Roy W. Howard in Brest: Part Two, 8-9 November 1918

This is the accompanying article to Part One of ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest’.  It examines how Howard and United Press dealt with the false armistice cablegram’s consequences for them during Friday 8 and Saturday 9 November.

As in Part One, the text is presented in different colours: this colour for information from Howard’s 1936 memoir; this one for extracts from letters and telegrams sent by him; this one for details from telegrams Howard received; this for information from Hornblow’s two articles; and this for information from Fred Cook’s letters and newspaper items.  Background historical details, and comments made on information from the sources, are in black text.

 Managing UP’s False Armistice Crisis 

Generally overlooked or ignored in accounts of Roy Howard’s eventful time in Brest, Friday 8 and Saturday 9 November are integral to the broader story.  They were critical days, when he and United Press found themselves confronted by the consequences of the armistice cablegram.  But, as it turned out, Fred Ferguson at the Paris office, Bill Hawkins at the New York City office, and Howard in Brest managed their crisis entirely successfully.  In the process, however, some misrepresentation arose as to what had happened in Brest. III. 8

Friday 8th November

Friday’s events are arranged during the morning and the afternoon and evening parts of the day.

Morning

Alarming news from Paris (Ferguson) and New York City (Hawkins).

In a somewhat ambiguous late morning message from Paris, Fred Ferguson told Howard “YOUR CABLE REACHED HAWKINS”, and the censor called “SMORNING INQUIRING UPON RECEIPT MESSAGE EXHAWKINS ANNOUNCING ARRIVAL”.  He urged Howard as a matter of “OBVIOUS IMPORTANTEST” to “GET QUICKEST EXPLANATION SOME SORT NEWYORK ALSO TO CENSORS”.  And warned “SERIOUS EMBARRASSMENTS POSSIBLE HERE [in Paris]”. 

Ferguson signed off with “APPRECIATE ANY SUGGESTION”.

A pencil annotation “Friday Nov 8 10 AM” presumably shows the time Howard received the message.

[13/34, in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers]

Ferguson was answering Howard’s question put directly to Hawkins in his Thursday 10:50 pm cablegram “DID MY ORIGINAL BULLETIN ANNOUNCING ARMISTICE REACH YOU”.  He may have obtained the answer above from the (French) censors he was alluding to or from Hawkins himself.

The censors had obviously asked the Paris office how Howard’s armistice cablegram had been able to reach New York from Paris.  Hence, an “explanation [of] some sort” from Howard was urgently needed to help Hawkins and Ferguson deal with worrying situations developing for United Press in both New York and Paris.

Howard replied with just the bare details of where his armistice bulletin had come from:

“MESSAGE SUPPOSEDLY OFFICIAL RECEIVED HERE BY AMERICAN ADMIRAL WILSON AND COMMUNICATED TO LOCAL NEWSPAPER AND TO ME”. 

He suggested that the Paris censor should have his “LOCAL REPRESENTATIVE SEE ADMIRAL WILSON HERE HE IS NOT EXCITED AND IS READY TO EXPLAIN TO ANYONE INQUIRING HE SENT HIS AID WITH ME YESTERDAY TO FILE MY BULLETIN”.

He asked Ferguson to clarify whether the censor he mentioned had visited the Paris or the New York City office.  And now asked – “Did Hawkins publish?”.  [He had previously asked whether the armistice message had reached Hawkins, and Ferguson had replied that it had.]

[7/17. (8 November 1918 date verified from the contents). In the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers]

There is nothing to suggest at what time this telegram left for Paris, but as its contents clearly relate to the “Friday Nov 8 10 AM” message from Ferguson, Howard must have filed it sometime after 10:00 am.

It contains the first of Howard’s recorded comments about receiving some assistance with the armistice cablegram from Admiral Wilson and his aide Ensign Sellards – namely that Sellards was sent with him “to file” the bulletin.  But there is very little about what had taken place in Brest the previous day which the New York City office could use, or which might satisfy the censors.

