During the first nine months after the Armistice, Roy Howard acquired information about a number of American telegrams carrying false armistice messages on 7th November 1918. One of them was the Jackson Telegram to Admiral H.B. Wilson in Brest, whose premature peace news Howard himself had forwarded to the United States. The others were ones allegedly received by the Navy and State Departments in Washington, DC, and one a Lieutenant Emmet King claimed he had dispatched from Paris that day.
After the war, Arthur Hornblow acquired information about the Jackson Telegram from two distinct sources: first, from Admiral Wilson in 1921; then, years later during the early 1940s – and unsolicited – from Moses Cook, a sailor claiming to have been involved in the telegram’s transmission from Paris to Brest.
This article is in three parts: an account of Howard’s information about the Jackson and the other armistice telegrams, and of how he acquired it; an account of Hornblow’s information about the Jackson Telegram, and how he obtained it; and a Commentary section with observations on the overall content of the two accounts.
Part 1: Roy Howard’s search for “facts” about the False Armistice.
When he left Brest on 10 November 1918, Roy Howard was still “utterly distressed” over the armistice message he had sent to New York City three days earlier, according to Fred Cook who saw him on board ship just before his departure. ENDNOTE 1 The few days it took to cross the Atlantic would have given him some time to reflect on what had happened; and Howard returned firmly convinced that the US authorities were withholding important information from the public concerning the 7 November armistice news.
He set about trying to unearth what he called “the facts” behind the misinformation that embroiled him and United Press (UP) in acrimonious controversy over his cablegram from Brest. If he could “get into the facts deeply enough”, he believed he would uncover the “whole story” about the False Armistice, and then be able to demonstrate irrefutably to Associated Press critics that he and United Press had not acted recklessly, dishonestly, unprofessionally or unscrupulously in their handling of what the New York Times labelled “a monstrous invention” about the end of the war. 2
From letters in his private papers, it is clear that Howard initiated a search for False Armistice information using the United Press organization and news-gathering resources. And with some early promising leads.
“I don’t want you to mention [this letter’s] contents to a soul in Washington….”
In a confidential letter to Robert (Bob) Bender, the agency’s manager in Washington, DC, Howard disclosed that on 7 November the Navy Department there received a cablegram at 12:10 pm from Admiral Wilson in Brest stating “Headquarters reports armistice signed”; and that the State Department received one, at 12:30 pm, from the President’s Special Representative in Paris, Edward House, stating “Armistice signed congratulations”.
At 12:40 pm, just ten minutes after his armistice announcement had arrived, the State Department received another message from House warning that the peace news was an error and promising to send a “full report”. At 1:10 pm, the Navy Department received a similar message from Admiral Wilson, stating that “Headquarters report error in signature”.
“Of course”, Howard asserted, Josephus Daniels (Navy Secretary) and Frank Polk (State Department counsellor) know “all about these messages”. 3
The only false armistice message made public at the time was the one Naval Attaché Captain Jackson sent to Admiral Wilson in Brest. The only one sent to Washington, DC, to have been made public – years later – was that from Military Attaché Major Warburton to the War Department. If authentic, the above messages to the Navy and State Departments were neither made public at the time nor included in collections of documents published later. (For further information relevant to this, see Part a) of the Commentary section below.)
Howard explained that he had received the information about the messages “in a round-about way”, from a person “unknown” to him and “whose acquaintance [he] deliberately avoided making”. (If accurate, the informant must have been an insider or someone with insider-contacts in Washington, DC.)
But he apparently believed it. For he proposed to use it to obtain a statement from the Navy Department that Admiral Wilson had received the armistice news “officially from [Navy] Headquarters [in Paris]” and had reported it as such to them; and a statement from House that he or an aide had “actually filed the same [false] news” on 7 November to the State Department or to President Wilson. He also hoped to learn what the “error” was that Admiral Wilson and House referred to in their subsequent cablegrams, where Navy Headquarters in Paris “got their report in the first place”, what originally gave rise to the report, and what had happened to the German delegates Howard believed had crossed the Allied lines on Wednesday 6 November with authority to sign an armistice. 4
In the event, it appears that Howard failed to achieve almost all of those objectives and, therefore, that his hopes of obtaining statements and facts about the False Armistice were largely in vain.
His first attempt to elicit information from Wilson Administration officials seems to have been with Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy.
