Roy W. Howard
Arthur Hornblow Jr
C. Fred Cook
Admiral H. B. Wilson
Captain R. H. Jackson
John A. Sellards
Roy W. Howard. (1883–1964)
There is a great deal of information about Roy Wilson Howard, in print and online. A recent (2016) biography is by Patricia Beard. 1 His obituary on the front page of the New York Times of 21 November 1964 may be viewed online.
Howard could not believe that the armistice message from Paris on 7 November 1918 was an error, simply a case of mistaken information. For years, he was convinced that on the day it was released a German armistice really had been agreed but that Allied authorities subsequently tried to obfuscate what had happened. He sought to find out why, but unsuccessfully it seems.
Howard saw himself as a False Armistice casualty, a protagonist who had endured the “more tragic role”. Accusations in the press that he had knowingly sent false armistice news to the United States created a lasting resentment against his denigrators and, perhaps, a heightened sensitivity to criticism.
He persuaded Arthur Hornblow to rephrase some of the text of his July 1921 Fake Armistice article, to “soften this statement a bit” or “[put] the record … straight”. He wanted Hornblow to avoid giving readers the impression that during 7 November 1918 in Brest he – Howard – had acted egotistically; was “more interested in … the vaudeville and the stunt feature of [his supposed armistice scoop] than in its serious and historical significance”; that he “proceeded to go off on a bat” and celebrate after sending his armistice cablegram to New York City; and that he became suicidal when the peace news was later refuted.
He also persuaded him to remove the word ‘fake’ from the article’s title, in order to convey more accurately the nature of the 7 November armistice news. With sound, clear, reasoning Howard pointed out that “Inasmuch as the idea of a fake story involves palpable and deliberate intention to deceive, and inasmuch as your article makes clear that there was no such intention on the part of the newspapers or the newspapermen, I feel that your purpose would be better served and an unintentional injustice avoided by the substitution of another term for the word ‘fake’”. 2
He suggested replacing it with ‘false’, but Hornblow settled on ‘amazing’: The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report became the publication title in November 1921. (When Howard’s memoir of his 7 November in Brest was published many years later, it appeared under the title Premature Armistice – Roy W. Howard Speaking.)
Howard was surely correct to assert that the 7 November 1918 peace news was ‘false news’ rather than ‘fake news’ – both as he understood the terms’ meanings then, and as they are still differentiated today. In spite of the German-spy conspiracy theory and some ‘fake-news’/’hoax-news’ press allegations at the time, the 7 November peace news was not made-up or knowingly put together as a lie intended to deceive and to achieve some planned objective. It was erroneous, misconstrued, information that circulated initially in Paris. And it spread as misinformation not disinformation.
Howard would also have tried to persuade Fred Cook to change some of the content of the False Armistice article he wrote in November 1925. Cook was with Howard on 7 November 1918, and Howard felt that the article (published in the newspaper Cook worked for) created the “erroneous” impression that he had made no “serious effort” to ascertain from Admiral Wilson that the armistice message from Paris was authentic and of an “official nature”. But he was unaware beforehand that Cook was planning the article; and it was not until several days after it appeared that Howard read it and wrote Cook a three-page letter about it.
In Howard’s memoir, published in 1936, the picture he presents of himself is that of someone caught up by chance/coincidence in False Armistice events in Brest. Of someone whose conduct was entirely professional and honest, virtually beyond reproach, but who was swept along by events. Events, he maintained, that were shaped more by others than by anything he did – the others being Admiral Henry Wilson, Ensign John Sellards, a French telegraph operator, and US Navy censors. 3
1. Patricia Beard, Roy W. Howard. Newsmaker. Connecticut. 2016.
2. The quote is from the letter: Roy W. Howard to Arthur Hornblow. San Diego. June nineteenth 1921. (Page 2). Held in the Arthur and Leonora Hornblow Papers. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Beverly Hills, California.
3. See the following on this website: Roy W. Howard in Brest, Parts One and Two; Roy Howard’s Search for Information about the False Armistice; Arthur Hornblow’s Information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram; and False Armistice Conspiracy Theories.
