Waiting For The Flash
: Winning A Cause World War Stories
Not at once can the mind grasp the full significance of the wonderful
event of Monday, and as time goes on, more and more will the world come
to realize what the signing of the armistice which ended the war means
to present and future generations. Events were moving so rapidly
during the dying days of German military might that keeping pace with
them was literally out of the question. That Germany was a mere shell,
st people who had followed the course of the war believed; and that
she must accept dictated terms of armistice from the allies, regardless
of their severity, was growing clearer day by day.
Events of last Friday made it quite plain that the armistice offered by
the allied nations through Marshal Foch was to be signed by Germany
within the specified 72 hours. This position was strengthened Saturday
afternoon when positive word came that the Kaiser had abdicated. It
was the beginning of the definite end. It revealed a power in Germany
greater than the power of the Hohenzollerns--the power of an outraged
people rising after long years of oppression.
From that hour of mid-afternoon on Saturday when the abdication of the
Kaiser was flashed to the Sentinel over its Associated Press wire,
there was no relaxation in its plant. In the press room--which must be
ready at a second's notice--men were on guard for every minute until
the Kaiser's hour struck on Monday morning at 2.45 o'clock. It
mattered not to them that a bed between two rolls of paper was the
softest they could find, for couches and easy chairs are no part of a
newspaper establishment. Sometimes the thought comes that newspaper
is but a synonym for slavery.
With the coming of Sunday morning, without the expected word, the vigil
was taken up in other directions. The composing, telegraph, and
editorial rooms joined in keeping guard. The wire began to tick off
its code messages of riots in Berlin, further spreading of the Red
revolt in the army and navy, the flight of the dethroned Kaiser to
Holland, and the other numerous signs all pointing to positive
assurance that Germany must sign the armistice terms read to its
representatives by Marshal Foch, no matter how stern they might be. In
mid-afternoon came a brief message plucked from the air--a Berlin
wireless--that the signing of the armistice was expected momentarily.
But the hours wore on into late evening, and then came through a
dispatch from Washington saying that the delay of the German courier in
crossing the line might result in an extension of the 72-hour limit.
Cold water never had a chilling effect equal to that. One by one the
afternoon papers began to click out good night to the main office
until only a few remained with the morning paper operators.
Around The Associated Press New England circuit it must have been a
great day for the tobacco trust, for pipes burn freely under pressure.
From apples to dogs, from men who do little and make a big fuss about
it to men who do much and keep still about it, goes the discussion
between a bite at a sandwich and a sip at a mug of alleged coffee
brought in from a lunch room. All the while the clock was moving along
to the hour that was to say whether the answer was peace or more war.
It was during an argument, surely--for that's the stock in trade in a
newspaper office--that it came. What the argument was, and who was
winning it and who losing it, is forgotten now, for from the adjoining
room of The Associated Press operator at 2.46 o'clock in the morning
came the wild exclamation--F-L-A-S-H--The Associated Press signal, very
seldom employed, indicating that something big has happened. Three
jumps to the operator's side, and there on the paper in his typewriter
appeared just three words: Flash--Armistice signed. It was enough.
Action replaced watchful waiting.
Not long afterward the bells began to ring and the whistles to blow.
The assembling place for the celebration the mayor had ordered was
right in front of the Sentinel office, the biggest and most available
congregation park in the city. By that time the first Sentinel extra
had gone to press, and there was a breathing spell. From the top floor
of the Sentinel home everything happening below could be seen. First
to arrive in the square was an automobile from Prospect hill, driven by
the chairman of the committee on public safety, for he had been
notified simultaneously with the mayor. Then another car came up Main
street. Then men on foot began to arrive. At first they came in ones
and twos and threes, up street and down street and around the corners,
and then in droves and swarms. Automobiles increased in number, coming
from all directions, with blaring horns and seemingly slight regard for
their own safety, but also with much regard for the safety of others.
Soon the square was alive, and there will not in our time be another
sight like it, for war of conquest is an unpopular business now. The
flashing headlights of the motor cars, the screaming horns, the yelling
men, women and children, combined to make a picture never to be erased
from memory. It was great to have seen it, even though not an
immediate part of it. Then the parade started, disappeared down the
street, and in due time came back. Later in the day was another
parade, and a larger and more formal one. But it was not like the
early morning rallying of the victory clans. Nothing again will ever
be like it. A spontaneous celebration of the victorious ending of a
terrible struggle that has rocked the world for more than four years
has a place by itself.
While the city was still seething with jubilant excitement and the main
street was getting more and more alive with people every minute, the
darkness of night began to give way before the dawn of day. And it was
a beautiful dawn, too. The eastern sky did not reveal itself in sullen
shade, but in clear color, more calm than brilliant, more in keeping
with a message of peace than of strife on earth.