On 19 November 1918, nearly two weeks before he wrote the confidential letter to Bob Bender, and having barely returned from France, Howard had a meeting with Navy Secretary Daniels (himself a newspaper proprietor and Associated Press subscriber). Howard later told the newspapers he had been to see Daniels “to express his appreciation” for Admiral Wilson’s statement exonerating him and United Press from any blame for the false armistice rumour. 5 But it is more likely that his main purpose had been to ask Daniels about the False Armistice. And it appears that Daniels had given him nothing that he might use. For in a statement Howard made to the press two days after the meeting, the New York Times quoted him as saying:
“Nothing much has yet been said as to the source of Admiral Wilson’s information. This is not for me to discuss. Nothing has been said as to the reason for the report current on that day throughout France. No explanation has yet been offered of how the report reached the American Embassy in Paris as official. Neither has any explanation been offered yet as to what became of the first German armistice delegation, headed by von Hintze, which was reported to have reached the French lines on Nov. 6 ….” 6
What readers at the time made of this statement is a matter for speculation. Read in the light of his letter to Bob Bender, however, Howard’s comments seem to indicate clearly his failure to obtain any information about those particular points, and any False Armistice “facts” generally, from the Navy Secretary.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Howard next decided to approach President Woodrow Wilson and his Special Representative Edward House for the information he wanted. He felt that they would be more understanding and ready, for party-political reasons, to provide details that would put a stop to persisting slurs on his and United Press’s handling of the false armistice news from Brest.
“I think that this can better be done in Paris.”
The Peace Conference between the Allies and defeated Central Powers, which drew up the treaties that formally ended the Great War, was due to open in Paris (at Versailles) on 18 January 1919. House was already in Paris; President Wilson would soon be travelling there for the Conference.
Howard proposed to take advantage of the occasion to elicit answers from them about the False Armistice.
He outlined his plans in the confidential letter of 2 December to Bob Bender, who was one of the United Press team preparing to cover events in Paris. Also in the team were Fred S. Ferguson, the agency’s war correspondent in France, William Philip Simms, manager of the agency’s Paris Office, and Ed Keen, manager of the London Office. 7 Howard instructed Bender to show the letter to the others when they met in Paris. He wanted them all to assist in gathering information from officials there – “I would like that all four of you keep your ears open for any clues or any information that may be obtainable bearing on the real reason for the [armistice] report of November 7th”.
Once he himself was back in Paris overseeing the agency’s Peace Conference-coverage, Howard intended to “take … [the] matter up with House personally”; but if anything happened to prevent this, Fred Ferguson was to assume the responsibility for meeting House. Bob Bender, who was the agency’s “regular White House correspondent” before and after he became manager of the Washington Office (in 1917), had been assigned to Wilson’s press entourage and would be travelling to France on the President’s ship. 8 Howard thought that an opportunity might arise during the voyage for him advantageously to “take the matter up with the President directly” and urged Bender to do so “if such a contingency should arise”.
Howard reasoned, at some length, that President Wilson and House could be persuaded to provide answers to his questions:
“In view of the fact that all of our troubles were occasioned by information furnished us through American government channels, in further view of the fact that the American government in Washington was a recipient of the very same information that we received – received it from its most trusted representative abroad Colonel House – and in further view of the fact that our misfortune was intensified and complicated by the action of the Navy Department in holding up our correction, there seems to me to be good reason why the American government itself should willingly and quickly take whatever action is necessary to restore to us any standing or prestige that we may have lost by reason of handling information secured through the government agents.” 9
And alluding to United Press’s support of the Democrat Party and of Wilson’s Administration, he added that it was “to [the President’s] interest that an organization such as United Press should not be discredited in the public mind. The President is acquainted with the Associated Press and will be able to understand the unfair advantage they have of this incident in an attempt to belittle our standing and our reliability”.
Howard considered that it was “vitally important” to obtain the information quickly and be able “to have this thing sprung as a full fledged story with all the punch and carrying force that can be put into it”, rather than “have the facts dribble out a bit at a time” without any “corrective effect”. But he realised this might not be possible. In an interesting, somewhat cryptic comment, Howard summed up the choices facing them: “If it can be done without embarrassing the American position” then it should be, because “the quicker this matter is cleaned up the better for us”. However, if House were to intimate that he could not “clear it up at this time without embarrassing the government”, then they would have to wait until the story could be told “without damaging the interests of the government”. And in this event, United Press would have to “stand the gaff a little longer”. 10
President Wilson left for France on 4 December 1918 on board the SS George Washington, as, presumably, did Bob Bender. The ship arrived at Brest on 13 December; the President and his party reached Paris the following day. Howard intended to leave for France on 14 December, but it seems that he postponed his departure until after Christmas. When he eventually arrived in Paris is not known here. 11
“It is too bad that the whole case cannot be put before the public….”
Before the end of December 1918, a few more False Armistice snippets (frustratingly vague) appear to have been forwarded to Howard. These were in a letter from US Navy Headquarters in Paris (located in the Place d’Iéna) sent, according to its archive details, by “Emmett King” to someone with the initials “W. F. L.”. The letter, dated 19 December 1918, was copied and presumably sent to Howard by “W. F. L.” – probably William F. Lynch, described as being United Press’s “Chief Operator” (of telegraph) in 1916.
