In Sydney and the Blue Mountains, the armistice ending World War I hostilities was celebrated for three days before it officially came into effect on November 11, 1918 because US Naval Rear-Admiral Wilson advised incorrectly, on November 7, that Germany had capitulated.
On Friday, November 8, the Sydney Evening News announced that the war was over. Despite official denials, people began to celebrate.
By that evening, spontaneous public celebrations began in streets in Katoomba and across the country. These public celebrations lasted until the following Thursday.
By Friday evening, an estimated 400,000 people were in Sydney, while more than 2000 celebrated in Katoomba.
People climbed lampposts. Cars and trucks full of people waving flags and blowing trumpets could be seen in every town. In Katoomba, they lapped Katoomba Street and Parke Street, via Waratah and Main Streets.
Throughout Saturday and Sunday, tons of confetti and coloured streamers were thrown, kerosene tin drums were beaten into unrecognisable lumps of mangled metal, ambulance men and policeman worked overtime, patching-up battered but cheerful citizens and restoring lost children to their parents.
In Katoomba and Leura, people danced in the streets, chasing each other like children. Impromptu choirs sang Rule, Britannia and Boys of the Dardanelles. Bonfires were lit in open spaces and effigies of Kaiser Bill and the Crown Prince were hung and burnt.
A national public holiday was declared on Tuesday, November 12 and a state holiday on Wednesday, November 13, giving all of New South Wales two official days off work.
Many businesses had already closed by Saturday, November 9. Tram and train services were maintained.
Churches throughout Katoomba celebrated peace on Sunday, November 10.
A thanksgiving service, held in the Sydney Domain on Wednesday, November 13, attracted nearly 250,000 people.
The Blue Mountains and Sydney were dry for these six days of informal celebration, the authorities having closed all hotels and wine salons except for Monday, November 11.
There had been little drunkenness but Sid Baker wrote in the Sydney Daily Telegraph that peace “brought a six-day bender” because spirits were so untrammeled.
The war was over, but the country was just beginning to reflect on its significance and impact.
Formal peace celebrations occurred after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles later in 1919.
Monuments remembering both those who lost their lives and those who served and returned home sprang up around the Blue Mountains.
At Mt Victoria, one of the first war memorials in Australia was dedicated on June 4, 1916 and Katoomba’s in 1920.
Springwood’s District Honour Roll opened on Anzac Day, 1921 and its Memorial Arch in 1923.
The sacrifice of those who served would not be forgotten.
- Robyne Ridge is publicity officer for Blue Mountains Historical Society.