North Carolinians Respond to the Armistice, November 11, 1918

Author: 
Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

100 years ago on this day—November 11, 1918—at 11 A.M., the Allied Powers and the Central Powers [Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria] agreed to an Armistice to cease fighting during World War I along the Western Front in northern France, southwest Belgium, southwest Germany, and Luxembourg. The fighting had begun after the assassination of June 28, 1914, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife. It lasted four years, three months, and included in combat over 70 million people.

 

The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians. The Allied Powers lost about 5.7 million soldiers, while the Central Powers lost about 4 million soldiers. 116,516 American military service individuals were killed during WWI.

We know officially of 29 North Carolinians (although there are undoubtedly more) who died on November 11, including the bulk of them from the 81st Division—which made one of the last offensives of the war just before the Armistice went into effect. Many of those killed were from the 321st Infantry, which was involved in the Battle of Moranville, which lasted from 6:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. Thomas P. Shinn, a Sergeant in Company B of the 321st Infantry, chronicled this assault in his diary later in the day.

 

The “war to end all wars” proved to be just the beginning of many wars, military conflicts, and genocides that came to define the twentieth century. What came to define American heroism, being a true American, and being patriotic came to be defined by World War I and World War II. The propaganda posters from WWI that laid out the principles of Americanism continue to define our country’s identity.

Although the war is a distant memory for many and there are no living WWI veterans, the war still sits with many people—including many in out state. I have had the great privilege through my job responsibilities to meet and interview 12 sets of children of North Carolina WWI veterans, including how the war affected them and where they were for the Armistice. These individuals—now in their 80s and 90s—still recall the stories their parents told them about the celebrations on November 11, 1918. In the late 1990s, the state of North Carolina interviewed over 30 WWI veterans living in the state, including asking for their memories of the Armistice. Although we are a 100-years removed from the date, Armistice Day (as it came to be known for many years before being changed to Veterans Day) has a lingering impact on our state’s families of WWI veterans.

 

It is in these individuals honor that we are going to share in this blog post the quotes from letters and wartime diaries, and excerpts from oral history interviews, from North Carolina WWI veterans and people on the home front about their experience with the Armistice celebrations held between November 11 and 15, 1918.

Bertram B. Dixon’s Armistice Day Celebration in France

 

Wilson County native Bertram B. Dixon, a Private in the U.S. Army, recounts in an interview of learning of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I, while he was laid up in a hospital bed in France. Following is a transcription of Dixon’s story from his interview:

 

[Dixon] “Armistice was signed the eleventh [November 11, 1918]. So, I was in the hospital for the days before the war was over. And um, but one morning, it was about seven o’clock, I heard whistles blowing, bells ringing, people hollowing, going on, and I knew why they had. But, the Armistice was signed at five o’clock in the morning, and it was about seven o’clock before we got word back to there. They opened up the gates to the hospital grounds, and let the French people in—mostly women and children. All the men was in the service. And um, they come in hollowing “Fin de la guerre, Fin de la guerre”—and that meant “The Was Is Finished.” They came in our [hospital] barracks there, some of them were laughing, some were crying. They were praising us for coming over and helping ‘em end the war.”

 

“There was a hundred patients in the ward that I was in—the ward’s capacity was a hundred patients. And um, every bed was filled. And by nine o’clock, about half of the beds were empty, and they were out in the only thing they had. They took all of your clothes away when you went into the hospital, and all you had was just your pajamas. And they were out there in the cold, you know in November it was getting pretty cold. And they were out there in their pajamas, trying to get some clothes so they could get out and celebrate.”

 

[Interviewer interjects] “Did you get out and celebrate with them?”

 

[Dixon responds] “It was about two weeks before I was able to get out. And when I did get out, me and another guy went out and got a pass, and went out on the town, and took in the town and walking. The next morning I was so sore that I couldn’t get out of bed. It was about three days before I could even get up.”   