Archer Emmet King – the presumed author of this letter – was a lieutenant in the US Navy, based, apparently, at Navy Headquarters in Paris in November 1918. 12 He claimed he knew “what caused the whole [false armistice news] affair”. He was not at liberty “just at present [to] explain it”, he added, but offered the following items of information nevertheless:
“About 3:50 p.m., the seventh [of November] a message was handed me, in plain English, reading identically the same as the message that was afterwards published in America to the effect that hostilities had ceased. I flashed the message and as soon as [I] had finished [,] it was taken from my hands and never returned to the files. I can assure you that the signature on the message was thoroughly official and that the message itself 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, but they stopped the proceedings before they got too far…. I handled the whole case. The whole ‘bone’ [‘stupid mistake’] lay in a government official (not American). It is too bad that the whole case cannot be put before the public….”
King mentioned that he was engaged “in handling all Colonel House’s work”, and would probably soon be “stuck here to handle the peace conference”. 13
It is not certain whether Howard received the copy of King’s letter to “W. F. L.” before he joined the rest of the United Press team in Paris. If he did, it is not known whether he or one of his colleagues was able to talk to King about its contents. (For further information relevant to this, see Part c) of this Commentary.)
During the Peace Conference, Fred Ferguson (from the Paris Office) managed to gain an illicit exclusive pre-publication access to the text of Article Ten of the Treaty of Versailles. This was concerned with the Covenant of the League of Nations, and made provision for guaranteeing the territorial integrity and political independence of all League Member-States. Ferguson had tried in vain to obtain information about Article Ten from Edward House; but he succeeded with someone he knew “who was a minor official of the delegation”. Apparently, the latter arranged for Ferguson clandestinely to read the text of Article Ten in a room of the Crillon Hotel in Paris, where House and other American officials were staying during the Peace Conference. 14
However, whether Ferguson, Bender, Howard or others in the United Press team in Paris managed to obtain any confidential information about the 7 November 1918 peace news is not known. For whatever may have transpired in Paris, there is nothing in Howard’s private papers to indicate what resulted from his plans, as outlined to Bender, to resolve the False Armistice mystery and rehabilitate United Press’s reputation in the newspaper world.
Perhaps attempts made to engage President Wilson, Edward House and other officials with questions about the False Armistice were rebuffed. Or perhaps they were told that the matter could not be cleared up “at this time without embarrassing the government”, as Howard – in his letter to Bob Bender before the Conference – suggested might happen (and as Josephus Daniels may well have suggested to Howard on 19 November 1918).
The Jackson Armistice Telegram to Admiral Wilson in Brest
President Wilson left Paris for the United States in the middle of February 1919 (before the Peace Conference concluded all its sessions). When Howard left is not known here. But a letter dated 19 July 1919 was sent to Howard at United Press in New York by Hugh Baillie, the agency’s new manager in Washington, DC.
In it Baillie told Howard that “the original [armistice] telegram” Captain Jackson had sent to Admiral Wilson in Brest on 7 November 1918 could be obtained from Wilson’s former secretary there. The latter, now a lawyer in Washington, DC, “by the name of Carey”, had apparently kept the telegram – for which he “would expect some cash” – and was prepared to state that “Captain Jackson got his information of the signing [of the armistice] from the French Foreign Office”. This latter detail was “new stuff” to Baillie. 15
There is no further correspondence from Baillie about Jackson’s telegram, in Howard’s archive. The following month, however, L. B. Mickel, a United Press Superintendent of Bureaus in later years, sent Howard what he described as “a copy of the … armistice message on which … admiral [Wilson] based his announcement”.
Mickel stated that the original telegram was still “in Wilson’s file”. But a wireless operator “in Wilson’s office at Brest” (not named) had copied it at the time, and what he was now sending to Howard was a copy of the wireless operator’s copy. This had been made for Mickel by M.R. Toomer, an employee of the Oklahoma News; Mickel sent the copy to Howard from Oklahoma City on 11 August 1919.
Toomer does not appear to have been the same person as the unnamed wireless operator in Brest – there are no Toomers recorded in the US Navy Lists for 1918. Apart from making the copy for Mickel, it is not clear whether Toomer was involved with the Jackson Telegram in any other way. And how Mickel had found out about the copy’s availability is not explained.
The copy purports to be of an “Amnavpar” (American Navy, Paris) telegram sent from the “Naval Forces in France Communication Office”. It is dated 7 November, shows “COMFRAN” (Commander France) as its “DESTINATION”, and “WILSON” in its “ACTION” box. In a box headed “DUTY” are shown the letters “RBWH” (initials of personnel on duty at the time, perhaps).
Its message reads:
“#2833 Foreign office announces Armistice signed 11 a.m. hostilities cease 2 p.m. today. Sedan taken this morning by U.S. army. 15207 Jackson.