Arthur Hornblow, Jr. (1893-1976)
In November 1918, Hornblow was the American Army G-2 (SOS) Intelligence Officer for Base Section Number 5 in the French port of Brest on the Brittany peninsula. He had been enrolled in October 1917 as a second lieutenant (Infantry, National Army) and ordered to report for duty at the Military Intelligence Section of the War College in Washington, DC. He was in France by March 1918, attached to G-2 (SOS) and carrying out special duties in Paris, Bordeaux, Biarritz, and Hendaye before being assigned to Brest in June 1918. The following September, he was promoted to first lieutenant. He met Roy Howard in Brest on 7 November 1918, spent some time showing him around, but was not with him when Howard was given a copy of the (false) armistice news by Admiral Wilson.
Shortly after the Armistice, Hornblow reported to Colonel Cabot Ward, the G-2 (SOS) Assistant Chief of Staff in Paris, “for conference and instructions”. A few days later, by orders from US Army Headquarters in Paris, he was appointed “Conducting Officer, G-2, S.O.S.” at AEF Headquarters in “Neufchateau, St. Mihiel, Verdun, Metz and such other points as may be necessary”.
During December 1918, he returned to Paris to take up duties as “Intelligence Officer for the District of Paris” and as a “negative intelligence” officer with the “American Commission to Negotiate Peace” (located in the Hotel Crillon). Work which took him through to discharge from the Army (at his own request) at the beginning of September 1919.
Lieutenant Hornblow was highly regarded by superiors. General G. H. Harries, his commander in Brest, described him as being “100% efficient” but whose “great merit” had gone “without the recognition which promotion should have given him”. Left to Harries, Hornblow would have reached the rank of major.
Colonel Cabot Ward summed up “all [Hornblow’s] service” with G-2 (SOS) as having been “remarkably successful”. With marked “military qualities and loyalty”, Ward observed, he had shown “industry, efficiency, and general ability”, and a “high character and intelligence [that] have made him of great value to the work”.
Colonel R. H. Van Deman, who was in charge of the Office of Negative Intelligence in Paris, considered him to be “a most excellent officer” who had displayed “in a high degree” all the characteristics demanded by the “unusual character” of his department’s work: “exceptional judgment, tact and attention to detail”. In a private letter to Hornblow, the Colonel thanked him for “never [having] been found wanting” and for his contribution to the solving of “many perplexing questions”.
In March 1920, the Adjutant General’s Office of the War Department notified Hornblow that the French Government had made him a Chevalier of the ‘Ordre de l’Étoile noire’ (‘Order of the Black Star’) – essentially an award recognising services to the French Empire in Africa. In his acknowledgment of the notification, Hornblow asked for details of what “services rendered” had been cited for his receipt of the decoration, and what ribbon he would be entitled to wear “with civilian clothes”. Surprisingly, he was informed there was no citation accompanying the certificate conferring the award, and that the Adjutant General’s Office did not know what ribbon could be worn by its recipients.
After leaving the army he resumed his pre-war career as a lawyer in New York City for a few months, but then found success in the Broadway and Hollywood entertainment industries as a writer and producer. There is a great deal of information online about his later careers.
The above account of Hornblow’s military service during the Great War is based on documents contained in the Military File of his private papers, which are located in the Arthur and Leonora Hornblow Papersat the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Beverly Hills, California.
There are, however, no details in his papers that give an insight into the Intelligence work he carried out or cases and investigations he may have been involved in.
For information about aspects of US Military Intelligence at the time, see Frank J. Rafalko (Ed.), A Counterintelligence Reader, American Revolution to World War II, Volume 1, Chapter 3, ‘Post Civil War to World War I’. (2011). And Roy Talbert, Negative Intelligence: the Army and the American Left, 1917-1941. (2010).
Major C. Fred Cook
The Rotarian magazine of June 1917 describes Cook as news editor of the Washington Star and a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard. 1 He left for France in May 1917, and by November 1918 had the rank of major and was base adjutant on the staff of General George Harries at the same base in Brest where Arthur Hornblow was the G-2 (SOS) Intelligence Officer. 2
Cook accompanied Roy Howard to Admiral Wilson’s headquarters during the afternoon of Thursday 7 November and witnessed what happened there. However, he remained at the Admiral’s office when Howard and Ensign John Sellards left with a copy of the armistice message Wilson had received from Paris and which Howard managed to cable to New York City. He may also have been with Howard for a time after the cablegram was sent, trying to obtain more armistice news.
