Marshall Foundation archives hold memories of Armistice Day

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 5:24 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - “About 6 a.m., the telephone again awakened me, and this time Col. Carl Boyd’s voice came over the wire to inform me that the Armistice had been signed a few minutes before.”

That’s how November 11 began for George Marshall in 1918, according to a memoir he wrote later.

“At this point in time, he was working in the general headquarters in planning,” Melissa Davis, the George C. Marshall Foundation’s Director of Library and Archives, explained.

That made him the man in charge of getting word to the troops that the war was over.

“Getting word out to the troops to cease fighting and advancing at 11 o’clock was quite a problem on some portions of the line,” Marshall wrote.

“A lot of the troops had been moving during the night,” Davis said, “and so they didn’t have communications lines, telephone lines set up yet.”

Troops like Private Homer E. Simpson, from Bath County, who had spent the war in the trenches. He kept a diary.

“A motorcycle rider came by, picking his way around the shell holes and obstacles,” the diary says. “He said an armistice had been signed that would go into effect at eleven o’clock. We didn’t pay much attention to him.”

“They were not celebrating,” Davis said. “They came out of the trenches and were rather wandering around confused at what they were supposed to do now.”

William Friedman was an Army codebreaker, later to rise to fame for his work during World War II with his wife Elizabeth. But in 1918, the Army kept her back in the US, and Friedman wrote home to his “Dearest Woman” about the day.

“The enlisted men have broken forth into song,” Friedman said. “And in the office too. That’s unheard of.”

For the Americans it was a relatively short if costly war, taking nearly 120,000 lives. And for these three men, it was a welcome if hard to believe end.

“Orders were given to unload our guns,” wrote Simpson. “Men began coming out of holes in the ground. Everything quiet as a country churchyard. Every now and then someone would say there must be something to it.”

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