Armistice Day in the Glasgow Family Letters

Joan and Beth Glasgow, ca. 1915/1916

Joan and Beth Glasgow, ca. 1915/1916

World War I had a profound effect on many Queensland families, disrupting relationships and separating family members for many years at a stretch.

The family of William Glasgow of Gympie was no exception.  Glasgow, who rose to be Commander of the 1st Australian Division, was separated from his two young daughters for almost five years.  His wife, Annie Isabel Glasgow, known as Belle, travelled to England in 1916 and settled in London to be nearer her husband, and to share his infrequent and short periods of leave. She did not return home until 1919.  The couple's two little girls. Joan and Beth, were left in Queensland to be cared for by family members.  The news of peace must have filled them all with such joy and anticipation at the prospect of once again sharing a home together and making up for those lost years.

The Sir William and Lady Glasgow collection, held in the John Oxley Library, includes the correspondence written by Major General Glasgow and Belle at the time of the armistice, providing a fascinating and poignant insight into events in London and the reaction of the Australian troops to the news of peace.

Annie Isabell (Belle) Glasgow. John Oxley Library, Item No. 29571-982.

Annie Isabell (Belle) Glasgow. John Oxley Library, Item No. 29571-982.

On the 10th November 1918, on the eve of the armistice, Belle Glasgow in London writes to her daughters in Queensland:

I've been listening all day for the church bells to ring out a joyful peal to announce that the armistice has been signed but it is not yet.  It can't be long now before we have peace, the German people want it as much as we do and then hey presto for home and my infants no longer but big girls now.  Even father says it won't be long. 

From the beginning of November 1918 it was clear that peace would soon be declared and on the 9th November in London the Lord Mayor's Victory Procession, which included 400 captured German guns took place.  Belle Glasgow provides an eye witness account of the event in the same letter.

It was a wonderful procession, quite the longest during the last 40 years.  It took an hour to pass my observation post.  There must have been more than a dozen bands, some of them placed too closely together.  There were detachments of all the women workers, land, army, navy, air force & right well they marched too.  Exhibitions of lorries of women at work on munitions, aeroplane building etc.etc.  Amongst the long line of captured German guns I noticed one which bore the name of the old 13th Bde. as its possessor now.  There were captured German planes as in last year's procession.  Italian Bersaglieri wearing steel helmets with cock's feathers on the side, Serbs, Americans, Australians, New Zealanders & South African which last had mounted on one of their guns a monkey dressed in khaki which kept continually saluting.  This monkey was twice wounded and lost a leg at Messines.  Several battalions led their bull dog mascots...I just wish you could have seen the swarms of people in the Strand as soon as the ambulance wagon passed.  I've never seen anything like it.  Those ant heaps we scratched up at Sanders didn't compare with the seething mass of people who filled the street.  (Sir William Glasgow and Lady Glasgow Collection, Item 29571-856).

Australian soldiers marching in the Lord Mayor's Victory Parade in London, 9 November 1918. Photograph courtesy of Aussie-mobs: https://www.flickr.com/photos/70994841@N07/16389119023

Australian soldiers marching in the Lord Mayor's Victory Parade in London, 9 November 1918. Photograph courtesy of Aussie-mobs: https://www.flickr.com/photos/70994841@N07/16389119023

In contrast there were no celebrations at the front.  Numbed by the horror they had endured and worn out by the last frenetic push for victory, the Australian troops accepted the news quietly.  Indeed many soldiers believed that the Armistice was only a temporary state and that the war would eventually resume.   On the 15th November Glasgow in a letter to Belle, describes the subdued reaction.

Peace was accepted here very calmly & we did not have any celebrations.  I too would like to think that it would mean our reunion, but as to how soon it will be until that takes place depends on Germany - how will she comply with the conditions.  I don't expect any trouble, but we must wait until the peace conference...All just now girl.  Would that I could give that bear hug you say you would so much like.  Your own Will  (item 29571-1290)

On the 17th November he again writes to Belle:

You will ere this have seen Morell  & he will have told you how quietly we received the news of the Armistice.  People here have really accepted everything that came along & they had so often been disappointed that they just took it as a matter of course...All just now girl.  I am just like you.  I feel unsettled and won't be happy until we are sharing our home together.  It would be glorious would it not?  All my love.  Your own Will.  (item 29571-862)

On the 18th November Belle writes to Joan and Beth:

Father is now occupying part of the Rhine territory, being with the 4th British Army.  Whilst the division was moving he and some of his staff motored through some of the newly devastated towns & villages.  All traffic is very much congested & everywhere the civilian population is returning to its own villages which adds to the congestion on the railways.  Last week's excitement in London fizzled out in a fireworks display in Hyde Park....Love to all the family and a big slice for each of yourselves.  Won't our tongues have lots to talk about - the happenings of more than 2 years for me, 4 years for your fond father - when we do meet. (item 29571-863)

It was not until the 6th May 1919 that the Glasgows departed for Australia.  Glasgow had been away from home for almost five years and was returning as Commanding Officer of the 1st Australian Division.  On the way home he learned that he had been awarded a knighthood.  From leaving as an obscure country grazier he was returning as a famous, highly decorated, military commander.  His life and that of his wife and daughters would never be the same.  The ship docked at Sydney on the 22nd June where the couple boarded the mail train to Brisbane, stopping at Toowoomba where they were re-united with their children.  At long last the family was together again after the long and disruptive years of war.

A selection of letters from Sir T. William Glasgow and Lady Glasgow Papers 1894-1955 have been digitised and can be viewed online.

Letters from the Glasgow Collection, Acc 29571.

Letters from the Glasgow Collection, Acc 29571.

Lynn Meyers, QANZAC100 Content Curator

 

 

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