Historian Alan Roberts looks at some of the reactions to the WWI ceasefire announcement, as well as a tragedy at the Midland Hotel.

‘The greatest day in history’. The Craven Herald did not mince its words. The ceasefire had been signed at 5am on Monday, November 11, 1918 and fighting was to cease at 11 the same morning.

The ‘West Yorkshire Pioneer’, the other local paper, waxed lyrically ‘The world’s black night has ended. The Great War is over and peace had again resumed her reign on earth. All through the dragging hours of the weekend the world waited for a declaration of Germany’s choice on the tremendous alternative presented to her’. The message announcing the ceasefire was described as the ‘most gracious benediction that any British Premier had ever penned’.

The news was first received by one of the local banks. The ‘Pioneer’ obtained confirmation over the telephone. There was no excess of exuberant joy, but the heartfelt satisfaction that on the hundredth day of its fifth year, the war was finally over. The end had been expected for some time. The German Spring Offensive had ground to a halt. The losses were still heavy, but Britain and its allies had found new tactics to consistently gain ground from an increasingly demoralised enemy.

Flags which had been kept in readiness for the big event started to appear on public buildings and shops. Some firms shut down at once and gave their employees the day off. Schoolchildren rushed into the town centre to add their voices to the rising clamour. Skipton’s main streets presented a very animated appearance that afternoon.

In Carleton the mills suspended work at lunchtime. Flags were hoisted on the mills and smaller flags were displayed on the nearby cottages. The village band turned out in the evening and played selections in Coronation Square.

At Embsay the steam whistle at Hawbank Quarries announced the signing of the Armistice. At Airton schoolchildren were given the day off and bonfires were lit on the green at night. The delight was tinged with sadness. 71 men from Kirkby Malhamdale had joined up. Nine had been killed and fourteen wounded.

The British guards at Raikeswood Camp cheered loudly when the news was announced and decorated their huts with brightly-coloured bunting. The German officer prisoners could only watch and listen from behind the barbed wire. Battle-hardened veterans were reduced to tears. They dare not venture out of the camp on their escorted rambles for fear of the jibes from proud Yorkshire folk.

Two days earlier a German prisoner labouring on a farm near Gisburn had been shown a cartoon of the German kaiser on his knees begging for mercy from the Allied war supremo Marshal Foch. The indignant German had repeatedly uttered ‘Not true, our kaiser never, no never, not true’. His world was set to be turned upside down.

Not all German prisoners were downhearted. German prisoners at Gargrave returning from a day’s work reportedly saluted the British flag.

On the Western Front the German Army was to withdraw from occupied Belgium and France within 15 days. Any illusions that the Armistice was just a temporary ceasefire were quickly dispelled: the war was finally over.

Elsewhere on Monday afternoon an inquest had been opened into the tragic death of a chambermaid in a fire at Skipton’s Midland Hotel the previous Saturday. The local policeman had been doing his rounds at four o’clock in the morning and had noticed a light in the ‘vaults’. Closer investigation revealed the building to be on fire. He aroused the residents and contacted the fire brigade.

Inspector Edward Burrows of the Midland Railway was able to attach one of the company’s hose pipes to the town’s water mains. The staff and two visitors were in the upper floors of the hotel and as the fire had already reached the staircase, they could only be rescued with difficulty. Two or three were rescued from a balcony using a ladder provided by two further railway employees. Barmaid Kathleen Holmes was overcome by smoke and jumped from an upstairs window onto the balcony and from there onto the steps of the hotel. Fortunately railway employee John Campbell broke her fall, but Kathleen still sustained severe head injuries and was admitted to hospital.

Unfortunately 45-year-old chambermaid Margaret McKenna did not survive the fire. She had been roused from her sleep by waitress Mabel Wood but had then proceeded to the rear of the property where she was found doubled up with severe burns to her legs and body. The coroner ruled she had died as a result of smoke inhalation. The fire brigade had arrived too late to save her: it took several hours to bring the blaze under control.

The cause of the fire was believed to have been a gas fire in the bar, or a lighted match dropped into a trough of sawdust placed near the counter. The jury recorded a verdict of accidental death, but believed that hotels should provide a second flight of stairs for emergency use, or else have an iron ladder on the outside.

So that is almost one week in Skipton’s long history – the greatest imaginable joy and a disturbingly sad loss.