This is a translation, shall never be transmitted.” 16
“15207” is assumed here to be the time and date notation for the telegram – 3:20 pm on the 7th (November 1918) – indicating when the message was sent from its source to the Paris Naval Headquarters. (Admiral Wilson handed Roy Howard a copy of the armistice message at about 4:10 pm, obviously having received it sometime before.)
“This is a translation” suggests that the message went out in French originally, but when and where it was translated is not suggested; “shall never be transmitted” implies that the message – either in whole or in part – was not for general circulation or publication.
What link there may have been between Baillie’s and Mickel’s letters about the telegram is not clear. But that Howard should have received Mickel’s, containing a copy of it, within three weeks of Baillie’s, informing him of its availability (albeit from a different source) would seem to be more than coincidental.
A few years later Howard talked about the telegram in a letter to Fred Cook, the newspaperman and former US Army officer he had met in Brest on 7 November 1918. He was commenting on an article Cook had written for the 1925 anniversary of the False Armistice, and, not surprisingly, included “Admiral Wilson’s report of the signing of the armistice” in his remarks. However, he only used Jackson’s name in connection with the report towards the end of his letter, where he told Cook:
“There is, of course, a chapter in this [False Armistice] story which has never been written. I do not know whether it ever will be. I am not sure that even Jackson knows it”.
He had a feeling that “some day” the missing chapter would be “revealed”, to finally “round out and throw a new light on the developments of November 7th”. He possessed no “provable facts on which to base [his] belief”; but – with surprising flattery (and a vague promise perhaps) – considered that, if it did happen, Cook would be “in a better position than [anyone else] to rewrite the whole story”.
For his part, he had never been convinced that “Jackson’s wire to Admiral Wilson was a complete fluke” – indeed, he had “reason to believe that Jackson’s story of his receipt of the information has never been completely told”.
But he offered no other details. And what Cook thought about it all is not known. 17
There are no later documents in the Howard archive that mention the Jackson Telegram or any other False Armistice information. Judging therefore by what he had acquired up to August 1919 – the alleged copy of the Jackson Telegram (not the original which Baillie had told him was for sale) and information about the other armistice messages allegedly sent from France on 7 November 1918 – two from Admiral Wilson, two from Edward House, and one from Emmet King – Howard appears to have had little to show for his efforts (and those of others in United Press) to uncover False Armistice “facts”. Moreover, no “full-fledged” account, “whole” story or “missing” chapter revealing the truth about the events ever appeared.
By the time of his own, long-delayed, account (in Webb Miller’s 1936 book) Howard had apparently decided that the armistice bulletin was German disinformation – fake news – put together and released by spies in Paris. Hornblow originally aired this theory in his November 1921 article, suggesting the spies had pretended to be officials at the French War Ministry. Howard claimed that they pretended to be from the French Foreign Ministry – the source of the armistice message according to the Jackson Telegram. 18
Part 2: Arthur Hornblow’s information about the Jackson Armistice Telegram.
a) From Admiral Wilson
A few months before its publication, Arthur Hornblow sent a copy of his Amazing Armistice article to Admiral Wilson, whose part in the False Armistice in Brest he was recounting in the article – primarily from what Roy Howard (and perhaps Fred C. Cook) had told him about events at Wilson’s Headquarters during the afternoon of 7 November 1918.
In response, the Admiral made a number of comments on parts of the text where, he informed Hornblow, “some of your facts are not as I remember them”.
He told him, for example, that the false armistice news from Paris had arrived, not “promptly at four o’clock” as Hornblow was stating, but “some while before” Roy Howard arrived – “it was lying on my desk when he came in”. Therefore, Wilson pointed out, “it is not exact [for you] to say” that ‘… an orderly entered with [the] telegram …. the Admiral [read it], gave vent to an explosive exclamation and, bounding enthusiastically from his chair, handed the message to Howard’”. The fact was that the “conversation lagged” following the “mutual greetings”, and with “a desire to make more” Wilson (calmly) told Howard about the message and asked whether it was “of any interest to him”.
Also, prompted by Hornblow’s naming Captain Jackson (publicly for the first time) as the official who sent the armistice message to Brest, Wilson set down 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.” 19 (See part a) of the Commentary below for more about this statement from Wilson.)
Hornblow evidently amended his article to accommodate Wilson’s comments. When it appeared in print in November 1921, the passage in question read as follows:
“Promptly at four o’clock Howard had been presented to Admiral Wilson. They had been chatting awhile when the admiral remarked that he had just received a message which might possibly interest Howard, and handed it to him for his perusal. Howard beheld an official telegram, signed by Commander Jackson of Admiral Wilson’s office in Paris and naval attache at our Paris embassy.”
But in a later passage, in an obvious allusion to what Wilson had intimated about who sent the armistice message from Paris, Hornblow chose his words carefully to comment 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”. 20
b) From Moses Cook
During 1941, twenty-two years after Roy Howard had obtained a putative copy of the Jackson armistice message, Hornblow received information about how it arrived at US Navy Headquarters in Paris and was transmitted to Brest. The information came, 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 had been “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” from Paris Headquarters – “it”, by allusion, being the Jackson Telegram.
