A century on, it is hard for us to visualise what it was like for the young men, women and families living in Harrogate during the First World War.
Without the technology of today, worried families at home waiting for news of their loved ones had to rely on letters from the front, as well as the local newspaper.
The Harrogate Herald played a crucial role during the war years. Owner, W. H. Breare, dedicated himself to ensuring the most up-to-date telegrams were published every Wednesday and posted in the windows of the Herald offices. Letters from soldiers on the front line, or letters from their parents, who had been informed of their son’s death, were published.
Copies of the Herald were shipped out to Harrogate comrades to give them the news from back home wherever possible, and their gratitude for that service is evidenced in the historic pages kept in our archives.
Acting as a go-between from the trenches to the families back home, soldiers would often write in asking for supplies to be sent. On one occasion, a group of Harrogate lads in the West Yorkshire Regiment complained that their football had burst and pleaded for a replacement to be sent.
And when the Armistice was finally signed, Breare wrote of the mixed emotions that gripped the town; joy at the war’s end but sadness for those who would never return.
His article on Wednesday, November 13, written over a number of days like a series of diary entries, under the headline ‘To our boys in service’ gives us an insight into how the town marked the end of the war.
“On Thursday afternoon Harrogate was plunged into a state of great excitement by the circulation of a rumour that the armistice had been signed at 2.30 that day. We received no announcement on the subject , therefore felt convinced it was a mere rumour... I do not think it will be long before we have official news.”
And then, once news had been confirmed.
“The sun today continues to shine upon lovely peace; but it is nothing to the glow of thankfulness in our hearts. Its warmth is generated by our immortal affection for you, dear boys.
“It is Tuesday morning. We are in an extraordinary mental state. I can liken it to nothing else but a pleasant dream from which we fear to awake lest the event of yesterday prove but a dream.
“On Saturday and Sunday the town was in a state of great expectancy... It was about 11 o’clock on Monday morning that we received a telephoned message from the Press Association announcing the glad fact that the armistice had been signed. All morning crowds had collected in front of our window, content to wait for the news. They were rewarded. You know boys, our people have been great during the war in their courage and restraint.”
He wrote of the town’s reaction.
“Today, when the news came, there was not a cheer but the smiling faces, the mutual congratulations, the heavenly satisfaction that beamed from every eye were sufficient demonstration.
“During the evening the cafes were full to overflowing, and I doubt not all places of entertainment.
“You will see from what I have said that we took the glad gift to which we have looked so yearningly with reserve. There was behind it the paralysing consciousness that in our midst, just at our elbows, perhaps, were those whose boys would never again come home. We could not forget the lads who have fallen.”