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Celebrating a state of peace in 1919

The 1919 Peace March in Charles Street Launceston. Weekly Courier picture

World War I may have ended on November 11, 1918, but the formal signing of a peace treaty between the Allied Nations and Germany took more than six months to negotiate.

As thousands of service men and women who had survived the “Great War” were returning to Australia from the terrible conflict there was intense interest in the peace talks and the penalties to be imposed on the defeated enemy.

In the early months of 1919 reports on the progress of negotiations and the opinions of politicians, military officials and readers were carried almost daily in The Examiner.

About 13,000 Tasmanians had volunteered for the war with nearly 2500 dying while serving and many others returning home with physical and mental scars.

According to historian John Reynolds in Launceston: History of An Australian City, this included 1747 men from Launceston and suburbs, with 258 killed.

When the Treaty of Versailles was finally signed on June 28, 1919, “peace celebrations” were organised for Launceston and Hobart and just about every town in the state.

After five years of shortages and sacrifice and a terrible toll on the male population The Examiner said it was the first opportunity for the people to rejoice “in the great blessings of peace.”

On Monday July 21, 1919, thousands of people lined the streets of Launceston as returned servicemen and women marched to the Elphin Showgrounds where an estimated 15,000 people attended the celebrations.

“Never before has such a crowd of people assembled on a public occasion in Launceston as the one which poured into Elphin Show Ground yesterday afternoon,” The Examiner said.

The column of marching returned servicemen and women took 17 minutes to pass through the gates to the showgrounds where the military forces were drawn up on the arena while massed bands played the National Anthem and Rule Britannia.

There was loud cheering for the service personnel and speeches followed by local dignitaries and politicians. Launceston Mayor, Ald. George Shields, expressed his great pleasure at the large crowd.

He said he was proud to say that the name of Australia was [known] worldwide by reason of the valour, determination, and pluck of our soldiers.

The Examiner said there was a tinge of sadness in the gathering when they remembered that there were people in this country who had those dear to them buried beneath foreign skies.

In December 1919 the Weekly Courier published A Souvenir of Tasmania's Part in the Great War.

The Examiner said the souvenir was “depicting by picture and story what our island State did to assist King and Empire.”

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 9 June 2019)

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