Arthur Hornblow’s Information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram

After the war, Arthur Hornblow acquired information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram which Roy Howard seems not to have been aware of.  It came to him from two distinct sources: Admiral H. B. Wilson in 1921; and, years later, Moses Cook, a sailor claiming to have been involved in the telegram’s transmission from Paris to Brest on 7 November 1918.

This article (like its companion about Roy Howard’s False Armistice information) is in two parts: an account of what Hornblow learnt about the Jackson Telegram over the years; and a Commentary section.

Hornblow’s Information

a) From Admiral Wilson, 1921

During June or early July 1921, Hornblow sent Admiral Wilson a copy of his ‘Fake Armistice’ article and asked him to comment on it.  (He also sent a copy and similar request to Roy Howard.)

Wilson obliged and replied with a letter pointing out where, in the parts of the text relating to him, “some of [Hornblow’s] facts” were not as he remembered them.  Almost immediately, he referred to Hornblow’s naming of Captain Jackson as the official who sent the armistice message to him in Brest, and made the following significant points:

“[The] message [was] a routine one from my representative in Paris who kept me informed of all reports and rumors.  I have never told anyone from whom the message came, other than saying it was from our office there.  It is true that one of his functions was Naval Attaché, but those duties were small in comparison with others, and to have the article read that the message was from the Naval Attaché is off, though perhaps technically correct.  I feel you do the office of the Naval Attaché an injustice in so expressing yourself.  It was from my office in Paris.  I hope you see this.  I gave it the same credence as the one hundred and one other messages I had received from time to time, some proving correct and some incorrect.”  

(As noted below, Moses Cook described Captain Jackson as being “in command of the US Naval Headquarters in Paris and as such was the American Naval Attache there ….  He was referred to as Commander at times because he was Commanding Officer, but he was above a Commander”.)   

In response to the Admiral’s comments, Hornblow amended his article to state that the false armistice message was in an “official telegram, signed by Commander Jackson of Admiral Wilson’s office in Paris and naval attache at our Paris embassy.”  In a later passage discussing Wilson’s acceptance of responsibility for announcing the message, he observed that the Admiral “did not even make mention of the official who had sent, or, at least, whose signature was affixed to the erroneous communication from Paris”. 2a 

When Hornblow wrote to Admiral Wilson, he had not yet found a publisher for ‘Fake Armistice’.  By the time it appeared in Century Magazine in November 1921, he had amended some of it in response to both Wilson’s and Roy Howard’s comments; and changed the title to ‘Amazing Armistice’ on Roy Howard’s advice against using fake to describe the 7 November 1918 armistice news. 2b

b) From Moses Cook, 1941-1944

During 1941, by which time Hornblow was an established Hollywood film producer working at Paramount Pictures, he received information about how the Jackson Telegram arrived at US Navy Headquarters in Paris and was then transmitted to Brest.  The information arrived, unsolicited initially, in letters from a Chief Petty Officer named Moses Cook, who was serving as a radio operator on the USS Wyoming

“I … sent it originally from Naval Headquarters in Paris ….”

In his first letter to Hornblow, in April 1941, Cook claimed that he was “chief radioman” on duty at US Navy Headquarters in Paris when the false armistice news was received there on 7 November 1918.  Without elaborating, he stated that he happened to be “the one who sent it”.   

By way of verification, he included details about a CBS twentieth-anniversary Armistice programme, broadcast from New York City in November 1938, in which he “told his unique story” (to radio journalist Gabriel Heatter) “of the tense moments when the [false armistice] news was received and how it was cancelled later”. 3

Cook did not mention the Jackson Telegram in this letter – the first of four he sent to Hornblow.  He had contacted him to request a copy of the latter’s November 1921 ‘Amazing Armistice’ article to replace one in his collection of “stories relative to this Armistice” which a friend of his (Col. W.H. Rankin) had apparently borrowed while writing a book about Roy Howard and subsequently mislaid.

In his replies, Hornblow promised to try to find a copy of the 1921 article and pressed him for details about the message he claimed to have handled.  He asked Cook for a “recital of … facts” about how the message “was filed” and “by whom”; whether Captain Jackson “had anything to do with [it]”; whether the Embassy made any effort “to account for the filing of the wire” after the news was shown to be false; who the officer was who ordered the message to be sent out and why he believed it was authentic.

The following recounts what Cook wrote in his letters together with some information from a later newspaper article he also sent to Hornblow. 4

“Very glad to … pass along the story of the ‘False Armistice’ to you as it really happened.”

Cook stated that, apart from himself, only two other people “knew this story”: “a successful attorney in New York City”, whom he did not name; and “Lieutenant Junior Grade Barler”, whose initials he could not recall, and who had since died.

