The world was overjoyed when hostilities in the Great War, after inflicting some 37 million casualties, ceased with the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918.
Simpson County native James Lambert would later share his memories of the event. “In the evening of that day, I was in London,” he recalled. No vehicles could move, as “rejoicing men, women and children” crammed the downtown streets. He marveled at the democratic nature of the celebration. Men carried women on their shoulders, and girls kissed soldiers “right on the streets. They were not women of questionable character either,” observed Lambert, “but some of the best and fairest ladies of the realm.” Indeed, citizens of every age, class and occupation had turned out “with uplifted hands, with upturned faces, and with tears running down their cheeks, thanking Almighty God for peace.”
Serving aboard the troop ship USS Powhatan, Thomas O. Helm reported to his mother in Bowling Green that his ship had docked at Brest, and he “certainly did enjoy being in a French port when they signed the Armistice.” Like Lambert, he remarked on the inclusive nature of the festivities. The streets were full of parading citizens, singing and linking arms “regardless of whom they were.” At night, “the harbor was beautiful,” wrote Helm. “There were 25 transports and at least that many destroyers playing their search lights over the harbor. . . it was like riding down Broadway.”
Back in St. Charles, Missouri, Annie Raus described the local celebrations to the family of her cousin, Private Clem Phillips, then recovering in France from wounds. “Everybody is so happy we were all so excited we didn’t know if we should laugh or cry.” The noisy parades passing by had interrupted her washing day and made it impossible to “stay at the tub.”
And in Bowling Green, Martha Potter took out her scrapbook of son John’s overseas Army service and carefully added the red, white and blue ribbon he had worn on his coat the night the Armistice was signed.
Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. For more on the end of World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.