This description of events in London on 11 November 1918 was written on that day by a member of Prudential’s Chief Office Staff at Holborn Bars.
‘This morning the news for which we had waited so long came swiftly, mysteriously, silently. At one moment all was normal: the next, groups of people were talking excitedly – the air seemed charged with emotion. “The armistice has been signed and firing ceases at 11 o'clock, and my husband is coming home and I am going to buy a flag”, said a lady breathlessly as she disappeared down the stairs. A gentleman was playing football with an old waste-paper basket, and flags were being festooned round the lamps.
The maroons1 banged and clattered overhead. For a brief second we experienced the old dismal, sinking, here-they-are-again feeling, but only for a second, and then exultation held us in its sway. We looked out of the windows on to Brooke Street, and down it swarmed the girls from the Approved Society2, laughing, running, waving little flags. Where the flags came from is a mystery. We all thought there was not a flag in London, and yet they sprang up in millions. Everybody had a flag and everybody waved it. Everybody cheered everybody else. The people who swarmed the buses – loading the tops, sides, and mudguards – cheered the people in the streets, and the people in the streets cheered the buses. They waved and shouted…
A little girl dressed in black was sitting at her desk crying her heart out; and a father who had lost both his sons squared his shoulders and was silent… The news spread that the Manager would address the staff in the courtyard, and we all surged out. We packed the courtyard and overflowed on to the railings, cheering and waving our flags, while the startled pigeons circled round and round overhead. The Red Cross bus stood in the middle, a tiny island in a sea of upturned faces.
When the Manager appeared on the summit [of the bus] we cheered. The Manager spoke. He told us of the 10,000 Prudential men who had helped to bring this mighty triumph to pass. He reminded us solemnly of those who would never return, and we were hushed… Then God Save the King welled up – a spontaneous anthem. We surged out of the gates into Holborn – Holborn transformed into a place of joy, for at last the dream of peace had become gloriously true…’
‘From every point of egress the Staff poured into the courtyard; from every window protruded heads (and bodies, at some risk); and around the Red Cross Conveyance – which has performed such noble service daily and nightly for the benefit of our wounded soldiers – the crowd was densest, and the waving flags thickest.’ (Ibis Magazine, 1918)
“You have all through this period fulfilled your duty. The business we carry on here is very important business. As I bear the chief administrative burden I know what I am talking about. You are entitled to your rejoicing for helping to carry us through.” Alfred Corderoy Thompson, General Manager, 11 November 1918.
1 Maroons produce a loud bang. They had been used to warn of air raids during the war, but were also pressed into service to celebrate the armistice.
2 The Prudential Approved Societies were set up as part of the first state provision for sickness and unemployment benefits in 1913. The administrative staff were based in an office in Brooke Street, opposite Holborn Bars.