Century-old flag displayed as Leeds marks Armistice centenary
A century ago, excited teenager Madge Howdill and her family joined the jubilant crowds who took to the streets of Leeds to celebrate the long-awaited end of The Great War.
Like many others, 15 year-old Madge carried with her a handmade flag which she had carefully crafted to symbolise just how important the historic day was both to her and to the city.
Leeds born and bred, she kept the colourful pennant safely stored in her attic for decades- a poignant reminder of the day the conflict which had changed the world finally ended.
Now this weekend, as Leeds commemorates 100 years since the end of The First World War, Madge’s flag will go on display at Leeds City Museum alongside modern-day interpretations and peace symbols created by community groups across the city.
The fascinating story of Madge’s flag is being retold thanks to Duncan McCargo, a professor of political science at the University of Leeds, who moved into the Howdill family home on Hanover Square in 1993.
He said: “A neighbour put me in touch with Madge and she asked if I’d found the flag in the attic.
“She didn’t tell me exactly what she wanted me to do with it, but I came away from the conversation knowing that she’d kept it for a reason and with the distinct impression that I’d been given a mission from Madge to do something significant with it.”
During the war, Madge’s older brothers Thomas and Norman both served in France while her youngest brother Leslie, who was too young for military service, was volunteering with the Coastguard. All three survived the conflict but around 10,000 Leeds soldiers never returned from battle.
Madge died in 1999 and the flag remained with Professor McCargo, who began working with the university and Leeds Museums and Galleries to ensure it was given a role in the Armistice commemorations.
Prof McCargo added: “It’s a story that really has captured people’s imaginations- they imagine this 15-year-old girl with two brothers fighting in France making this flag.
“Hanover Square had a recruiting station too, so soldiers would have been signing up to fight in a neighbouring house, so the war would have had a real personal connection for the Howdill family and I think that’s something Madge carried with her for the rest of her life.
“I think she would be amazed to think the flag was going on display and that, 100 years later, it had inspired others to make their own.”
Because of the toll the war had taken on the city, the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918 was greeted with spontaneous gatherings including in front of Leeds Town Hall.
Many men and some women were still mobilised and away from Leeds, so celebrations were largely led by workers and by some university students, many carrying their own improvised flags like Madge’s.
This Sunday, the city will once again mark the occasion with commemorations including a march featuring servicemen past and present from Leeds City Museum at 10.30am.
The parade will make its way to the cenotaph on Victoria Gardens, where the Lord Mayor of Leeds Councillor Graham Latty and other dignitaries will lay wreaths
At 11am there will be a two minute silence which will be preceded by a bugler who will sound the Last Post.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council said: “This Sunday will see us come together as a city to commemorate the extraordinary sacrifices of those who gave so much, both on the battlefields of Europe and here on the home front.
“Their courage, fortitude and indomitable spirit should never be forgotten and the beautiful events and displays we have seen involving communities across the city show how much this anniversary means to Leeds.”
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