A response arrived from Ferguson at “11 AM Friday Nov 8” (pencil annotation).

In answer to Howard’s questions and quoting details apparently received from Hawkins, Ferguson now stated that the “STORY PUBLISHED AMERICA FROM NOON ON CELEBRATIONS COUNTRYWIDE”, and that he had “SEEN CENSORS HERE” [in Paris].  He informed Howard that the censor would be “CALLING WILSON AT BREST”, that the State Department “HAS ASKED [FOR AN] EXPLANATION”, but that he believed “CIRCUMSTANCES WILL SAVE SITUATION”.  [Further details below in ‘The State Department and Howard’s armistice cablegram’.]

However, “OUR POSITION”, Ferguson warned, was “CRITICALIST AT HOME”, and advised Howard “EXTREMELY IMPORTANT YOU FILE FORMAL STATEMENT URGENT TO NEW YORK USING ADMIRAL WILSONS NAME IF POSSIBLE”.  Meanwhile, he and Phil Simms, feeling it was “ABSOLUTELY IMPERATIVE”, had told Hawkins in New York that “HOWARDS MESSAGE FILED EXBREST WHERE AWAITING HOMEBOUND STEAMER FLASH BASED WHAT CONSIDERED UNIMPEACHABLE AUTHORITY BUT WHOSE INFORMATION PROVED PREMATURE”.  

They had sent this, he explained, not only for whatever use Hawkins might make of it, but also “TO REASSURE CENSORS HERE” [who would read the message before clearing it for transmission] who suspected United Press of “USING CODE” [presumably to get the 7 November armistice bulletin through] thus “ENDANGERING OUR ENTIRE STANDING”.  And he intimated that more details to them and Hawkins about what had happened in Brest were needed –  “BELIEVE QUICK STATEMENT THROUGH BOURSE [location of the Paris censors’ office] TO US IMPORTANT ADDITION STATEMENT NEWYORK”.

[14*/34 and 17*/34, in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers.  Although separated in this collection, these two forms are in sequence as “76” and “77” according to pencil annotations, and are treated as such here.]

Five minutes later, a note, cutting straight to the point, arrived indirectly from Phil Simms in Paris.  Short and decisive, it told Howard that Simms “BELIEVES STATEMENT EXADMIRAL CLEARING US RUSHED TO NEWYORK FOR PUBLICATION WILL DO MOREN ANYTHING ELSE SQUARE US WITH PUBLISHERS”.  “11 05 AM Friday” (pencil annotation)

[18/34. To Howard from (it seems) “Taylor” (a UP reporter just returned from the Front). In the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers] 

Just before midday, presumably in response, Howard sent an “urgent” message to the New York City office.  On a US Army Signal Corps telegram form, he stated:

“ARMISTICE BULLETIN BASED LOCAL ANNOUNCEMENT ADMIRAL WILSON ADMIRAL SUPPOSING OFFICIAL WAS FILED WITH ADMIRALS APPROVAL LOCAL NEWSPAPER BULLETINED BREST CELEBRATED NIGHTLONG DID UNIPRESS PUBLISH”

[8 November 1918 to Unipress (item 1). Howard Papers.]

According to handwritten details on a copy of it, the message was filed at 11:55 am and cleared the censors at 1:30 pm French time.  (It arrived at 11:30 am, New York time – three hours later.)

This really provided Hawkins with little more than Ferguson and Simms had sent out to him earlier that morning.  And it is not clear exactly what Howard wanted to know UNIPRESS had published –  his armistice bulletin, his Brest-celebrating cablegram, or both.

However, during the early afternoon, Howard was able to send off precisely what Phil Simms said was needed to “square” United Press with the newspapers – “STATEMENT EXADMIRAL CLEARING US RUSHED TO NEWYORK FOR PUBLICATION … ”

He had a meeting with Admiral Wilson, told him what was happening in the United States because of UP’s distribution of the false armistice news, and asked for his help.

Lifeline from the Admiral

Howard “explained the situation” to Wilson who asked how he could “set matters right”.  And in response to Howard’s request, provided him with a “statement for publication, giving his version of what had occurred” the previous afternoon. 