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”. 21
There are no details about Jackson’s Telegram in this letter – the first of four Cook sent to Hornblow. He had contacted him to request a copy of the latter’s 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 responses to Cook’s letters, Hornblow promised to try to find a copy of the 1921 article, and pressed him for particular details about the armistice message he claimed to have handled on 7 November 1918. “I should like to have your recital of these facts”, he requested: 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 is a report of what Cook told Hornblow in his subsequent letters, with some additional items from a clipping of a later newspaper article about him which he also sent to Hornblow. 22
“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” 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 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. “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”.
Cook was sent to Italy for a month shortly afterwards, and 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 his account of 7 November events at Navy Headquarters in Paris more or less as he had related it 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].” 23
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 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 1921 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.
a) The false armistice messages allegedly sent to the Navy and State Departments
[It is assumed, for the present, that the information Roy Howard acquired about these messages was accurate. (Letter to Bob Bender, December 2, 1918.)
The Navy Department Messages
There is no indication of the time-of-transmission of the two armistice messages from Admiral Wilson in Brest on 7 November 1918. But they reached the Navy Department at 12:10 pm and 1:10 pm respectively.
Since French time was five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time in November 1918, the first message’s 12:10 pm arrival in Washington, DC, means that it left Brest no later than 5:10 pm in France.
Its arrival-time at the Navy Department was several minutes later than the arrival in New York City – not long before midday – of Roy Howard’s Brest cablegram. The latter left Brest around 4:30 pm.
The 1:10 pm arrival of Wilson’s cancellation message means that it was sent during early evening in Brest – sometime before 6:10 pm – and around the time Howard and Hornblow recalled being told, at dinner, that the armistice news was false. 24
The first message, which read “Headquarters reports armistice signed”, omits the information contained in the Jackson Telegram to Admiral Wilson about the time of the supposed Armistice (11:00 am), a 2:00 pm cessation of hostilities, the taking of Sedan by the Americans, and the French Foreign Office’s release of the news.
The cancellation message – “Headquarters report error in signature” – presumably also omitted explanatory and other details from the telegram Paris Headquarters must have sent to Brest disclaiming the armistice news.
This may help to explain why the second message is somewhat ambiguous. Read in relation to the first message, it could be taken to mean that the report of the ‘signing’ of the armistice was an error, the word ‘signature’ rather than ‘signing’ having been used to convey this.
But ‘signature’ usually refers to the person’s name attached to, and so authorizing, the telegram and its message. As Captain Jackson’s name was on the transmission Admiral Wilson received, “error in signature” would surely suggest that, for some reason, the telegram and its message had not actually been authorized by him in Paris.
Further, Moses Cook, Paris Headquarters chief-radioman, told Arthur Hornblow that Captain Jackson most probably did not see (or therefore approve) the armistice telegram before it went out to Admiral Wilson. In this light, the correction message from Wilson to the Navy department – “Headquarters report error in signature” – adds weight to Cook’s statement. It may be, therefore, that Captain Jackson was not, after all, responsible for sending the false peace news that Admiral Wilson released in Brest and that Roy Howard cabled to New York City on 7 November 1918.
But if Jackson was not responsible for sending it, who was?
Part of the answer may lie in Admiral Wilson’s allusions to Captain Jackson in his July 1921 letter to Arthur Hornblow. As already noted, Wilson made the following comments in response to Hornblow’s identifying Jackson as the sender of the armistice news to Brest:
“[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.” 25
Wilson did not name Jackson in his letter, and was careful here to avoid attributing the message directly to him: “to have the article read that the message was from the Naval Attaché is off, though perhaps technically correct”. The message came from “my office in Paris” – “I hope you see this”, he emphasized.
The implication, it seems clear, is that the message carried Jackson’s name but was not from him personally. Rather, it was sent by someone in Admiral Wilson’s “office in Paris” who (routinely, presumably) was able to have telegrams transmitted from Navy Headquarters that carried Jackson’s signature as authorization but which the Naval Attaché had not necessarily seen beforehand.
However, it is not known what Wilson’s “office in Paris” was, where exactly it was (in or close to Navy Headquarters, for instance) who worked there, and who actually sent the armistice message to Brest.
The State Department Messages
The two armistice messages from Edward House reached the State Department within ten minutes of one another – the first at 12:30 pm local time, the second at 12:40 pm. They must have left Paris, at the very latest, before 5:40 pm French time, perhaps earlier if transmitted by the direct, quick communication telegraph to/from Washington, DC. (For further information relevant to this, see Part c) of this Commentary.)
