The news reached Tauranga shortly after 9am on the Tuesday morning.

It was still November 11 in France, where the Armistice had been signed earlier that day.

The World War I ceasefire came into effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

On the other side of the world, the people of Tauranga were waiting for confirmation. They were on the alert.


When the message arrived, it spread rapidly. The fire bell rang and people quickly gathered around the town hall.

Within two hours, an impromptu committee had been formed to organise a celebration, all businesses were closed and a procession, headed by a band, marched through town.

A combined thanksgiving service was held in the Domain later that evening.

There were speeches and singing, and a gala for the children the next day.

"VICTORY AT LAST" was the headline in the next issue of the Bay of Plenty Times, published a few days later.

Below it: "German Delegates Sign Armistice, and Hostilities cease on all Fronts."

"PEACE!" was declared at the top of that day's editorial.

Owner-editor William Henry Gifford wrote it with vigour, and the historic tone it deserved.


"Tuesday dawned on a world at peace," was his opening line.

You can imagine entire families huddled around their copy of the Bay of Plenty Times, the primary source of war news for Tauranga residents at the time.

They were reading words they had long been waiting for.

"After more than four years of war, such as the world has never before experienced, and into which has been crowded more frightfulness than the mind of man can possibly conceive, the gods of war are leashed, and a benumbed and staggering world takes pause from its orgy of slaughter."

Gifford was one of the most influential men in town.

He saw the importance of supplying locals with trustworthy news about the war and so posted regular updates on a bulletin board outside the Bay of Plenty Times newsroom.

It soon became known as "the local war office".

A week after World War I was declared, Gifford also changed the Times from a three-day-a-week paper to a daily.

"He was the sole dispenser of news, really," grandson Allan Gifford says.

The 71-year-old, who lives in Tauranga, was born three years after William Gifford died.

But his grandfather's reputation lives on.

"He was certainly a very civic-minded person.

"And he was a highly qualified professional journalist. He could take shorthand at 180 words a minute and type at 120."

Read the full November 1918 Armistice issue of the Bay of Plenty Times here

Putting the paper out each day was not easy, however.

The Bay of Plenty Times was far from a financial success and providing free updates on a bulletin board and increasing it to a daily newspaper didn't help.

The paper also struggled with staffing, steadily losing people to the war.

There were rising costs, and problems getting newsprint.

"He was basically working two other jobs to keep the business afloat," Allan says.

He says W.H. (as his grandfather was commonly known) also held down the job of town clerk for a time and worked as a Hansard reporter in Parliament when it was sitting.

Yet he never missed an issue of the Bay of Plenty Times and wrote an editorial about the war at least once a month. He penned 75 in total.

"They tended to hold a lot stronger views, shall we say, than the current ones," Allan says.

"If something got up his nose, well ... if you don't like it, you say so. It's no good just ignoring it."

By the beginning of 1917, the paper was making a loss.

It had been forced back to a tri-weekly publication in July 1916.

William Henry Gifford. Photo / Tauranga City Libraries
William Henry Gifford. Photo / Tauranga City Libraries

Despite its financial struggles, the Bay of Plenty Times continued to post free war news on the bulletin board outside. That would only stop after the ceasefire, on November 28, 1918.

The generosity of W.H. Gifford did not go unnoticed. He was thanked by the mayor and given a gift – a silver tea and coffee service.

"Because of his efforts in keeping people up with the news, he was obviously well appreciated within the community," Allan says.

His grandfather's tireless efforts to accurately record events of the day also means, 100 years on, we can look back through old clippings to see how news of the Armistice signing was received locally.

It is a window into another time, but the same place.

Stories refer to familiar street names, landmarks and, sometimes, the same families that are still living locally.

Next to W.H. Gifford's "PEACE!" editorial is a paragraph announcing the death of Private Rongoihaere Rikihana.

There is also a long column on the next page headlined "INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC".

It was that which muted the Armistice celebrations in Tauranga, on that Tuesday in November 1918.

We know that because the Bay of Plenty Times was there.

"Throughout, the peace rejoicing have been greatly sobered by the general-sickness, and the matter of arranging a more fitting celebration later on, particularly for the children, might well receive consideration," it reported.

Tomorrow, the Times will be at Tauranga's commemorations to mark 100 years since Armistice Day.

It will record the moment for past, present and future generations.

Read W.H. Gifford's full editorial here.