yesterday at the signing of the armistice terms was tempered by the remembrance of the great suffering the war has entailed,” it said.

Its Hartlepool reporter recorded: “Although at first the feelings of the crowd were somewhat subdued by their sense of the appalling sacrifice necessary to bring about so satisfactory a termination of the world struggle, there was general participation on the rejoicing.”

And from Durham: “The joyful news spread like wildfire throughout Durham City and the adjacent colliery districts. Church bells were rung, colliery buzzers sounded the glad tidings, and flags and streamers brought forth after years of obscurity were quickly fluttering in the breeze.

“But there was no untoward sign of boisterous hilarity. Everywhere the news was received with a feeling of profound thanksgiving that the dawn was visible after over four years of darkness.”

As well as the struggle between overwhelming happiness and profound sadness, the Echo’s reports also convey how noisy these celebrations were in contrast to the war years when even the striking of public clocks had been banned.

“At Middlesbrough, the church bells rang, the buzzers of the great works joined in, as well as the whistles of locomotives on the North-Eastern Railway,” said the Echo. “There were queues at the shopdoors of firework dealers, and numerous toy balloons were also sent up in the air.”

At Shildon, the paper said the railwaymen and coalminers “loosed out” and “the streets were soon alive with people”.

It said: “The glad tidings was hailed at Darlington with great delight, which found expression in the blowing of buzzers, the clanging of bells and the firing of guns. By general consent, men and women ceased work and streamed out into the streets, which were quickly gay with flags and bunting.

“The bells of the church, which have been silent for so long, sent forth the joyous tidings.”

In all towns, the armistice announcement from the Prime Minister was read from a public building, usually at 3pm, to huge crowds by the mayor, who was accompanied by other high rankers, military and religious, who wished to have their say.

In Darlington, the announcement was read from the old town hall balcony; in Durham, likewise, it was read from its town hall balcony beside its covered market.

Many towns managed to rustle up an impromptu parade through the streets.

“Royal Irish Fusiliers band, billeted in the town, paraded into Stockton headed by its drum and fife band and chairing apparently the regimental mascot in a big dog, which by its demeanour did not appear to share in the prevailing spirit of gladness,” said the Echo.

Even the parades, though, were not overwhelmed by the gladness. In Bishop Auckland, “in the afternoon, members of the local branch of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors followed their banner, together with a number of wounded soldiers, in a procession through the town. Fireworks were let off without hindrance.”

Ah, those fireworks. The war ministry had lifted all the restrictions on bells and clocks, and for a week, fireworks and bonfires were to be allowed.

And, perhaps inevitably, there were accidents.

“During the armistice celebrations several accidents resulting from the discharging of fireworks in the streets were reported at Consett,” said the Echo. “The most serious was that of Chester Shield, of Edith Street, a discharged soldier who is well known in the district as a football player and goalkeeper to the Celtic AFC. It seems he had been holding a cracker in his hand when it prematurely exploded, and his right eye was so badly injured that he had to be taken to Dr Barton’s surgery for treatment. It is feared that he will lose the sight of the eye.

“Another ex-soldier had his right hand severely burned and lacerated in a similar way.”

While fireworks could be set off at will, the privations of war could not be wholly shaken off immediately. “The Admiralty have asked that the restrictions on lights visible from the sea should be retained for the present,” said the Echo. “The masking of streetlamps may be removed, but in view of the coal shortage the total number of lamps in use should not exceed half the normal. The shading of lights in houses and shops may be withdrawn, but the prohibition of lights in shop windows and of advertisement lights must be maintained on account of the coal shortage.”

The coal shortage meant that most Durham miners were unable to escape their shifts on November 11 and join the gleeful throng. They were allowed some hours off on November 12, and November 14 also seems to have been a widely observed holiday.

So, 100 years ago, people were joyously celebrating while also keeping the dreadful carnage uppermost in their minds, knowing that only that dreadful carnage had allowed them to reach the point where they could joyously celebrate.

One of the most influential speakers in Durham that day was the dean, James Welldon, who told the Echo: “It may almost be said to be the greatest event in human history. It is the deliverance of humanity from the most formidable evil which has, I think, ever hung over it. Napoleon’s downfall was not so dramatic as the Kaiser’s and whatever Napoleon’s ambition may have been, he did not plunge the whole world into an ocean of bloodshed.

“Mankind is now delivered, as it were, from a nightmare – from a horror of great darkness.

“I hope the peace which will be made will be a righteous and not a vindictive peace, because it would not be a gain that Germany should be left with a rankling sense of injustice in the heart of her people.”

Few other people were as far-sighted as the dean and, tragically, the peacemakers didn’t heed his words on armistice day as Germany was left with a smouldering sense of injustice which burst into the flames of the Second World War.