[Howard 1936, p89]

In fact, Wilson signed a declaration completely exonerating Howard and United Press from any blame for the false armistice news.  Forwarded in separate telegrams to Hawkins and Ferguson, it read:

“Admiral Wilson today made following statement for information of United Press editors quote The statement of the United Press relative to signing of the Armistice was made public from my office on basis of what appeared to be official and authoritative information.  Am in position to know that the United Press and its representative acted in perfect good faith and that premature announcement was result of an error for which agency was in no wise responsible unquote”

[8 November 1918. To Unipress New York Urgent Rate (item 2). And 9/17 to Ferguson Unipress Paris, in the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers.]

The statement was an affirmation of UP’s innocence and a decisive rebuttal of the potentially hugely damaging accusations being levelled against them.  It rescued United Press from its rivals.  As Arthur Hornblow commented in ‘Fake’ and ‘Amazing Armistice’: “The blackest of black skies cleared considerably for Howard when Admiral Wilson, every inch the gentleman and the man, took upon his own shoulders complete responsibility for Howard’s fateful cable”. [p14; p97 respectively.]

 

According to Admiral Wilson, Howard had asked him the previous evening, when they spoke at the French Admiral’s house, whether he could help “set him straight with the editors” over his armistice cablegram.  He told Howard to see him the following morning at 9:00 am. Howard arrived on time, and after some discussion wrote out the statement which Wilson agreed to sign because it was accurate and because Howard assured him it would not be published but used only to show United Press editors that Howard had not acted improperly. III. 25

And there is information that, also during Friday morning, Howard had an earlier meeting with Admiral Wilson’s Assistant Chief of Staff, M. S. Tisdale, who was sent to question him about the Thursday afternoon armistice cablegram.  Tisdale was also the US Navy Censor in Brest and asked Howard – without obtaining “any satisfactory explanation” – who had approved the release of the cablegram and how it had passed the censors.  It seems that Howard’s meeting with the Admiral occurred after this interview with Tisdale. III. 25

Of course, in Howard’s 1936 account there is no Thursday evening meeting with Admiral Wilson and therefore no arrangement to see him the next day, only the remark that, having heard late on Thursday about the peace celebrations in America, he was at Admiral Wilson’s  office when the latter arrived “around ten o’clock” Friday morning. [p89]  And no hint that the US Navy Censor had questioned him about how his armistice cablegram had been filed.

Afternoon and Evening

There is nothing in Howard’s 1936 account to suggest when on Friday – during the morning or afternoon – he sent the Admiral’s exonerating statement to Hawkins and Ferguson.  But   written in pencil on the copy sent to Hawkins is “3 20 PM Nov 8 18” – presumably noting the time in Brest when Howard filed it.  And the time-annotations, between 10:00 am and midday, on the preceding telegrams between Brest, Paris and New York City obviously imply  that Howard dispatched Wilson’s statement sometime after midday.  But how long after his meeting with Admiral Wilson is not known because it is not known when the meeting ended.

In spite of the “3 20 PM” annotation on it, it seems likely that Howard actually sent the copy of Wilson’s statement to Hawkins before that time:

Almost immediately after sending it, Howard wired a separate copy of the statement to Fred Ferguson in Paris: “I HAVE JUST SENT THE FOLLOWING URGENT TO NEWYORK”, he explained – “JUST SENT” presumably meaning soon after 3:20 pm – the time pencilled on the Hawkins copy.  Confusingly, however, on the copy to Ferguson is the pencil annotation “Friday Nov 8, 1918 2:30 PM”, which, if accurate, would mean that the statement to Hawkins went before 2:30 pm, not at 3:20 pm.  As Howard also sent a follow-on note to Ferguson with a 2:35 pm annotation, instructing him to show Admiral Wilson’s statement to Special Representative House, on the basis of these Ferguson-telegram timings the assumption here is that he forwarded Wilson’s statement to both the New York City and Paris offices around 2:30 pm.  “3:20 pm” was perhaps a slip-of-the-pencil, an inadvertent reversal of the digits.

