Burning the Kaiser

Burning the Kaiser

George Harnby remembers a Fauldhouse bonfire in November 1918 (reproduced by kind permission of Mrs Isabel Findlay):

The Germans had surrendered, and the village was all agog with excitement and immediately a bonfire was to be erected on the ironstone bing which was on the left hand side of the road that went to Longridge, just a hundred yards or so from the School Rows.

I remember that night most vividly. My mother held my hand tightly as we stood amongst the large crowd that encircled the huge fire of wood and barrels of rubbish on top of the bing. This was the bonfire waiting to be set alight, and perched at the very top was an effigy of the Kaiser, complete in every detail. We had heard the name Kaiser mentioned many times but now we knew what he looked like – the handlebar whiskers, the spiked helmet, the shining thigh boots, and the most eye-catching thing of all – a large black and silver painted Iron Cross. When I saw it, I said to myself, 'When the fire has burnt itself out, I will come early in the morning and rake amongst the ashes for it.'

Now all was set for the blaze. With a torch, a man lit the straw around the bottom of the pile, and soon the flames started to reach upward towards the heavy wood. In minutes the cheering crowd were forced to retreat from the fire, as the wind, though slight, turned it into a flaming inferno. Many people, including my mother and I, made off down the bing to the safety of the road, leaving the bonfire and the squibs to the more adventurous. Once the fire had reached its climax, and the effigy had collapsed into the flames, accompanied by the wild cheering of the crowd, we made our way home, tired and with smoky complexions, but very happy.  Oh, childhood memories …

As I had promised myself, I was going to get up early in the morning and get that Iron Cross from the ashes. Well, I did get up early and off I went to the bing in the morning, but to my dismay, there were a number of boys there before me, who must have had the same idea as I had. As yet no one had found it, so I joined in the raking of the ashes which were still quite warm. We searched and searched, then we all came to the same conclusion: that someone must have come even earlier and got the Cross.

But just as we were giving the ashes a last going over, a man who was coming up the road shouted up to be careful and not get burnt, and anyhow, what were we doing there anyway?  When we told him that we were searching for the Iron Cross that had been hung round the Kaiser’s neck during the bonfire, he laughed and said it was a replica of the Cross and was made of wood, so it too had perished in the flames along with Kaiser Bill.

When I look back, I can say in all honesty - at the age of four years and five months - it was the first time that I was well and truly had!

© ‘1914-18: Fauldhouse Remembers’ group

For more information on any aspect of West Lothian and the First World War, contact localhistory@westlothian.gov.uk  -  http://www.westlothian.gov.uk/article/2055/Local-History-Library

Bonfire
Bonfire (Bruce McAdam, Wikimedia Commons)
Iron Cross
Iron Cross (Wikipedia)