How World War I soldiers celebrated the Armistice

Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11 every year for a reason. That’s the anniversary of the 1918 signing and implementation of the armistice agreement that ended World War I.

Originally, the holiday celebrated just the sacrifices of those who served in The Great War, but the American version of the holiday grew to include a celebration of all veterans, and the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.

us_64th_regiment_celebrate_the_armistice

American soldiers with the 64th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, celebrate the end of World War I. (Photo: U.S. National Archive)

But for troops in 1918, Armistice Day was a mixed bag. Some engaged in a boisterous, days-long party, but others couldn’t believe it was over and continued fighting out of shock and disbelief.

Most of the partying was done in the cities. In London — a city subjected to numerous German air raids during the war — the festivities broke out and spilled into the streets. On Nov. 12, 1918, the Guardian reported that Londoners and Allied soldiers heard the news just before 11 a.m.

Almost immediately, people began firing signal rockets. Church bells and Big Ben tolled for much of the day to celebrate the news. And some gun crews began firing their weapons to add to the noise.

armistice_day_celebrations_london_11_november_1918_q65858

Londoners celebrate the end of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Parades marched down the street, and American soldiers waving the Stars and Stripes were cheered by the English citizens. The English waved their flags and stuffed themselves into cars and taxis to drive around and celebrate. One car built for four passengers was packed with 27, counting multiple people clinging to the roof.

The city filled with marchers, many waving brand new Union Jack flags. Drinking was mostly limited to the hotels and restaurants, but the crowds pushed their way to 10 Downing Street and yelled for speeches from the Prime Minister.

At Buckingham Palace, chanting throngs of people demanded to see the king. George V appeared on the balcony with Queen Victoria and Princess Mary.

armistice_day_in_london_11_november_1918_q47852

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace in London after the cessation of hostilities in World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

But on the front lines, American and Allied soldiers were much less exuberant. While some units, such as the 64th Infantry Regiment featured in the top photo, began celebrating that very day. Others, like the artillerymen near U.S. Army Col. Thomas Gowenlock, just kept fighting.

The radio call announcing the surrender went out at approximately 6 a.m. on Nov. 11. Gowenlock drove from the 1st Division headquarters to the front to see the war end at 11 a.m. when the armistice went into effect.

I drove over to the bank of the Meuse River to see the finish. The shelling was heavy and, as I walked down the road, it grew steadily worse. It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o’clock came — but the firing continued. The men on both sides had decided to give each other all they had — their farewell to arms. It was a very natural impulse after their years of war, but unfortunately many fell after eleven o’clock that day.

The fighting continued for most of the day, only ending as night fell. Around warming fires, the soldiers tried to grapple with peace.

As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front. They were trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill and no German bombing planes approaching to blast them out of existence. They talked in low tones. They were nervous.

Australian Col. Percy Dobson noted the same shocked reaction among his troops in France on Nov. 11.

It was hard to believe the war was over. Everything was just the same, tired troops everywhere and cold drizzly winter weather- just the same as if the war were still on.

TOP ARTICLES
That time when the USS Missouri gave full honors to a kamikaze pilot

Kamikaze pilots commonly struck fear in the hearts of allied troops with their choreographed nose-dives right into U.S. ships during World War II.

This is how the Israelis planned to kill Saddam Hussein

Saddam wasn't crazy for using all those body doubles. People were really trying to kill him. Israel never forgot his Gulf War Scud missile attacks.

The 13 funniest memes for the week of Nov. 17

Justice League comes out this weekend but you don't care. You've been waiting for your Justice League enlistment to end for years. These memes are for you.

This is what you need to know about Mark Esper, the new Army Secretary

The new Army Secretary is a retired officer whose service includes active duty in the Gulf War, as well as time in the reserves and the National Guard.

The Army tested its first damage sensors on these helicopters

For the first time ever, a team of researchers successfully developed and tested networked acoustic emission sensors that can detect airframe damage.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

The 58 year-old US citizen who attempted to cross the border between North and South Korea wanted to help Pyongyang and Washington negotiate.

This is how the 'largest defense bill in history' pushes troops to stay in uniform

The House passed a nearly $700 billion bipartisan defense bill on Nov. 14, boosting what some politicians have called a depleted US military.

6 reasons why Marines hate on the Air Force

The military community houses a massive rivalry, and we hate on each other for various reasons, but at the end of the day — we're still on the same side.

Navy recruits now test their fitness before shipping out

On Nov. 15, the service announced it is creating an initial fitness test for prospective sailors on their first day of boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill.

Now US-backed forces in Syria are on the hunt for ISIS fighters

The U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria supports Syrian Democratic Forces as they pressure ISIS out of former strongholds.