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Paul Roberts

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Countdown to Great War centenary service begins

Final preparations are being made for the special service taking place in Witheridge to commemorate the centenary of the official end of the Great War.

The Bishop of Crediton, Jackie Searle is to give the address and blessing at the service, which is being held at St John the Baptist Parish Church at 2pm on Friday, June 28.

Among those due to attend are Devon’s Deputy Lieutenant, Mark Parkhouse and his wife, Philippa, of High Bickington.

Also there will be Lt-Colonel Bill Sharpe, MBE, chairman of the Devon and Dorset Regimental Association and the secretary, Colonel Geoff Phillips.

A former soldier of the Devonshire Regiment will be among the association members attending the service.

Two Standards will be paraded at the event – one for the Devon and Dorset Regimental Association and one for the Royal British Legion.

When the guns of the Great War fell silent on November 11, 1918, there was still one more major battle to fight – for a peace agreement.

The war finally ended on June 28, 1919 when a peace treaty was signed at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris.

As news of the signing reached Devon, tens of thousands of people took part in parades and attended thanksgiving services in hundreds of churches and chapels.

Bands played stirring music in the streets, people danced with joy everywhere – and there was a spectacular 101-gun salute in Plymouth.

The service, believed to be the only one of its kind being held in Devon and beyond, will include a welcome and readings reflecting on the signing of the peace treaty – and the celebrations that followed.

Children of Witheridge Church of England Academy are due to perform a musical version of In Flanders Fields, the famous Great War poem written by Major John McCrae, and will sing Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, an anthem of the Royal British Legion.

There will be a special tribute to the Devonshire Regiment who had 50,000 men fighting in the war. A slide show of images of the signing of the peace treaty in Versailles and how Devon and England marked this historic moment, will welcome people arriving at the church.

A special commemorative booklet is being produced for the service, which will be followed by a cream tea and cake celebration at the Parish Hall.

Three weeks after the signing of the peace treaty, the people of Devon had another opportunity to celebrate the end of the war – with a national Peace Day being held on July 19, 1919. It rained heavily throughout the whole county that day, but the downpours could not dampen the enthusiasm of tens of thousands of revellers.

Huge crowds attended a special Victory March in Exeter and processions, and a host of musical jamborees and services were held in every community. In Crediton, as many as 300 soldiers marched through the town as three bands led two processions to the Ship Hotel. Thousands later attended a firework display on St Lawrence Green.

Tiverton-born soldier Thomas Henry Sage, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery in Flanders, was among 500 servicemen who marched through the town. Thomas, a private in the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, received the VC after he threw himself on to a bomb just before it exploded in a shell-hole near Ypres in October 1917. He saved the lives of several of his fellow soldiers, but was hit by almost 20 pieces of shrapnel as the bomb went off.

Seventy soldiers and 10 land girls took part in a parade in Morchard Bishop, led by the village’s brass band. Bonfires were lit in many villages, including Newton St Cyres and Poughill. Three hundred people attended a tea at Yeoford School. A procession through Cheriton Fitzpaine was followed by a dance and fireworks. About 120 soldiers in Newton St Cyres were presented with silver medallions to commemorate their service to King and country.

The picture shows the front cover of a special 16-page commemorative booklet produced for the service.

Commemorative booklet cover for special service.jpg



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