THIS memento of the First World War shows how everyone, even the music hall entertainers of the day “did their bit” for the war effort. It is a flier, brought to us by Roy Beddall of Amblecote, Stourbridge, with the words from a patriotic monologue that was performed in theatres at the time. It originally belonged to Roy’s grandfather, who copied out the words to send to a friend, and has been carefully preserved for nearly 100 years.
The Dawn of Peace was written by music hall performer Albert Voyce and we have uncovered a few details about him. We don’t know when he was born or where he came from but his career appears to have begun in the 1890s in partnership with Sydney Verno, as Verno and Voyce the Fin-de- Cycle Bicyclists, or the Singing Cyclists.
Verno died in 1897 and Voyce continued the act with a Barney Stuart but by 1905 the pair had dropped the bicycles and were performing as sketch vocalists and singing comedians. They never topped the bill and were performers of the middle rank but by 1914 Voyce was appearing solo as a character comedian, performing “Rip van Winkle the Second”.
Also around this time Voyce became chairman of the Variety Artistes’ Federation and in 1923 he was quoted speaking out against black performers appearing at British music halls.
His patriotic monologue The Dawn of Peace is undated but from references made in it we can assume that it was written after July 1916.
In line 24 he refers to “Nurse Cavell” – Edith Cavell (1865- 1915) – who was executed by firing squad by the German army on 12th October, 1915, for helping Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium.
Then on the next line Voyce refers to “brave Fryatt”. This is Captain Charles Fryatt (1872- 1916), a merchant seaman and non-combatant who was executed by the Germans on 27th July, 1916, for attempting to ram a German u-boat that was attacking his passenger ferry, the SS Brussels.
Voyce begins his monologue by referring to the “peaceful message” of Pope Benedict XV (r.1914-1922) who declared the neutrality of the Holy See and attempted to mediate between the warring nations in 1916 and again in 1917.
Voyce then goes on to imagine an encounter between the kaiser and a mocking Satan.
In his speech the Devil mentions Heligoland, two small islands in the North Sea, 29 miles from the German coast.
For much of their history they were Danish territory but in 1814 the Danes ceded the islands to Britain. They remained under British rule until 1890 when the German Empire was given the islands in return for concessions in Africa.
Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated on 9th November, 1918. The next day he fled to the Netherlands, where he would remain for the rest of his life.
George V referred to his cousin as “the greatest criminal in history” and there were calls for him to be hanged but the Allies, guided by US President Woodrow Wilson, judged it better for world peace if he was not prosecuted.
In 1920 Wilhelm Hohenzollern, as he was then, moved to a grand house in Doorn, in the central Netherlands, furnished from his palaces in Germany.
He always hoped the German monarchy would be restored, preferably with his grandson as kaiser, but Adolf Hitler and the Nazis held Wilhelm in low regard, blaming him for Germany’s defeat in the First World War.
When Germany occupied the Netherlands in May 1940 Winston Churchill offered the exkaiser asylum in Britain but he chose to remain.
Wilhelm died on 3rd June, 1941, aged 82, and was buried in the grounds of his home in Doorn.
The Dawn of Peace by Albert Voyce
I’d been reading the Pope’s peaceful message, sent out to the Nations from Rome,
Was considering the losses and suffering of our loved ones abroad and at home;
In my old arm-chair I sat thinking, alone in the firelight gleam,
Till the chains of slumber bound me, and I had a weird, strange dream:
I looked down on a desolate valley, amid ruin and smoke and mud,
I saw thousands of shattered homesteads, and a winding river of blood;
And each side of that horrible valley was as steep as a mountain fell –
Crimson’d, shattered and torn and blistered ... It looked like the mouth of hell!
From below came the roar of cannon, and the fumes of a poisonous gas,
And I noticed a gaunt-like figure slowly climbing a desolate pass:
Around him were threatening shadows, from which he vainly sought release;
Then – I caught a glimpse of his features, ’twas the Kaiser looking for Peace!
Madly begging the God of the Germans to uphold his name and race,
When the Devil flew up from the shadows and laughed in the tyrant’s face.
“Who wants peace?” cried the Master of Evil. “What, you! the King of the Huns –
After training your millions of soldiers, and constructing your giant guns?
Come, now, think how you fooled the English when they ’ceded you Heliogoland,
And remember your promise of friendship – when you gave them your withered hand!
And why did you build such a Navy, and then boast of your might and worth?
Was it simply for Peace that you did it? No, you were greedy and wanted the Earth!
That is why you invaded Belgium, and commanded your Huns to destroy –
To burn, rape and shoot without mercy, while you gazed on the scene with joy!
Why, even I cannot count the victims that you’ve murdered on land and wave,
But, men will remember Nurse Cavell, whom you sent to a martyr’s grave;
And they’ll curse you for shooting brave Fryatt, when your body lies cold and still –
You may try to forget that murder, but history never will!
Were you thinking of Peace when you ordered your Zepps and your ’planes to creep
Over peaceful city and hamlet, and murder women and babes in their sleep?
Was it Peace bade your submarine pirates sink innocent souls ’neath the flood?
Why through YOU both the land and the ocean have been crimson’d with human blood.
Now you call on your God for protection, beg for Peace like a coward dismayed,
But the Peace that you’ll get is not in Heaven – it’s down there in the Hell that you’ve made!
Thro’ its bottomless depths you shall travel, amid torments that never shall cease,
And the flaming tongues that scorch you shall herald the dawn of Peace.”