The first message simply read: “Armistice signed congratulations”. As in Admiral Wilson’s armistice announcement to the Navy Department, and Military Attaché Major Warburton’s to the War Department (” Armistice signed”), there was no other information. Roy Howard’s cablegram from Brest seems to have been the only false armistice dispatch to the United States to have contained other details. 26
The House cancellation message read: “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows”.
According to official published sources, at 11:00 am – one and a half hours before his alleged “Armistice signed congratulations” message arrived – the State Department had asked House to confirm the armistice news the War Department had received earlier that morning from Major Warburton in Paris, and notify them when the terms of the Armistice could be published – what Secretary of State Lansing termed their “confirmation or denial” request to House. The request reached the Embassy quickly, by direct wire, and would have arrived there around 4:10 pm French time, 11:10 am Washington, DC, time. 27
Arriving an hour and twenty minutes later at the State Department, the “Armistice signed congratulations” message would seem, therefore, to have been House’s reply to their confirmation request, which he quickly cancelled with his “Error but will [communicate] later full report follows” message.
In the official published sources, House’s reply to the confirmation request is identified as a message, sent from Paris at 6:00 pm, stating that the Armistice had not yet been signed, the German delegates were not due to meet Marshall Foch until 5:00 pm, and the Armistice terms must not be made public beforehand. It reached the State Department at 2:04 pm local time. But it is possible that this dispatch – arriving over three hours later – was not, in fact, the original reply to the 11:00 am confirmation request, but actually the report of the armistice-announcement-error House promised would follow later – in which case, one hour and twenty-four minutes later.
b) The information Howard and Hornblow obtained relating to the Jackson Telegram
In the alleged copy of the Jackson Telegram that Roy Howard received in August 1919 from L.B. Mickel, the message read:
“Foreign Office announces Armistice signed 11 a.m. hostilities cease 2 p.m. today. Sedan taken this morning by U.S. army. 15207 Jackson.
This is a translation, shall never be transmitted.”
If Admiral Wilson had seen the telegram’s full message, including the last part prohibiting its transmission, the question arises as to why he obviously ignored it by allowing Howard to send the news to New York City. From what he said in his 1921 letter about Hornblow’s pre-publication Amazing Armistice article, the answer is that Wilson did not realize beforehand that Howard was going to send the news to the United States: “It was good local news for Brest, but news to go abroad had to be confirmed…. [Howard] said nothing to me of his intentions”.
By implication therefore, Wilson would not wittingly have played a part in ensuring that Howard’s armistice cablegram was passed by the local French censors; but Hornblow’s article apparently claimed that he did help in some way to have it cleared for transmission from the Brest telegraph office. Not surprisingly, the Admiral objected: “I would not have asked the censors as you mention [in the article]”. And Hornblow duly took note; in his published article, he carefully avoided any suggestion that Wilson had influenced the censors in the telegraph building:
“… I am convinced that no one in Brest, of whatever exalted rank, could have caused the local French censors to let by so portentous a message without having the O.K. of either the Ministry of War or the Paris censorship office.” 28
Until Roy Howard saw a copy of the Jackson Telegram in August 1919, he was probably unaware of the detail about the peace news having been announced by the French Foreign Ministry – it was most likely “new stuff” to him in August 1919, as it was to Baillie. He introduced it in his 1936 ‘False Armistice’ chapter for Webb Miller’s book, without explanation, to assert that German agents in Paris on 7 November 1918 had fooled a secretary at the American Embassy into believing the false news was coming from the French Foreign Ministry on the Quai d’Orsay. 18
Arthur Hornblow’s information from Moses Cook about the Jackson Armistice Telegram was that its message was dictated to Lieutenant Barler during a telephone-call from an officer the Lieutenant knew and believed was speaking from the American Embassy; that it carried Jackson’s signature but was probably not seen by Jackson himself; and that it read “Armistice signed eleven am, cease firing two pm, Sedan capitulated”.
Cook wrote nothing to Hornblow about the French Foreign Ministry having announced the peace news, what the time was in the afternoon when Lieutenant Carey received the message, or when it was transmitted to Brest.
But he mentioned that by the time he tried to have it stopped – about twenty minutes after it had left Paris – the message had already been forwarded from Brest to Washington, DC. And this statement adds verification to the information (discussed immediately above) which Roy Howard had obtained by the beginning of December 1918 about the Navy Department’s receiving two armistice messages from Admiral Wilson on 7 November.
c) The information Howard and Hornblow obtained relating to US Navy Headquarters in Paris on 7 November 1918
According to Moses Cook, it was Lieutenant Barler who wrote down the 7 November 1918 peace message 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 (junior grade) U.S.N.R.F., born 18 May 1886, enrolled 23 September 1917”. 29
Cook told Hornblow that Barler died in 1934, leaving himself and the operator of the Brest Wire (who actually tapped-out the message) as “the only ones that were present” when it was transmitted. Cook stated that he regularly kept in touch with this operator. He did not name him in his letters or in the 1944 Miami Daily News article, but referred to him variously as “my friend”, “a successful attorney in New York City”, and “a young sailor, now a prominent New York attorney”.