On 7 November 1918, Cook was the “chief radioman in charge of the wire room” [Naval Communication area] at US Navy Headquarters in Paris; Lieutenant Barler was the duty “communication officer”.  During the afternoon [no time specified], Barler suddenly rushed into the wire room, handed Cook a message and ordered him: “Get this off right away”.

The message, carrying Captain Jackson’s name as authorization, read “Armistice signed eleven am, cease firing two pm, Sedan capitulated“.

Cook asked the Lieutenant where the message had come from; Barler replied that the American Embassy had just telephoned it to him.  Cook then passed the message to the “operator who was sitting on the Brest Wire”, told him to stop what he was doing (“sending the American casualty list of the killed and wounded as we did every afternoon”) and transmit the armistice bulletin, which he did.

Some twenty minutes later, Barler rushed back into the wire room and shouted to Cook not to send the message: “Its a fake”.  Cook pushed the operator away from the Brest Wire, “grabbed the key and asked Brest if they could stop the message”.  But it was too late: the message had already been forwarded from Brest to Washington, DC.

Not long after those events, Lieutenant Barler was sent home [seemingly because of his part in them].

In Cook’s opinion, Captain Jackson most probably did not authorize the armistice message even though his name was attached to it.  Jackson was in command at Navy Headquarters as well as being the American Naval Attaché in Paris, and “all messages leaving our headquarters had to be signed ‘Jackson’ as a matter of routine, but he did not see every dispatch that was sent”.  Indeed, “he was very much upset about it”, demanded to know what had happened and who had released it, and had Lieutenant Barler “on the carpet about it”.

Years later, just prior to Cook’s participation in the November 1938 CBS Armistice anniversary programme, CBS contacted Jackson, by now an admiral, to ask permission to use his name in connection with the false armistice message.  He emphatically refused, threatening to “bring suit” against the Company if they did.  Consequently, during the programme he was referred to only by his title of naval attaché.  “I am very certain”, Cook maintained, “that he knew nothing about this message”.

Lieutenant Barler apparently told Cook the name of the “commander … he thought had called him from the American Embassy”.  Cook knew the commander in question but could not remember his name.  And while Barler believed the telephone call “was genuine”, Cook did not.  He believed Barler had been duped: “How in the world did he fall for a thing like that over the fone?”

Cook’s suspicions were aroused as soon as the Lieutenant told him how the message had arrived from the Embassy:

“Why did they fone such an important message?  Why did’nt they put it in code?  They coded other messages of less importance, and why was’nt it delivered by a marine courier as were all messages of any urgency?  The American Embassy was right behind the Navy Headquarters building.  Also I did’nt believe that the Germans had met Foch so soon and to have talked things over so quickly”.

What Cook surmised and wanted “to bring out”, was that the American Embassy “never foned that message”, which was “probably the work of an enemy agent” aiming “to give the world a taste of what an Armistice was like” – and making “a good job of it”.  The American Embassy, he maintained, “knew nothing of it, and were never able to locate the party that did”.

Shortly afterwards Cook was sent to Italy for a month, then to Brest for about seven weeks before returning to the United States.  In Brest he was “put in charge of the brig”.

He contacted Hornblow again in 1944, some three years later.  This time he sent a cutting of an article from the Miami Daily News with the title ‘Inside Story of False Armistice Flash In 1918 Told By Navy Man Here’.  In it, Cook repeated the account of 7 November events at Paris Navy Headquarters he had related to Hornblow, but with an additional conjecture about the origin of the armistice message:

“That will probably always remain a mystery, Cook says.  It has been well established that it did not originate in the American embassy.  Cook’s own theory is that a clever German agent ‘phoned in the message to the communications system, imitating the voice of the commander, who, the lieutenant [Barler] said, dictated [it] to him [from the embassy].” 5

In a brief acknowledgment – the last of their letters in the archive – Hornblow thanked Cook for the “interesting clippings on [the] Armistice dispatch”.  He was “glad to have them” for his files, he said, and to learn that Cook was “still well and active in the service”.  (Whether he ever sent Cook a copy of his November 1921 article is not indicated in their correspondence.)

Most of Cook’s information seems to have been new to Hornblow, especially that relating to Jackson: “This is the first time that I learn that it was not Commander Jackson himself who sent the message to Admiral Wilson”.  But Cook’s assertion that the armistice message was German disinformation echoed Hornblow’s own views publicized in his ‘Amazing Armistice’ article and may well have been indebted to them.  On the other hand, what the 1944 newspaper item reported as being Cook’s “own theory” – that a clever German agent imitated the voice of a commander at the American Embassy in Paris and thereby fooled Lieutenant Barler at Navy Headquarters into believing the false peace news – would probably have struck Hornblow as being obviously contrived and comically implausible.

Commentary.