Howard wrote to Cook after 7 November asking him for a written statement testifying to what occurred in Admiral Wilson’s office. Cook obliged, and sent Howard, by then in New York City, a “letter based on incident of November 7”, which he asked Howard not to publish or “use otherwise than as you stated to me”. 3a
Cook returned to Washington, DC, in December 1918, and resumed his work with the Washington Evening Star. He recalled his part in events in Brest on 7 November 1918 in two Armistice anniversary articles for the newspaper which appeared in the 11 November 1924 and 1925 issues. 4 Roy Howard wrote to him about the later (much longer) article, pointing out what he considered to be erroneous details and noting information he thought Cook had overlooked and could have included to make the narrative more accurate. Howard invited him to have lunch with him in Washington “sometime in the near future”, but it is not known whether Cook responded to the invitation or to Howard’s comments on his article. 3b
Other information about Cook seems to be unavailable.
1. The Rotarian, Volume X, No. 6, June 1917, p.664. Online.
2. From item in The Washington Times, 24 December 1918, p3, under ‘Maj. C. Fred Cook Reaches New York’. Available through the Library of Congress Chronicling America portal.
3a. Fred C. Cook to Howard, Nov. 15 (Note sent with testimony letter.) Fred C. Cook to Howard, A.P.O. No. 716, A.E.F., France, November 15, 1918. (Testimony letter.) Howard’s letter requesting the statement is not available.
3b. Roy W. Howard to C. Fred Cook, November twenty-eighth 1925.
Accessible online from The Roy W. Howard Papers, 1892-1964. (MSA 1) at The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana.
4. Articles: ‘Real “False Armistice” Story Is Now Told By Eyewitness’, by C. Fred Cook. The Evening Star, Wednesday, November 11, 1925, p4; and ‘False Armistice Day Report Vividly Recalled’. The Evening Star, Tuesday, November 11, 1924, p5. Available through the Library of Congress Chronicling America portal.
Admiral Henry B. Wilson (1861-1954)
Admiral Henry Braid Wilson was sent to Gibraltar in August 1917 to command US naval forces based there but was transferred to Brest a few weeks later, in November 1917, to take over command of US Naval Forces in French Waters. He remained in Brest until the end of the war. Following his return to the United States in February 1919, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet from June 1919 to June 1921, and then superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, in Maryland, until his retirement in February 1925. He died shortly before his ninety-third birthday. 1
What seems to be the only newspaper interview he gave about the False Armistice was on the occasion of its tenth anniversary in 1928, but he divulged no information about what happened in Brest on 7 November 1918 which was not already available from previous press reports and Arthur Hornblow’s November 1921 ‘Amazing Armistice’ magazine article. 2
1. There are a few items of general background information about him online.
2. The Madera Daily Tribune and Madera Mercury(California), 7November 1928, p3, under ‘World War Officials Give Story of How False Report Started’. Wilson’s interview is one of two separate articles on the page, but paragraphs from both articles evidently became mixed-up during publication, causing confusion in parts.
For detailed information about his part in 7 November 1918 events in Brest, see ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest’ and ‘Admiral Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’ on this website.
Richard H. Jackson. (1866-1971)
Background information about him is available online.
Captain Richard Harrison Jackson went to France initially as the “Representative of the United States Navy Department … and senior United States Naval Officer on shore in France”. As such he acted under the orders of Vice-Admiral William S. Sims, the Commander of US Naval Forces in European Waters, whose headquarters were in London. He was Sims’ liaison officer at the French Ministry of Marine in Paris and was in “immediate command” of US “Naval and aviation bases” in France. He was also instructed to “confer”, as necessary, with the “Senior Naval Officer afloat in French Waters”, whose headquarters were at Brest.