Howard sent the statement “Urgent Rate” to the New York City office.  It arrived at 1:10 pm their time.  Hawkins “broadcasted” it and by 3:00 pm “all agencies” carried it.

[Telegrams 5-6/17, in the collection at 25 April 1957; and in 26/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers]

 

Some afternoon and evening papers were able to publish it the same day, together with Howard’s explanation, sent earlier in the day, of how Admiral Wilson came to release the armistice news to him and the Brest newspaper.  United Press paid for it to be printed the following day (Saturday 9th) on a whole page of the Fourth Estate (which marketed itself as “A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers and Investors in Advertising”). III. 13 

Howard was deeply grateful to Wilson at the time.  Ironic therefore, that on the very day (Friday 8th) Wilson signed the statement, reports (not publicised at the time or for many years later) were sent to the State Department alleging that the Admiral had acted – improperly, if true – to make sure Howard’s armistice cablegram was cleared by the censors in Brest for transmission to the United States.  And the allegation arose from details about the Admiral which Howard had sent to the Paris office also that day on the US Army Signal Corps telegram form. (above).

The State Department and Howard’s armistice cablegram

Unaware that the false peace news had been sent from Brest, Secretary of State Lansing presumed the United Press office in Paris had indulged in some sharp practice to get it out of France to the United States.  He asked both Special Representative House and the Ambassador in Paris, William Sharp, to find out what had happened and report back to him.  As Fred Ferguson told Howard in his long “11 AM Friday Nov 8” message (above), the State Department “HAS ASKED [FOR AN] EXPLANATION”.

Lansing cabled to William Sharp:

“United Press [in New York City] received telegram today [7 November] before 1 p.m. announcing armistice had been signed.  Telegram published at once and greatest excitement and enthusiasm prevails.  This Department and War Department have been informed no foundation for story.  Please find out why censor passed this report as the incident is most unfortunate.”

At the same time, a separate cable, its message less restrained, was sent to House:

“United Press received telegram this morning which was published at once announcing armistice had been signed.  Later information from War Department and from you is that there is no foundation for report …. The effect of publication of news naturally has created tremendous excitement.  People marching through streets cheering peace.  If as you report there is no foundation for report, it would seem a grave error has been made by censor in permitting this message to pass and that the United Press has been guilty of reckless news work.  Please have Embassy investigate and report how United Press has made such a serious mistake.” III. 6

Both telegrams left the State Department on 7 November at 4 pm.  They would therefore have arrived in Paris sometime after 9 pm French time.  The reports Sharp and House subsequently sent to Lansing were obviously based on information obtained mostly from United Press staff in Paris and, indirectly therefore, from what Howard told his Paris staff.

Taken together, the reports stated that:

Roy Howard, “head of the United Press”, had transmitted the armistice message from Brest; that it was “passed by the American authorities” there; that the American Naval Attaché in Paris had sent the message to Admiral Wilson who then released it to the local press and to Howard; that Howard, “accompanied by one of Admiral Wilson’s aides filed the cable to the United States which was passed by the censor” / “Wilson … sent an aide with him to cable censor so that Howard would be permitted to send through a dispatch stating that the armistice had been signed.”; that “it is perfectly clear … United Press was not at fault in this matter”; and that “the fault if any, lies with Jackson or the French official who started the rumor”.

Before midday on Friday, Ferguson had warned Howard that the Paris censors were “SUSPECTING US [OF] USING CODE” and that UP’s “ENTIRE STANDING” was being endangered.  But by early evening, the danger had receded: the censors had been placated, and the agency’s standing with the authorities in Washington, DC, appears to have been safeguarded.

