A look back at Epping's first ever remembrance service

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Celebrations in front of the Victoria Buildings in Epping High Street 1919 Celebrations in front of the Victoria Buildings in Epping High Street 1919

With Remembrance Sunday approaching this week The Guardian takes a look at the first ever commemoration in 1919.

The first ever day of remembrance took place on Saturday  July 19, 1919, after the Treaty of Versailles was signed the previous month to officially bring to an end the four year long Great War.

Known as Peace Day, it was officially a day of celebration, although in central London troops marched past the newly built Cenotaph to remember their fallen comrades.

On that day Epping was decorated in red, white and blue with an old, torn, regimental Union Jack, which had been carried through the Crimean campaign, flown from the Victoria Buildings in High Street.

The celebrations centred on a procession which started at Bell Common and moved along High Street to Church Hill round Maltings Lane and back to the market place for a thanks-giving service.

All servicemen from the area were invited to take part in the celebrations, as were nurses, the fire brigade and local councillors.

The parade started at 10.30am and was led by discharged and demobilised men, one of whom carried a Union Jack and another a laurel wreath.

John Duffell, branch secretary and remembrance day organiser for Epping Royal British Legion, said: “I imagine it was a great relief for them all after four years of war.

“It looked like a great event.”

As with today’s procession, the town band accompanied the walkers in 1919, with the help of one man who walked six miles from Passingford Bridge in order to complete the full complement of cornet players needed.

Royal British Legion documents describe school children lining the route and cheering as the ex-servicemen marched past.

This is a trend which Mr Duffell hopes to continue.

He said: “We have more and more young people taking part in the events laying wreaths and attending the service.

“Epping St John’s School have even named their four houses after fallen soldiers from the two world wars and the Afghan conflict.

Something the modern celebrations no longer include is a platform erected in front of the Victoria buildings.

At the inaugural service there was one occupied by various senior officers and eight soldiers who had been wounded in the war.

The service was conducted by local Reverends and Cannons and choirs accompanied the congregations singing hymns.

The events were funded by donations from Epping residents, which ranged from one old penny to 10 guineas.

A sports competition also took place on the cricket field in Bury Lane, consisting of cycle races, 100 yard, 440 yard and half-mile running races, a sack race and a tug of war.

The following message from King George V was also received and printed on the front page of the West Essex Gazette, The Guardian's predecessor, on July 26 1919.

"I desire to express my admiration of the courage and endurance displayed by the sailors, soldiers and airmen of your county during the past five years of war – men and women of the county of Essex, for their devoted and patriotic service.

"I once more express my sympathy and that of the Queen with the relatives of the gallant men who have given their lives in their country’s cause, and our earnest hope that the sick and wounded may be restored to health. I rejoice with you today at the restoration of peace which I trust will bring us all unity, contentment, and prosperity."

The Epping remembrance service will take place on Sunday at 2.05pm.

Comments (1)

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12:47pm Tue 5 Nov 13

BenMurphy says...

We are very lucky indeed to have someone as talented and dedicated as John Duffell to ensure that this important part of our towns history is documented for future generations.
We are very lucky indeed to have someone as talented and dedicated as John Duffell to ensure that this important part of our towns history is documented for future generations. BenMurphy

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