It appears, however, that at least one other person participated in the false-armistice-messages transmissions from Paris. This was Lieutenant Emmet King, a copy of whose letter – in which he affirmed that he “flashed the message”, knew “what caused the whole affair”, and “handled the whole case” – was made available to Roy Howard in December 1918. (In letter from Emmett King to W.F.L., December 19th, 1918. Discussed above.)
King stated that the armistice message, “in plain English”, was handed to him at about 3:50 pm (French time), and that it read “identically the same as the message that was afterwards published in America to the effect that hostilities had ceased”.
He did not say where it had come from (the American Embassy, French Foreign Ministry, French Ministry of War, for instance) but hinted that it was from Navy Headquarters in Paris: 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”. And he did not disclose whose name the message carried as authorization – though he described it as being “thoroughly official”.
Unfortunately, King did not indicate whether the message he “flashed” repeated the one handed to him (as Howard’s did) or simply announced the signing of the Armistice (as the other Paris messages did); and made no mention of any subsequent cancellation message that may have been sent off. Moreover, he did not reveal to whom and where he had “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 (evidently resulting in the release and spread of the false armistice news), and that it could not be made public.
It should not be assumed that the message King claimed to have sent from Paris was the one that went to Admiral Wilson in Brest. King revealed that he was “handling all Colonel House’s work” in Paris, so he is not likely to have been Moses Cook’s anonymous operator on the Brest Wire who became an attorney in New York City after the war.
Perhaps King was in a different part of the Headquarters at the time, or even in 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.
Indeed, it is quite possible that it was Emmet King who dispatched the armistice announcement received at 12:30 pm by the State Department from Edward House which was cancelled ten minutes later by a follow-on message. If sent from Paris around 3:50 pm French time, as King implied, it could easily have been in Washington, DC, by 12:30 pm, one and a half hours later. (See Part a) of this Commentary)
d) The information Howard and Hornblow obtained relating to US Navy Headquarters in Brest on 7 November 1918
According to Hugh Baillie’s July 1919 letter to Howard, Admiral Wilson’s secretary was a man by the name of Carey. (According to Roy Howard, Ensign James Sellards was Admiral Wilson’s “personal aide, secretary, and interpreter” at Brest Headquarters.) 30
There are several Careys, of different ranks, in the US Navy Lists for 1918, but without a first name or initial to go by, it is pointless trying to decide which of them Baillie was referring to in his letter. Baillie told Howard that Carey was now a lawyer with offices in the Wilkins Building in Washington, DC, so he presumably resumed a legal career soon after leaving the Navy.
Carey’s alleged claim to be in possession of the original Jackson Telegram sent to Admiral Wilson from Paris Headquarters appears to have been untrue. In any case, what Howard actually received, from L. B. Mickel, was described as a copy (made by M.R. Toomer) of a copy of the original telegram made by a wireless operator at Navy Headquarters in Brest. The latter was unnamed, as was the wireless operator in the Paris Headquarters. Mickel stated that the original Jackson Telegram was still in Brest.
Carey and the wireless operator may well have known about, and possibly been involved in, the transmission of the cablegram Admiral Wilson sent to the Navy Department in Washington, DC, on 7 November 1918, informing them that “Headquarters reports armistice signed”, and of the subsequent correction that “Headquarters report error in signature” – “Headquarters” here referring to those in Paris. (See Part a) of this Commentary)
Moses Cook told Hornblow that he spent seven weeks in Brest before he finally left France early in 1919. It is possible that he became acquainted during that time with Carey and the unnamed wireless operator there; and that they talked about the Jackson Telegram Cook had played a part in sending to Brest from the Paris Headquarters, as well as about other related matters.
(February 2019) (April 2019, with additions)
© James Smith
1. Roy Howard Papers. (1892-1964). MSA 1. The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries. Bloomington, Indiana.
2. Arthur and Leonora Hornblow Papers. Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Beverly Hills, California.
1. The Evening Star [Washington, DC] November 11, 1925, p4, under ‘Real “False Armistice” Story Is Now Told By Eyewitness’.
2. Letter: Roy Howard to Robert J. Bender [United Press Manager in Washington, DC] CONFIDENTIAL, New York, December 2, 1918. Howard Papers. And The New York Times, 21 November 1918, under ‘Howard Excuses False Peace Report’. Available through NYTimes.com Free to Read Articles 1918 website.
See the Roy Howard in Brest article on this website for a summary of reactions to his premature peace cablegram.
3. As Note 2, Letter. Edward House was often referred to as “Colonel House” at the time, but he had no official military rank.
See the False Armistice News from France article on this website, for details about the false armistice reports that were made public.