 

Clinton E. Mallard Celebrates Armistice on Way to Tunis

 

Pender County native Clinton E. Mallard discusses how he and his U.S. Navy shipmates learned of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I, while they were sailing to the city of Tunis, Tunisia. Following is a transcription of Mallard’s story from his interview:

 

[Mallard] “On my log [sailing log], we left Algiers on the morning of the eleventh of November 1918, going to Tunis, Tunisia. That was . . . Algeria was a French protectorate. Tunis was an Italian protectorate at that time. And just before we got to Algiers . . . I mean Tunis . . . a French boat, a torpedo boat, passed us. And they all had flags flying and hollering and [unintelligible speech] and [unintelligible speech] went right close by, [unintelligible speech] “The war’s over. The war’s over. The war’s over,” you know. And blowing their horns. And we were all crazy. We didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t know whether they were Germans or what. But, we went on. We weren’t, oh, about two hours out of the fort. We went on, and docked. And, of course, the whole town was marching and singing and hollering.”     

 

Thomas P. Shinn and the 321st Infantry, 81st Division

 

Thomas Pinkney Shinn of Kannapolis, N.C., had been serving in France during World War I since August 1918. He was serving as a Sergeant in Company B, 321st Infantry, 81st Division, U.S. Army, along the front lines in France. November 1918 came up on Shinn's unit, with the unknown future Armistice to come in the middle of the month.

Thomas Shinn would chronicle in his wartime diary his views, thoughts, and experiences of the war leading up to the Armistice. The 321st Infantry was one of the U.S. Army units to make the last big offensive against the Germans on the morning of November 11, 1918, as ordered by their commanders. The unit also suffered some of the most casualties on the last day of combat in the war. Shinn’s diary entries give us a personal perspective of how a mostly-North Carolinian unit approached the final days of combat in WWI.

 

Diary entry from early morning sometime after 6 A.M. on November 11, 1918: “. . .We were in an awful fix in a trap some from all sides and one men were being killed by M[achine]G[uns] from the front and a box barrage from the rear. The woods to our front was filled with M[achine]G[uns] and barbed wire and it was impossible to advance.”

 

Diary entry about just after the Armistice went into effect: “. . . At 11 A.M. we ceased firing and the Germans jumped up threw their rifles down and came running to meet us. They wanted to shake hands and talk with us but we made them go back.”

 

Diary entry about just after the Armistice went into effect: “On the 11th month and the 11th day and the 11th hour the world was ended.”

 

Diary entry in the evening of November 11, 1918: “. . . The Germans celebrated all night long by sending up flairs and lights from the trenches and they were so glad they wouldn't sleep at all but we were perfectly willing to rest and sleep.”

 

Rodolph Nunn Documents His Unit’s Armistice Celebration

 

Rudolph (or Rodolph) Nunn of Kinston, N.C., was serving in France in WWI in Headquarters Company, 119th Infantry, 30th Division, U.S. Army, when the Armistice was declared. On November 12, 1918, Nunn wrote the following passage in his pocket diary about the celebrations of his unit on after the Armistice went into effect:

“Yesterday, Nov[ember] 11th is one day that I will never forget. The Armistice with Germany was signed and hostilities ceased on all fronts on that day. The Band had a big celebration as usual…Champagne was the drink and we put away considerable amount. . .”

 

George T. Skinner Writes His Parents About the Armistice

 

George T. Skinner of Kinston, N.C., was stationed in France in the E.O.C., 105th Train Headquarters and Military Police, 30th Division, U.S. Army. On November 12, 1918, Skinner wrote a long letter to his father and mother about his experiences in France, particularly related to the Armistice declaration the day before:

 

“Peace has come at last. Yesterday will be a day that the boys over here will ever remember. At 11 o’clock one of our Bands lined up and played Dixie and the people of the village were as happy as we were. Over in [censored out] only a few miles from where we are located, the French, British, Australians and American soldiers had quite a nice time. The good feeling is still with us. Since the war is now over the topic of conversation is, who will go home first. We fellows that have been with the British since coming over think that we will probably get back first because we are using their equipment. All we have to do is to turn all of our equipment over to them at some [?] and we are ready to go without having to pack and load. Then again we are nearer the ports than the boys on the American sector.

Our Division has done good work and we feel that we are entitled to get back among the first. Then again we have been operating with a Division from the north and we being from the South we think that both of us can get back first without any section of the country being slighted.

 

If you remember we sailed [for France] on May 11th [1918]; the fighting ceased on November 11th. Just six months to the day since we sailed from America. We were entitled to a service strip [uniform stripe for 6-month overseas military service] on that day.”