The Jackson Armistice Telegram

The typed copy of the Jackson Telegram Roy Howard received in August 1919 from L.B. Mickel 6 :

Moses Cook told Hornblow that the message read “Armistice signed eleven am, cease firing two pm, Sedan capitulated”.  He did not mention that the French Foreign Ministry had announced the peace news, or the time shown on the telegram.  Admiral Wilson received it before 4:00 pm. 

Cook did mention that he tried to have the telegram stopped about twenty minutes after it had left Paris, but that by then the message had already been forwarded from Brest to Washington, DC.  The following image must be of the latter – the armistice telegram from Paris forwarded to the Navy Department on 7 November:  

It is available in the US Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) Archive, but it has been incorrectly listed as an 11 November 1918 telegram and included in a group of telegrams announcing the Armistice of 11 November 1918, thereby rendering it virtually invisible as an historically important document in its own right. 7

Cook’s evidence that Captain Jackson most probably did not see (or therefore approve) the telegram before it went out appears to substantiate Admiral Wilson’s 1921 comments to Hornblow that saying the Naval Attaché sent the telegram was “off, though perhaps technically correct.  I feel you do the office of the Naval Attaché an injustice in so expressing yourself.  It was from my office in Paris.  I hope you see this”. 1      

Wilson’s implication is that the message carried Jackson’s name, but that Jackson did not order it to be transmitted.  The decision to send it was made by someone in Admiral Wilson’s “office in Paris” who (routinely, presumably) was able to have telegrams dispatched from Navy Headquarters, carrying Jackson’s name as the Naval Attaché as authorization, which Jackson himself had not necessarily seen beforehand.

It is not certain what the function of Wilson’s Paris office was, where exactly it was (in or close to Navy Headquarters, for instance) or how many worked there.  But it does seem to be more than likely, on balance, that the armistice telegram attributed to Captain Jackson was not authorized by him but by someone in that office.

At the US Navy Paris Headquarters 

Cook claimed that Lieutenant Barler wrote down the 7 November armistice message, which was telephoned from the American Embassy, ordered its transmission to Brest and a short time later tried to cancel it.

The only Lieutenant Barler listed in the US Navy Register for that time is: “Barler, Harold A.C., Lieutenant (j. g.) [junior grade] U.S.N.R.F., born 18 May 1886, enrolled 23 September 1917”. 8

Cook told Hornblow that Barler died in 1934, leaving himself and the operator of the Brest Wire as “the only ones that were present” when it was transmitted.  He stated that he regularly kept in touch with this operator, but did not name him, referring to him variously as “my friend”, “a successful attorney in New York City”, and “a young sailor, now a prominent New York attorney”.

Another person involved in false armistice transmissions from US Navy Headquarters in Paris was Lieutenant Emmett King, “Chief Electrician (Radio)” there.  He affirmed in a letter made available to Roy Howard in December 1918 that he “flashed the message”, knew “what caused the whole affair”, and “handled the whole case”.

King stated that the armistice message he sent out read “identically the same as the message that was afterwards published in America to the effect that hostilities had ceased”.  It was handed to him “in plain English” at about 3:50 pm (French time).  He did not say where it came from (the American Embassy, French Foreign Ministry, French Ministry of War, for instance) only that it was “absolutely from official channels, so much so, that in half an hours time the entire Atlantic fleet would have been on its way into port”.  He did not reveal whose name it carried as authorization, though he described it as being “thoroughly official”; or to whom and where he “flashed” it.  But he did disclose that almost immediately after sending it, the message was taken from him and was “never returned to the files”; that “the whole affair” had been caused by a “government official” – not an American – who had made some foolish mistake, and that it could not be made public. 6

King claimed to be working for Edward House, President Wilson’s Special Representative in Paris, so he is not likely to have been the anonymous operator on the Brest Wire who became an attorney in New York City after the war and whom Moses Cook referred to as his friend.  Perhaps King operated from a different part of the Headquarters, or even from a different building, and the armistice message he claimed to have sent had gone by a different Wire.  At the time, there were at least two direct Wires between Paris and Washington, DC, one of which was a “quick cable system” between the State Department and American Embassy by which messages could be received within ten minutes of transmission.

It is conceivable but unlikely that he was the officer who allegedly telephoned the armistice news from the Embassy to Lieutenant Barler at Navy Headquarters. 

At the US Navy Brest Headquarters 

Before finally leaving France early in 1919, Moses Cook said that he spent seven weeks in Brest.  It is reasonable to assume that he became acquainted during that time with the US Brest Navy Headquarters wireless operator mentioned, but not named, in a letter of July 1919 from Hugh Baillie to Roy Howard.  Baillie also mentioned a Lieutenant J. A. Carey at Brest, whom he described as Admiral Wilson’s secretary, and who was offering to sell “the original” Jackson Armistice telegram from Paris.  It is possible that Cook met and talked to both men about the latter.