When Jackson arrived in Paris in June 1917, the US naval attaché at the Embassy was Commander W. R. Sayles; Jackson replaced him in May 1918. Admiral Henry B. Wilson had become “Senior Naval Officer afloat in French Waters” in late October 1917, and Jackson, in an additional capacity as “Representative in Paris of the Commander, U.S. Naval Forces in France”, was under Wilson’s direct command. There was “considerable official and semi-official” daily communication between Brest and Jackson’s office in Paris, from where the false armistice news on 7 November 1918 was apparently sent to Admiral Wilson. 1
In Section 6 of the G-2 (SOS) Report on the False Armistice, it states that Captain Jackson “has just been relieved by Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long”. This could be taken as implying that Jackson was very quickly dismissed for sending the false armistice telegram to Admiral Wilson. But it means simply that Admiral Long (who had been in London until late September 1918) was replacing Jackson on the latter’s transfer to Washington, DC. By the beginning of December 1918 (not long after the Armistice) Jackson was at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, DC, and was a contributor to its 1919 edition of The Duties of Naval Attachés. 2
There is evidence to suggest that Jackson did not, in fact, see the armistice message before it was transmitted to Admiral Wilson. Whether he telegraphed a follow-on cancellation of the message that Wilson received not long after having released the false news in Brest, is not known. 1;3
Jackson became a Rear Admiral in June 1921. He died in October 1971, at the age of 105.
1. See: ‘Admiral H.B. Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’ on this website.
2. See: Biographical Chronology of Richard H. Jackson, available online from United States Naval Academy, Nimitz Library: Richard H. Jackson papers, 1802-1988 (Bulk 1883-1971). Also: Vice Admiral William S. Sims to Captain Richard H. Jackson, London, 5th July, 1917, available online from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), Documentary Histories, WWI. And, Manley R. Irwin, Under Administrative Stress: The U.S. Navy Base, Brest, France, 1917. Available online. In the January 1925 Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, p3, he is listed as a Rear Admiral and Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. (p364).
3. A collection of Jackson’s papers is deposited at Stanford University, but it throws no light on the 7 November false armistice news or his involvement in it. Among the papers are translations of the Spa-Senlis wireless messages “issued in Paris last night [7 November]”. They are included with other contemporary newspaper reports from his time there: Stanford University – Hoover Institution Library and Archives. Richard Harrison Jackson Papers, 1917-1930 (1918 Paris, France, November 8).
John A. Sellards. (1889-1938)
John Armstrong Sellards graduated from Illinois University in 1912 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He moved to Stanford University in California to become a teaching assistant in French and Spanish, was awarded a master’s degree there in 1916 and appointed instructor in French. He enlisted in the ‘Second Stanford Ambulance Unit’ after the United States entered the war but, having “a thorough knowledge of French, German, Italian, and English”, was transferred in France to General Pershing’s staff as an interpreter. 1
It is not known here when he became an ensign in the US Navy or went to Brest as Admiral Wilson’s aide and interpreter; he appears to have been promoted to lieutenant before the end of 1918. 2
After the war, he was at Stanford during the 1920s and 1930s, with breaks from teaching there to study in Europe as a Commission for Relief in Belgium fellow (1920-21 and 1931-33), to work with the American Relief Administration in Russia and Austria (1921-22), the Commerce Department (October 1923-February 1924), and the University of California at Los Angeles (1933-34). He gained a doctorate from the University of Paris in 1933.
His last position at Stanford was as Associate Professor of Romanic Languages and Acting Director of the Summer Quarter (1934-38). He left to become Professor of Romanic Languages at the University of Washington in Seattle but died in Seattle on 14 December 1938.
There does not seem to be an archive of his private papers in any public institution. And it is not known here whether he ever committed anything to paper about 7 November 1918 events in Brest or spoke to anyone other than Admiral Wilson about them. His account of what happened that day in Brest would be of great interest and historical value to the False Armistice story. 3
1. The Stanford Daily, 29 October, 1917, under ‘Sellards is Member of Pershing’s Staff’; and 20 April, 1938, under ‘Sellards Shows Profs Can Still Be Versatile’, p2. Accessible online.
2. On page 735 of the US Navy Register of Commissioned and Warrant Officers (1 January 1919) he is listed as a lieutenant (junior grade), enrolled 28 December 1918.
3. For information about his part in 7 November 1918 events in Brest, see ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest, the Story Examined in Detail’ and ‘Admiral Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’ on this website.
© James Smith