Joseph Hyde Pratt Prays After Armistice

 

Lt. Col. Joseph Hyde Pratt of North Carolina had served in the state’s National Guard before WWI, and after war was declared he was assigned to command of the 1st Battalion of the 105th Engineer Regiment, 30th Division, U.S. Army. After having successfully led the engineering efforts in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line from September 29 through October 1918, Pratt remained behind in the vicinity of Bellicourt and the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel as the Armistice was approaching. Pratt kept a personal war diary, including maps, newspaper clippings, copies of orders, and handwritten and typed daily entries of his wartime service. What follows is Pratt’s entry for Monday, November 11, 1918, while he was completing inspections of the ruins around St. Quentin, France:

 

“The day started out as a beautiful clear morning but in the afternoon clouded up and became very cold. Left Bellicourt [France] at 8:20 A.M. for Querrieu via St. Quentin, Ham, Nesle, Roy and Amiens, getting to camp about 3:00 P.M. At St. Quentin I examined the ruins; the roof had been almost completely demolished and all the columns had been mined but the French removed the mines before they exploded and did any damage. There are a very few civilians in St. Quentin, although a great many French troops. Ham, Nesle and Roy have been pretty badly shelled. Thus far only a few civilians are living in these towns. Stopped in Amiens on my return at the Cathedral.

 

Just before entering I heard that the Germans had signed the armistice. I went into the Cathedral and to one of the Chapels where I knelt before the altar and gave thanks to Almighty God for the cessation of hostilities. Tears of thankfulness would come and I did not try to check them.”

Isham B. Hudson Recalls News of Armistice

 

Isham B. Hudson of Sampson County, N.C., served in France during WWI in the 42nd Division, U.S. Army. During his entry time in military service, Hudson kept a personal diary tracking his time in the Army. The following entry from November 21, 1918, proved to be the first time Hudson had since the Armistice to sit down and write about it:

 

“Many things have intervened since my last resort to my diary. The peace news which came on the 11th was corraborated on the 13th by the New York Herald headlines 'The War is Won.' Various rumors have come about where we were to go next. It is now certain that we are bound for Germany.”

Andrew H. Green Jr. to his Sister on Celebrating the Armistice

 

Andrew H. Green Jr. of Raleigh, N.C., had been serving in France during WWI as a Second Lieutenant in Company F, 120th Infantry, 30th Division, U.S. Army. He was severely wounded on July 24, 1918, on the front lines, and spent his time through the Armistice in the American Red Cross convalescent hospital in Surrey, England. What follows is a quote from a November 14, 1918, letter to his sister Daisy about the Armistice celebrations this one simple line:

 

“Dear Daisy, If you have had as big a time celebrating peace as I have you have certainly had one big time.”

D. H. Hill on the Problems of Peace after the Armistice

 

North Carolina Council of Defense Chairman Daniel H. Hill Jr. of Raleigh, N.C., was the main individual overseeing the coordination of home front activities and war work in North Carolina during WWI. He worked in cooperation with the federal authorities and helped disseminate important wartime information to local officials in North Carolina. In a letter to Dr. Cyrus Thompson of Jacksonville, N.C., on November 15, 1918, Hill—writing regarding the conservation of livestock issues before the Council of Defense—comments on the challenges that came with peace:

 

“The problems of peace are going to be almost as hard as the problems of war, and we shall have to keep working for several years yet to relieve a distressed world.”

 

Resources

 

Death totals were used from the Robert Schuman European Center, World War I Casualties, by Nadège Mougel, 2011, viewed at http://www.centre-robert-schuman.org/userfiles/files/REPERES%20%E2%80%93%20module%201-1-1%20-%20explanatory%20notes%20%E2%80%93%20World%20War%20I%20casualties%20%E2%80%93%20EN.pdf

 

Diary #8, Joseph Hyde Pratt Papers, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina.

Clinton E. Mallard Interview, October 1997, Veterans Oral History Interview Collection, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina

Bertram B. Dixon Interview, August 1996, Veterans Oral History Interview Collection, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina

 

Folder 1, Isham B. Hudson Papers, WWI 49, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

 

Folder 1, Andrew H. Green Jr. Papers, WWI 30, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

 

Folder 5, George T. Skinner Papers, WWI 59, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

Box 12, Folder 13, North Carolina Council of Defense Records, WWI 1, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

Folder 1, Thomas P. Shinn Papers, WWI 38, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, N.C.

MilColl.WWI.Maps.410, WWI Maps Collection, WWI Papers, Military Collection, State Archives of North Carolina, accessed at https://bit.ly/2JVKPVn