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Luton Borough Reaction to The Peace Riots

The Town Hall smouldering [Z1306/75]
The Town Hall smouldering [Z1306/75]

The Luton News of 24th July 1919 printed the following official notice:

BOROUGH OF LUTON

TO THE INHABITANTS

The Town Council deeply deplore the events of Saturday afternoon and evening, and take the earliest possible opportunity of issuing a statement to the Public.

Allegations have been made that the riotous conduct of a large number of persons on that day was the result of the refusal to permit the use of WardownPark for a Memorial Service in honour of the men who fell in the war.

The exact circumstances are as follows: -

The Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association made application by a letter of 7th July, for permission to use Wardown Park for a Drumhead Memorial Service on Sunday, 20th July, and invited the Council to join their procession and attend the Service.

As there would not be a Council Meeting until 22nd July, and it was desired to give an early answer, the letter was submitted to a number of members of the Parks Committee (who were asked to remain after the meeting of another Committee) as owing to many other meetings it was not practicable to arrange for a prompt meeting of the Parks Committee. The members considered it was not desirable to use Wardown Park, as there was no statement that the Service was to be a combined service at the request of the majority of the discharged sailors and soldiers; and the Town Clerk was instructed to offer the use of Pope's Meadow, as being the more suitable place, or the Moor in New Bedford-road. This decision was mentioned also at a meeting of the Watch Committee the same evening, and no objection was made; and it was thought inadvisable for the Council to join in the Procession or attend the Service officially, as the Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association represented only a portion of the discharged men. Had a combined application been made by the Association and the Comrades of the Great War there is no doubt the Council would have officially joined in the proceedings.

The offer was refused, and within a few days the Association accepted an invitation to use Luton Hoo Park, and the matter was thus concluded.

The Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association inserted in the "Saturday Telegraph", published on Friday, the 18th inst., an advertisement urging all the members to conduct themselves peaceably on Peace Day; and a contingent of the Comrades of the Great War and their Band (by the decision of their Body) joined in the Procession organized by the Council.

The President of the Discharged Sailors' and Soldiers' Association saw the Town Clerk between 6 and 7 p.m. and disclaimed most strongly that the riotous conduct during the afternoon was by discharged sailors and soldiers, and he and Mr. W. J. Mair, J. P. (one of the Labour Leaders) addressed the large crowd and urged the people to disperse and cease any further damage or bad conduct.

The riot broke out shortly after 10 p.m. and continued for some hours after midnight.

The speeches made during the day in front of the Town Hall indicated that the WardownPark question had little to do with the disorderly behaviour, and that other grievances mentioned were of a more serious importance, such as alleged unsatisfactory allowances to discharged soldiers and their dependants.

The Council have definitely approved the action taken to quell the most serious riot, and recorded their admiration of the splendid and restrained conduct of the Police and Fire Brigade, and their sympathy with the many men who have been injured.

They are determined to uphold the law and preserve the King's Peace, and to govern the town in conformity with their powers. Stern measures will be adopted to prevent, or overcome, any further symptoms of riot, and the inhabitants are advised and strongly urged not to congregate in the streets either during the day or night, and to proceed with their business quietly and peaceably. The Council have the utmost faith that this request will be readily complied with for the general benefit of the community.

By the unanimous Order of the Council.

Luton, 21st July, 1919  W. SMITH, Town Clerk.

Wardown Park Museum has a permanent display on the Peace Day riots in its Luton Life galleries