November 11, 1918. An armistice had been signed and the guns finally fell silent.

After four long, weary years, Britain began the process of re-adjusting to peace-time living and men began to return home to Swindon, not en-masse with their pals but in dribs and drabs.

Swindonians had served in all arms and on all fronts and at sea.

As Chiseldon Camp now became a demobilisation camp, Swindon became used to the sight of soldiers, loaded down with kit, many still caked in mud, making their way from Old Town to the GWR station in New Town to embark on the trains to take them home.

Among the first few men to return were the released prisoners of war, some of whom had been captured in the first few months of the war and now returned in December and January.

Some, such as Charles Haggard came back on January 12, 1919.

He had been captured in the fierce fighting at Ypres in October 1914.

His father failed to recognise him when he turned up on his doorstep in Stafford Street because of his appalling state.

Within three weeks Charles died. He lies in his Commonwealth war grave in the Radnor Street cemetery.

Elsewhere in the town many celebrated the Armistice. There was great relief that the horrific war was over, though for many families there would not be a happy homecoming.

Well over 1,000 Swindonians would not return. Their bodies lay somewhere on the Western front, Gallipoli, Italy, Salonika or in Egypt, Iraq or India.

Others were lost in the cold waters of the North Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

There was so much grief among the celebrations.

Rejoicing again broke out when on June 28, 1919, the Germans finally signed the peace treaty bringing the war officially to an end.

The army finally stood down, with the exception of those serving on the Russian front at Archangel and Afghanistan.

Sunday, July 6, was proclaimed as a day of thanksgiving or Peace Sunday.

A service was held in St Mark’s Church and attended by Charles Plaister, mayor of Swindon.

There was a large procession which included a detachment of the 16th Worcestershires along with many discharged and disabled servicemen.

There was a large attendance even though many had left the town as the Great Western Railway’s Trip Week was once again under way.

Peace celebrations were set for Saturday, July 19. These were to include a banquet for widows of servicemen, a public sports event at the County Ground and a procession in the evening.

A memorial service was arranged for Sunday afternoon and on Monday tea and sports for the children in the GWR park.

A flagstaff had been put up in front of the town hall and, during the celebrations, a peace flag was flown.

This caused some rumours in that this was to be the town’s war memorial.

Other rumours were of the amount of money spent on the flag at a time when so many families were in desperate need.

At 9pm on Sunday, it was found that the cords had been cut and the flag had been removed.

The police quickly recovered it before an attempt was made to burn it but soon a crowd had gathered, containing what was described as a small hostile element.

It was also mentioned that there were many Australian soldiers present who were waiting for demobilisation.

The mayor addressed the crowd but he received a very hostile reception.

Some men threw tar over the flagpole and set fire to it. The mayor, under police escort, retreated into the town hall.

At about midnight, the flagstaff fell and what was left was carried down Regent Street and deposited across the tramlines.

At 1pm the crowd turned on the police station as they believed that one of their number had been arrested.

The only way they could be pacified was when the superintendent gave permission for some of them to inspect the cells to prove no-one had been arrested.

Many windows had been smashed by stones in the meantime.

The following day proved to be peaceful but, on Tuesday night, a crowd again gathered around the town hall and again several windows in the area were smashed and some looting broke out.

The police again tried to restore order but the crowd prevented their efforts and they finally had to resort to using batons.

On Wednesday morning the mayor issued an appeal which read:“Borough of Swindon. Disorderly conduct. Appeal to all inhabitants. Having regard to the disorderly conduct which took place in the town last evening, I earnestly appeal to all the inhabitants to assist the authorities in keeping indoors after 9 o’clock. This will greatly assist the authorities in keeping good order in the town.”

He also addressed a meeting of the Federation of Ex-servicemen in the recreation ground in Princess Street.

As a result, a number of ex-soldiers formed pickets and patrolled the town centre until after midnight, calming the situation.

Swindon had been one of five towns in Britain where troubles had broken out.

Luton had fared worse. Its town hall had been burnt down.

Why the troubles had broken out was never really discovered.

Some blamed the Australian soldiers among the crowd as these men had a reputation for a lack of respect for authority and they had worked the crowd up.

There were also many Swindonians who felt disillusioned with their lot.

A land fit for heroes they were promised. Many had nothing. Is this what they had fought for?

Some said that there was a small element intent on trouble and that the crowd became carried away.

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk on the men of the Great War to members of the “Lounge” – the ex railway workers who meet every Thursday.

The old railway spirit lives on in this club and what a privilege it was to meet them. After the talk, in which I mentioned these troubles, a member approached me and told me that his father, an ex-soldier, had been present at the town hall when the flagpole had been taken away.

Swearing his son to secrecy many years later, the old soldier showed him a souvenir he had secured from those troubled times.

He had kept the top section of the flag pole and had hidden it in his shed. His son told me he had kept this a secret all his life as he thought he would have faced arrest for taking part in the riot.

This soldier’s name appears in my book Tell Them Of Us. His name was... now that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Sources: William Bavin’s Swindon’s War Record