4. As Note 2, Letter. See also the False Armistice Conspiracy Theories article on this website.
5. As Note 2, The New York Times, November 21, 1918. See also the Roy Howard in Brest article on this website.
7. See The Fourth Estate, December 7, 1918, p8, under ‘Howard and Keen In Charge of U.P. Staff’, for an item about United Press personnel in their Peace Conference team.
8. J. A. Morris, Deadline Every Minute. The Story of the United Press, pp82, 115. (New York 1957) “He quickly made friends in the right places and was able to develop a number of exclusive stories, possibly due in part to the fact that he was one of the few Washington reporters who owned an automobile and frequently taxied Joseph Tumulty, the President’s secretary, to his home at the end of the workday.” (p82)
9. Howard complained that his later warning that the armistice news in his first cablegram could not be confirmed had been held up in New York City by the Navy censors there, thus permitting the false news to spread and United Press to be blamed for it. Navy Secretary Daniels had already issued a statement admitting that, because he was not in Washington, DC, when Howard’s subsequent cablegram arrived, the censors had withheld it from the press for several hours until he had returned to the Navy Department. See the Fourth Estate, November 16, 1918, p2, under ‘Armistice Blunder To Get Coat Of Oblivion’.
10. As Note 2, Letter: Roy Howard to Robert J. Bender.
11. It is assumed here that Bender received the letter (dated 2nd) before the departure.
In a letter dated 11 December 1918, Howard told Fred. C. Cook “I had expected to sail for France on the 14th but a crush of local affairs has made it necessary for me to postpone my trip until after the holidays.” Roy W. Howard to Fred C. Cook, December 11, 1918. Howard Papers.
12. The US Navy List for 1918 has the following entry: “Archer Emmet King Jr, Lieutenant (junior grade) 5 June 1918; born 14 September 1893. Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, U.S. Naval Reserve Force and Marine Corps, January 1, 1919, p70.
‘William F. Lynch’ entries in J. A. Morris, Deadline Every Minute. The Story of the United Press, pp79 and 167 (New York 1957) refer to his telegraph work in the agency.
13. Copy of a letter from Emmett King to W.F.L., December 19th, 1918. Howard Papers. Only the first sheet of the letter is available in the archive. Following an enquiry about it, this writer was informed (August 2018) that additional pages have not been found.
Edward House’s son-in-law, Gordon Auchincloss, was his official secretary at the Peace Conference.
14. J. A. Morris, Deadline Every Minute. The Story of the United Press, p116 (New York 1957).
15. Letter: Hugh Baillie to Roy Howard, Washington, July 19, 1919. Howard Papers. J.A. Morris, p126 (as Note 14), mentions that Baillie became the Washington Bureau Manager during 1919.
16. Letter: L.B. Mickel to Roy Howard, Oklahoma City, August 11, 1919. (Three copies, each showing different recipients’ initials.) Howard Papers.
17. Roy W. Howard to Fred Cook, November twenty-eighth 1925. Howard Papers. See also the Roy W. Howard in Brest article on this website.
18. See the False Armistice Conspiracy Theories article on this website.
19. Letter: Admiral Henry B. Wilson to Arthur Hornblow. 13 July 1921(Sheet 1). Hornblow Papers. The pre-publication version of his article that Hornblow sent to Admiral Wilson is not available in the archive, nor is the one he also sent to Roy Howard and which the latter also replied to him about.
20. The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report. The Century Magazine, November 1921, pp94 and 97.
21. Letter: Moses Cook to Arthur Hornblow, 20 April 1941; and a piece about him from The Norfolk Seabag, 2-8-41, under the heading ‘Reserve C.P.O. Had Unique Experience’. Hornblow Papers.
22. Subsequent correspondence: Arthur Hornblow to Moses Cook, April 28, 1941; Moses Cook to Arthur Hornblow, 7th May, 1941; Arthur 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 fromThe Miami Daily News, 20 June 1944, under the heading‘Inside Story of False Armistice Flash in 1918 Told by Navy Man Here’. Hornblow Papers.
23. The Miami Daily News, 20 June 1944, under the heading ‘Inside Story of False Armistice Flash in 1918 Told by Navy Man Here’. Clipping in Hornblow Papers with Letter: Arthur Hornblow to Moses Cook, July 31, 1944.
24. See the Roy Howard in Brest article on this website.
25. Admiral Henry B. Wilson to Arthur Hornblow. 13 July 1921(Sheet 1). Hornblow Papers.
26. For an account of the Warburton false armistice dispatches, see the False Armistice News from France article on this website.
27. As above, for an account of the published State Department-House dispatches concerning the false armistice news.
28. As note 25, (Sheet 2); and note 20, p95.
29. Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy, U.S. Naval Reserve Force and Marine Corps, January 1, 1919,p650.
30. In Webb Miller’s I Found No Peace: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, p81. (London. Special Edition for the Book Club. 1937)