Baillie told Howard that Carey was now (July 1919) a lawyer with offices in the Wilkins Building in Washington, DC, so he had presumably resumed a legal career soon after leaving the Navy.  But he and the Paris Headquarters operator who became Moses Cook’s friend and a “successful attorney in New York City” appear to have been different lawyers altogether.

Lieutenant J. A. Carey, (j. g.) Supply Corps, U.S.N.R.F., is identified as “Flag Secretary” at US Navy Headquarters in Brest in November 1918, and, it seems, “Navy Press Censor” there.  The 1919 US Navy Register lists a Lieutenant (j. g.) Joseph A. Carey (Pay Corps) U.S.N.R.F., who was presumably the same person. 9  His claim to be in possession of the original armistice telegram appears to have been untrue.  In any case, what Howard received, from L. B. Mickel, was described as a copy (made by M.R. Toomer) of a copy of the original telegram that an unnamed wireless operator at Navy Headquarters in Brest has made.  Mickel stated that the original Jackson Telegram was still in Brest.

Carey and the wireless operator in Brest may have been involved in transmitting the copy of the Jackson Telegram to the Navy Department in Washington, DC; and also in the transmission of cablegrams allegedly sent there on 7 November 1918 informing them that “Headquarters reports armistice signed”, and of a subsequent correction that “Headquarters report error in signature” – “Headquarters” here referring to those in Paris.

© James Smith.  (August 2020)  (A version before this one was first uploaded in February 2019, before being amended and reorganized.)

 

ENDNOTES

Archive Sources

I. Arthur and Leonora Hornblow Papers. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Beverly Hills, California.

II. Admiral Henry B. Wilson Papers, Box 1.  Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.

Notes

1. Admiral Henry B. Wilson to Arthur Hornblow. 13 July 1921 (Sheet 1). Hornblow Papers; and p2 of Admiral Wilson Papers.  Hornblow seems to have been the first to state publicly that Captain Jackson sent the armistice message to Brest.

2a) ‘The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report’, in The Century Magazine, November 1921, pp94 and 97. 

2b) The ‘Fake Armistice’ version of Hornblow’s article is not available in his archive, but the copy he sent to Admiral Wilson is preserved in the latter’s as pages 31-48.  For Howard’s remarks about use of the word fake, see the item, ‘The false armistice news: neither fake news nor hoax news’ in the False Armistice Commentaryon this website.

3. Moses Cook to Arthur Hornblow, 20 April 1941; and a piece about him from The Norfolk Seabag2-8-41, under the heading ‘Reserve C.P.O. Had Unique Experience’. Hornblow Papers.

4. Subsequent correspondence: Arthur Hornblow to Moses Cook, April 28, 1941; Moses Cook to Arthur Hornblow, 7th May, 1941Arthur Hornblow to Moses Cook, May 14th, 1941; Moses Cook to Arthur Hornblow, May 23, 1941; Moses Cook to Arthur Hornblow (July?) 1944. The latter is not in the collection, but is acknowledged in Arthur Hornblow to Moses Cook, 31 July, 1944, as is its enclosure from The Miami Daily News, 20 June 1944, under the heading ‘Inside Story of False Armistice Flash in 1918 Told by Navy Man Here’. Hornblow Papers.

5. The Miami Daily News20 June 1944, under the heading ‘Inside Story of False Armistice Flash in 1918 Told by Navy Man Here’. Clipping in Hornblow Papers with Arthur Hornblow to Moses Cook, July 31, 1944 letter.

6. See ‘Roy Howard’s Search for Information about the False Armistice’, on this website.

7. Naval History and Heritage Command.  ‘Telegram Announcing Armistice, 1918’.  Catalog # NH 115448.  (The Caption and Original Date details given for it are incorrect.) 

8. Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, U.S. Naval Reserve Force and Marine Corps, January 1, 1919, p650.

9. See: ‘Some of Brest Staff’: a handwritten note, listed as p25 of the Admiral Henry B. Wilson Papers.  The note was by (presumably) M.S. Tisdale, in November 1918 Lieutenant-Commander and Assistant to Chief of Staff & Personnel Officer at the Brest Navy HQ.  Also: An Account of the Operations of the American Navy in France during the War with Germany, pp8,10. (1919) Available online.  And: Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, U.S. Naval Reserve Force and Marine Corps, January 1, 1919, p518.

According to Roy Howard in his memoir published in Webb Miller’s book,Ensign James Sellards was Admiral Wilson’s “personal aide, secretary, and interpreter” at Brest Headquarters.  But Sellards is named simply as “Aid” in the 1919 published list of Admiral Wilson’s Staff.