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.[1]

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

by Debussy.

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.

[1] George H. Godbeer in Fitchburg, Mass., Daily Sentinel.