After the Armistice: Longing for the Sunshine
“Never in my life have I seen such a real demonstration of joy. People were dancing and singing, bands were playing and the gloom that had hung over the world for over four years had completely gone. I felt glad that I had lived to see the day, and it was a sight worth three and a half years of one’s life to see.”
This is how Ray Jones described the day of the Armistice, the official end of the First World War. Reading it you can feel the weight lifting off him as Jones describes the world’s collective gasp of relief at the end of the First World War. This description is from one of nearly 200 letters that Ray sent back to his parents in Australia while serving in the First World War, and which are now stored in the University of Melbourne Archives. The letters chronicle his time serving in the Australian Imperial Force, and along with an impressive photography collection and various souvenirs which he collected while overseas, they make up the Ray Jones First World War Collection. Together the letters, the mementos, and the photographs provide a unique insight into the joy and the sadness of Jones’ First World War experience.
The letters Jones wrote after the Armistice frequently reveal his pride at being Australian and having served for his country overseas. They also reveal a consistent longing to return home. It takes time to demobilise an army though, and it would not be until 1920 that all members of the A.I.F would find themselves back in Australia. Jones, much to his regret, would be one of the last, not disembarking in Australia until the 23 January 1920. The letters Jones wrote between the Armistice and his return home are therefore both joyful and melancholic, and they highlight just one way that the war didn’t immediately end on 11 November 1918.
Following the Armistice Jones was moved from Rouen, France, to London where he worked for the A.I.F Headquarters. His letters make it clear that he was not a fan of London, and even less a fan of his new superiors who denied his requests to be discharged and returned to Australia. In one emotional letter to his parents written in February 1919 Jones wrote:
As you can see by the above address, I am still in London, not by my own wish but by force of circumstances actuated by a little insignificant slimy crawling bit of humanity whom I have the misfortune to be working under…. Gee! It hurts to have to knuckle under some of these “pommies” masquerading as Australians who have been swinging the lead almost from the first days of the war. They seem to forget that the war must end some day. I haven’t.
Jones pride in being Australian and his longing to return home are plain in this letter. This becomes a common theme in all his correspondence. He frequently writes home to his parents with stories of how the Aussies are so well regarded in London. He describes ANZAC Day 1919 with particular pride:
The main feature of the day was a march of 5,000 of our boys through London. The procession was a representative one consisting of all A.I.F Units. They looked fine. The remarks passes were exceedingly congratulatory and one felt prouder than ever of being an Australian.
In another letter he writes to his parents to thank them for sending him an Australian flag, remarking that: “I guess we’re pretty proud of that flag now.” In the same letter he again mentions how anxious he is to return home, saying that that he wants “to get to the place where the sunshine is.” He ends the letter hopefully, “tell mum to get my civvies out for an airing” he writes, clearly believing that he will be home soon.
Jones’ time in London after the Armistice was not spent entirely wishing to be back in Australia. He was fortunate to have a network of friends and extended family in London to visit, and he even met his wife Edie while he was staying there. Overall though what these post-Armistice letters indicate is the that for many soldiers the First World War did not come to an immediate end on 11 November 1918. There was still work to do, and as proud as men like Jones were to have played a part in serving their country, there was always a longing to return home, to be reunited with friends and family, and to finally return to the country where “everything is cheery and bright enjoying the glory of God’s own sunshine.”
Kelly Lenehan is an honours student at Monash University, who has recently submitted her thesis on representations of Aboriginal history in contemporary Melbourne. This blog post is a product of her work listing the Ray Jones photographs as part of the History Archives Workshop ATS4215 at Monash University.
To access all of the Ray Jones photographs, go to our digitised collections online and search for Ray Jones.
 University of Melbourne Archives. Ray Jones collection 1981.0081 Unit 2, Letter 163/164.
 University of Melbourne Archives. Ray Jones collection 1981.0081 Unit 2, Letter 174.
 University of Melbourne Archives. Ray Jones collection 1981.0081 Unit 2, Letter 186.
 University of Melbourne Archives. Ray Jones collection 1981.0081 Unit 2, Letter 171.
 University of Melbourne Archives. Ray Jones collection 1981.0081 Unit 2, Letter 117.