The Victory Ball January 1919 Blackpool

WW1 The Victory Ball  Blackpool

The conflict of the Victory Ball in Blackpool took place between the armistice of November 1918 and the signing of the Peace Treaty in June 1919. It also took place during a whirlpool of social upheaval which extended worldwide and which the war itself had largely created. The Russian revolution had demonstrated that workers could become rulers and it created the dream that direct action and confrontation could achieve the same results in other countries. The ordinary soldier and civilian had taken an equal part in the war and consequently should qualify for an equal share of the victory.

The disturbances of the Victory Ball held in January 1919 at the Tower Ballroom, were the result of a badly worded letter in the local paper, when it had been intimated that only uniforms would be allowed to attend, and this implied only officers and nurses. Though this was later explained away as a mistake, the ordinary soldiers were incensed, as it was they who had fought the war on the Fronts, and had achieved the victory as much as, or more than, anybody. The mood festered in the Military Hospital and in the soldiers’ billets in the town, and rumours abounded about possible action. There was no placating the mood, and on the evening of the ball two or three thousand soldiers and civilians, according to one newspaper report, congregated in Talbot Square and passed a resolution condemning the high price of tickets for the Ball which would exclude the common soldier and his associates. With this resolution consolidated as a grievance, they marched on to the Tower Ballroom and congregated around the wooden platform that had formed the walkway for the arrival of guests and, as each guest arrived they were booed and hissed by an ever-increasing crowd. The police lined up underneath the awning and they were able to stem the first rush of irate protesters attempting to storm the doorway. A suggestion of using the fire engine to hose down the menacing crowd was turned down by Chief Constable Derham but, when it was learnt that the men believed some of their company had been locked up in the police station, they had to be given honest assurances that they had not, since the situation was becoming unhealthily menacing.

The mayor appeared and attempted to restore order, but his pleas were drowned out by the noisy protests of the crowd, as were those of the Assistant Provost Marshall, Major Troup. A soldier mounted the bonnet of a car which had just brought some more guests. He claimed noisily that the 15s 6d (80p) that was being charged as the entry fee was far more than the pay of an ordinary soldier could support. His short and angry address was cheered by the crowd. But then Mayor Parkinson climbed on to the bonnet and appealed to the soldiers in an attempt to win them round. It wasn’t the military or the civil authorities that had arranged the Ball, but a small private group, he explained to them. He himself was incensed when he read of the intimation in the newspaper that the ordinary soldier would not be allowed in, and immediately consulted the military at the Hospital where they agreed that it was an insult to those who had fought and suffered. Another soldier mounted, (what would now be a very, dented bonnet), and demanded that the word ‘Victory’ should be deleted from the title of the Ball. The mayor’s pleas to the contrary were drowned out. With no concessions from those that were denying them entry, the crowd made several abortive rushes to the door but the police on the walkway held firm.

It was then that about 200 soldiers walked round to Bank Hey St at the rear of the Tower building and, smashing a window, gained entry to the Tower premises that way, making for the Ballroom. More police and specials were called for but they could not prevent the final surges to the front door when the wooden awning was torn down and used as a battering ram to the main door and which prompted the police to retire for their own safety.

It was time then, after a near two and a half hour stand-off that the Chief Constable, Mr Derham, also at the ball, to concede that it was best to open the doors and let the men enter as guests, rather than being a compromise for just for the sake of peace. The men then entered in an orderly manner, even taking off their caps when asked, filing onto the balcony and singing popular songs such as ‘Me and My Gal’. Down below on the dance floor there were 500 hundred or so dancers waltzing, as the men took up all the seats in the balconies and danced in the aisles there, causing concern among the dancers.

But the anger persisted, ‘Look at the broken dolls; come and see the men who won the war for you,’ shouted a soldier from the balcony among the perceived have-nots to the perceived, and materially comfortable and insensitive, below on the dance floor. The Mayor took it upon himself to speak once more. The waltz had finished and he spoke from the dance floor. The letter that had been written had been from the hand of Edward Leech, and it was never intended to cause insult or injustice to anyone. Mr Leech, intimately involved in the acquisition of funding for the Military Hospital, and present alongside the mayor, perhaps with genuine, and perhaps with pragmatic contrition, proceeded to issue an apology and, among a constant uproar in which the voices of the women could also be heard, a constructed apology was issued. ‘You are no democrat!’ accused a voice from the crowd, demonstrating the class distinctions that the War had stirred up, not only at home but also across the board, within the enemies’ society and around the world. Mr Leech pleaded that his apology would be accepted, and that they would come down from the balconies and enjoy the dancing and the entertainment.

The appeal worked, and the men came down, taking off their coats and hats on further request since there were ‘ladies’ present, a desperate, or clever, targeted appeal to the ‘gentleman’ that existed somewhere within each of the irate protesters. The ladies in the crowd dressed in ‘ordinary attire’ took their place on the dance floor. Few official guests stayed for very long after that as the common people took over the event. Even at the late hour of 11pm soldiers and civilians were still entering the building, and the tables laid out with food on the balcony in the Tower Café were soon stripped bare.

Despite the rough nature of the affair, there was little damage done beyond the glass windows of Bank Hey Street and the wooden walkway by the front door and a door torn off its hinges there. The Tower Company however, claimed that the new carpet which had cost 23s (£1.30) a yard, had been ruined and most of this by cigarette ends, dropped and trodden in.

In the days after the event, the RAMC, always more concerned with reparation rather than destruction, were keen to distance themselves from the event and all the units openly denied they had taken part and they had never made plans to demonstrate. It was generally blamed variously upon discharged soldiers, men on leave, convalescents and ‘Colonials’. I suppose, with the War over, no-one could blame the Germans any more.

At a Victory Ball in Ansdell on Wednesday 26th Feb, fancy dress was generally worn, and the purpose was to give the men who had served some respect, and any profit made would go to those who had served and were in need. Ansdell, a little further south down the coast was perhaps, conscious of the recent events in Blackpool, and a good time was had by all.

 

Sources

All facts derived from contemporary newspaper reports.