These celebrations were in many cases of the strangest character, the
chief aim seeming to be to march somewhere in some procession and to
make as much noise as possible. In one of the large cities of
Massachusetts, the first sight that struck the eyes of citizens rushing
into the square was fifty or more of the most prominent business men,
each in a tin wash boiler, being drawn by two men over the paved street
while its occupant yelled at the top of his voice and beat its sides
with a hammer. Auto trucks dashed up and down the streets as long as
these were clear, then joined processions or dragged behind them over
the pavements four or five empty galvanized ash cans. In New York at
the premature celebration, which occurred November 8 when a false
report was cabled from Europe saying the armistice was signed, and at
the celebration on November 11, thousands of pieces of paper of all
sizes were dropped from the windows of the great buildings, scrap
baskets were emptied, catalogues, directories, and other pamphlets were
torn up and dropped sheet by sheet until in some places the entire
street was covered by this paper snow storm. It is said that it cost
the city $80,000 to clean the paper from the streets after the
celebration was over.
The tolling of church bells all over the country in the very early
hours of the morning not only announced to the people the signing of
the armistice, but also announced in many places church services of
Some cities and towns held two celebrations beside the so-called fake
celebration on November 8. The Governor of Massachusetts early on
Monday issued a proclamation naming Tuesday, November twelfth, as a
legal holiday, but this did not deter the people from celebrating on
the eleventh. In Boston all the talcum powder available was purchased
and thrown on people's hats and shoulders. When it was brushed off in
considerable quantities, it made the pavements look as if they were
covered with snow and even more slippery. The chief spectacular
feature of the celebration in Boston, however, was the burning on the
Common, on Tuesday night, of twenty-five tons of red fire in one great
blaze. Similar and perhaps more hilariously happy scenes took place in
New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, San
Francisco,--in every great city and hamlet in the country.
Soldiers and sailors marched, reviewed by mayors and governors and
generals and admirals. Speeches were made and songs were sung. It
seemed at times as if everyone had gone crazy. If a person could have
ascended high enough in an air plane and could have had the vision to
have seen the whole United States, he would have perceived a most
wonderful sight--a hundred million people yelling and singing and
parading in every nook and corner of this great country. Nothing shows
better the horror and hatred of war that was felt by the American
people than this wonderful joy at the knowledge that it was all over;
and nothing shows better how much liberty and democracy meant to them
than their willingness to enter upon war when they so detested it and
so much desired to see it done away with forever.
Imagine the joy on these days in France and England and Belgium with
their great cities lit up again after more than four years of darkness!
What wonder that the Belgian boys and girls in Ghent marched up and
down the streets singing, It's a long, long way to Tipperary, the
song which was probably the last they had heard on the lips of British
soldiers as they were pushed back out of the city by the foe!
Meanwhile the adults gathered in groups on the streets and in the cafes
and sang The Marseillaise.
No other war correspondent felt and described the war with as much
sympathy and power as Philip Gibbs. His description of the rejoicing
in Ghent on Tuesday, November 12, is a beautiful and touching story.
He writes of the lights and the singing as follows:--
For the first time in five winters of war, they lighted their lamps
with open shutters, and from many windows there streamed out bright
beams which lured one like a moth to candle light because of its sign
of peace. There were bright stars and a crescent moon in the sky,
silvering the Flemish gables and frontages between black shadows and
making patterns of laces in the Place d'Armes below the trees with
their autumn foliage.
In these lights and in these shadows the people of Ghent danced and
sang until midnight chimed. They danced in baker's dozens, with linked
arms, men and girls together, singing deep voices and high voices, all
mingling, so that when I went to my bedroom and looked out of the
casement window, it rose in a chorus from all over the city, like music
One song came as a constant refrain between all the others. It was
'The Marseillaise.' They sang it in crowds and in small groups of
soldiers and students, and I followed one man, who walked down a
deserted avenue and who, as he walked, sang the song of liberty to
himself, brandishing his stick, while his voice rang out with a kind of
ecstasy of passion.
Messages of congratulation passed from country to country and to armies
and navies. Josephus Daniels sent by wireless the following tribute to
all United States naval stations and ships:--
The signing of the armistice makes this the greatest day for our
country since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For the
world there has been no day so momentous for liberty. I send greetings
and congratulations to all in the naval establishments at home and
abroad. The test of war found the navy ready, fit, with every man on
his toes. Every day all the men in the service have given fresh proof
of devotion, loyalty, and efficiency.
President Wilson cabled to King Albert on the day the king was expected
to enter Brussels, the Belgian capital, the following message:--
Never has a national holiday occurred at a more auspicious moment and
never have felicitations been more heartfelt than those which it is my
high privilege to tender to Your Majesty on this day.
When facing imminent destruction, Belgium by her self-sacrifice won
for herself a place of honor among nations, a crown of glory,
imperishable though all else were lost.
The danger is averted, the hour of victory come and with it the
promise of a new life, fuller, greater, nobler than has been known
The blood of Belgium's heroic sons has not been shed in vain.
The most terrible and bloody conflict in all history had ended, and the
world was saved for the people. The struggle upward by the common
people for over a thousand years was not after all to be in vain.
Liberty and democracy were now assured to all; the danger of slavery
and autocracy was over. It was not strange that a whole world seemed
to have gone wild with joy.
 George H. Godbeer in Fitchburg, Mass., Daily Sentinel.