This 100-year-old flag will mark Armistice in Leeds... once again

Project curator Lucy Moore with a 100 year old flag at Leeds City Museum used by Leeds teenager Madge Howdill. PIC: Tony Johnson
Project curator Lucy Moore with a 100 year old flag at Leeds City Museum used by Leeds teenager Madge Howdill. PIC: Tony Johnson
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MADGE Howdill never forgot the day that she joined the jubilant crowds thronging the streets of Leeds as the city celebrated news of the Armistice.

Madge, like so many others up and down the country, excitedly carried with her a colourful handmade flag to show her joy at the end of the Great War.

The 15-year-old’s relief was understandable, with two of her brothers having been ever present in her thoughts and prayers as they served on the battlefields of Europe.

And now, 100 years on, Madge’s lovingly-crafted flag is being displayed in Leeds as part of the city’s commemorations of the centenary of the Armistice.

It has gone on show this weekend at Leeds City Museum alongside similar peace-themed items created over recent months by local community groups.

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The flag was made available for inclusion in the exhibition thanks to Duncan McCargo, a professor of political science at the University of Leeds.

He moved into the Howdills’ old family home in Hanover Square in 1993, little knowing that a touching memento of one of the most momentous days in the city’s history was tucked away in its attic.

Prof McCargo said: “A neighbour put me in touch with Madge and she asked if I’d found the flag. She didn’t tell me exactly what she wanted me to do with it, but I came away from the conversation knowing that she’d kept it for a reason and with the distinct impression that I’d been given a mission from Madge to do something significant with it.”

Madge’s older brothers, Thomas and Norman, both served in France during the war and were lucky enough to survive the fighting. A third brother, Leslie, was too young for military service but did his bit by volunteering with the coastguard.

Madge died in 1999, with Prof McCargo continuing to take good care of her flag in the years that have followed.

He said: “It’s a story that really has captured people’s imaginations – they imagine this 15-year-old girl with two brothers fighting in France making this flag.

“Hanover Square had a recruiting station too, so soldiers would have been signing up to fight in a neighbouring house, so the war would have had a real personal connection for the Howdill family and I think that’s something Madge carried with her for the rest of her life.

“I think she would be amazed to think the flag was going on display and that, 100 years later, it had inspired others to make their own.”

Thousands of people poured onto Leeds’s streets after news of the Armistice reached the city, with one of the biggest impromptu gatherings taking place in front of the Town Hall.