1918 was different from earlier years of the war in that it was marked by two distinct periods of heavy fighting – the German Spring offensive and the allied counterattack in the Autumn – and that the War become much more mobile than it had been previously.
On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched Operation Michael, the first campaign of their Spring Offensive. The offensive was successful in breaking through allied lines and ended the stalemate of trench warfare that had persisted since 1914. This led to the allies retreating and a desperate defensive campaign. 83 Lancastrians were killed between 21st March and the end of May. April had 41 casualties making it the fourth equal worst month of the war.
After a lull in early summer, the allies launched their own offensive on 8 August. This became known as the Hundred Days Offensive and led to the war ending on 11 November. Again, casualties were high: 96 Lancastrians were killed in this fighting, including 41 in September, making it equal with April for deaths.
Three Lancastrian soldiers died on 6 November 1918:
- James Booth of 7 Anne Street, who died of influenza serving in India with the 6th Battalion, King’s Own
- Alfred Morgan of 45 Aldren’s Lane, Skerton and William Smallshaw of 26 Bradshaw Street, Primrose who were both killed in action in France.
Booth and Morgan were the last two Lancastrians to be killed in action in the War, although they were far from the last Lancastrians to die, casualties continued to be recorded until August 1921 but men would have continued to die of wounds and conditions developed during the War far longer.
On 11 November, speaking at an impromptu meeting outside the Town Hall, Mayor Briggs spoke to the cheering crowds: “I am delighted to announce that an armistice has been signed this morning at 5 o’clock, and that hostilities were to cease at 11 o’clock. (Cheers). Thus ends the greatest war of any age in a victory of Right over Might. (Renewed cheers.)”
The outbreak of peace had been quietly anticipated in Lancaster by the start of November 1918. The somewhat muted coverage of the press can perhaps be explained by the fact that the signing of the armistice was accompanied by an influenza epidemic, claiming 50 lives in October. Nonetheless, following the proclamation of the Armistice, the “thoroughfares were a blaze of colour with the hoisting of flags and banners … sirens at the principal works were sounded, the church bells rung and the streets were thronged by jubilant town people.” Jubilation, however, was tempered by the sober recollection of all those who had lost their lives or their health- 1,055 men killed, 5.2% of the male population – and the families who had to live with the legacies of the war.
In the years that followed, memorials were erected across in churches and work places across town, with a central war memorial located in carefully-designed gardens by the Town Hall. Returning servicemen were not forgotten, however: the decision was reached in Lancaster also to erect a settlement for disabled ex-service personnel, the project that was to become Westfield War Memorial Village, which survives to the present day.
If you would like to visit the many sites in Lancaster that recall the First World War, please see the walking trail or android app shared on this site. If you walk down almost any street in town you will pass a house from which someone was lost.