One hundred years ago, on Monday 30th June 1919, the day after Prime Minister David Lloyd George returned to London having signed the Versailles Treaty, the Liverpool Courier carried the article below from his wife Dame Margaret Lloyd George, its message being reported widely in the Press. On the Saturday she had presided over the massive London women’s Victory Loan demonstration in Trafalgar Square, supported by Mrs Pankhurst and others. Ahead were the Peace Day celebrations due for 19th July. Dame Margaret is greatly under-appreciated, not only for tirelessly canvassing support for Liberalism, for her husband and for his Coalition government but also for the gentle, subtle and energetic ways in which she promoted her own causes. Perhaps most consistently she was a champion for opportunities for women in a man’s world. The article is written in her familiar style, with the simple opening: ‘Women have at least two substantial reasons for rejoicing in the establishment of peace on earth’.
‘War is absolutely alien to woman’s nature and does violence to everything that she cherishes in life. Woman’s thoughts are thoughts of peace, and to her war is an unspeakable torture, an indescribable agony. Woman is so constituted that peace is essential to her wellbeing and the return of peace she therefore hails with joy unfeigned.
‘She can rejoice, too, because she has contributed so magnificently by her endeavours and by her endurance to the great victory which has made peace possible. Though she loves peace and loathes war, yet she laboured with unexampled devotion to end the war. Without women’s help we might have seen the end of the war but we could not have seen the war end in victory for us – victory which crowns the efforts of our valiant men on land, on sea, and in the air. That the enemy has been hoist with his own petard is due in no small degree to woman’s help. In every sphere the women of Britain have undertaken work uncongenial, arduous and often very perilous. If every woman in Britain had received due “recognition” at the hands of the state the Honours List would be almost as long as the Directory’.
‘Nor must we forget the women whose part in the tragic struggle was to suffer in silence, and today are longing for “the touch of the vanished hand” and for “the sound of the voice that is still”. “They also serve who stand and wait”. They have mourned; they have never murmured. Throughout the whole of the long dark night (and how dark the night we have passed through we do not even yet realise) there was one star that shone brightly, clearly, constantly. The spirit of the people never failed us, not even flickered. It was a phenomenon without parallel in the history of this land, and unexcelled in any other land at any time’.
‘If we can for the purpose of peace retain that spirit of unity, the Peace day will mark not only the end of the war, but the end of one and the beginning of another era in the history of Britain, an era brighter and better than Britain has ever known in her long history; and the inauguration of that era will be the richest compensation for all the sacrifices of the war. We have an unexampled opportunity and responsibility’.
Dame Margaret does not waste words. She writes straight to the point. She does not pull any punches. There is a total absence of sentimentality. You could not hope for a clearer tribute to the contribution of women during that dreadful war.
Sadly that “war to end all wars” did nothing of the sort and the peace that was signed was flawed, the allies arguing between squeezing Germany “till the pips squeaked” to granting less crippling terms. The World War Two settlement was more successful, learning from the past. May we never underestimate how, since 1945, the degree to which most Europeans have enjoyed peace in their time.
Dame Margaret’s typed copy of this article now makes part of the J.T. Rhys Collection, a new archive available at the National Library of Wales. The Rev. J.T. Rhys, my grandfather, was Dame Margaret’s Private Secretary from 1917 to 1922, whilst she was at No. 10 Downing Street. Her photograph is by Elliot and Fry, copyright National Portrait Gallery.