This entirely satisfactory result for Howard and United Press was the work primarily of the Paris office, achieved, the reports to Lansing suggest, by claiming that Admiral Wilson played a key role in the successful transmission of the armistice cablegram from Brest.  By the time the reports reached Lansing, Wilson’s statement admitting responsibility for releasing the peace news in Brest and allowing Howard to use it had also arrived and was being published in the newspapers.  In the State Department, viewed alongside the reports from House and Sharp, Wilson’s statement may well have been seen as corroboration of the Admiral’s direct involvement in the transmission of Howard’s cablegram.

At the UP Paris office

Fred Ferguson appears to have handled the cablegram crisis in Paris and spoken for United Press in the enquiries ordered by the State Department.  In the “11 05 AM Friday” note from Taylor (just back from the Front) Howard was told that Ferguson would “EXPLAIN MATTER COLONEL HOUSE” – that is, tell House about Wilson’s release of the peace news in Brest and sending an aide with Howard to file his bulletin – the first details Howard gave to Paris and New York City.  Later – “2.35 PM” – when Howard had sent a copy of the Admiral’s exonerating statement to Paris, he instructed Ferguson to show it to House and tell him “I WORST SUFFERER ADMIRALS MISINFORMATION [THOUGH] REALIZE ADMIRAL ALSON VICTIM”. 

[“Friday Nov 8 1918 2:35 PM” pencil annotation.  Number 21/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers] 

It was Ferguson, therefore, who effectively resolved the crisis during the following four hours, as two telegrams from him outlined to Howard.

In the first of these, he related that House had remarked to him that he already knew United Press was not responsible for the false news, because the US Embassy had released “IDENTICAL STUFF” on 7 November to that in Howard’s cablegram.  House claimed they tried unsuccessfully to make him believe the news.  The Embassy, Ferguson commented, was “IN VERY BAD WILL WRITE DETAILS”; “AM KEEPING CLEAR AWAY”.

Regarding the censors, he was able to assure Howard “EVERYTHING ALRIGHT WITH CENSORSHIP NOW NOBODY IN AUTHORITY [in Paris presumably] BLAMING US”.  But it was still urgently necessary to “SET WASHINGTON STRAIGHT”.  He had spoken to House’s son-in-law, Gordon Auchincloss, and “impressed” upon him “IMPERATIVE BLAME BE PUT WHERE BELONGS”.  Auchincloss told him he would send a “STATEMENT POLK [Frank Polk, a State Department counsellor] TONIGHT IN WHICH ASSURED ME ABSOLUTE JUSTICE BE DONE”.  If Admiral Wilson could send a message to Washington, DC, “MIGHT HELP ADDITIONALLY”, Ferguson advised.

[“Friday, Nov 8, 1918 3:15” pencil annotation.  Number 22/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers]

The following note from Howard to Ferguson may have been sent in reply to the above and before Ferguson’s next telegram (judging from its contents):

“THANKS THINK YOU HAVE HANDLED THINGS WELL … PLEASE MAIL TONIGHT COPIES ALL HAWKINS WIRES ALSON MEMO RE HOUSES ATTITUDE ASK HOUSE IF HE WOULD PREFER I RETURN TO PARIS BEFORE SAILING SUGGEST YOU WIRE HAWKINS WATCH WASHINGTON”.

[No date or suggestion of a transmission/receipt time.  Only a signed annotation in French reading ”Recu à 18.25” (received at 6:25 pm.)  17/17 in the collection at 25 April 1957.  Howard Papers.]

Ferguson sent more good news in his next telegram:

Auchincloss had now dispatched his message to Polk in Washington, DC, – “COMPLETELY EXONERATES US … SAYS IN EFFECT WE WARRANTED SENDING NEWS ON BASIS INFORMATION – and “TAKES VIEW WE SHOULD COME OUT SCRAMBLE STRONGERN BEFORE”.  Ferguson added that he was “CABLING HAWKINS WATCH FOR POLK CABLE”.

Meanwhile, an investigation at the US Embassy in Paris had cleared it of “FIRST SUSPICIONS”, but of course, Ferguson remarked, “YOU KNOW WHO WILSON GOT MESSAGE FROM”.

[“Friday, Nov 8, 1918 6 30 PM” pencil annotation.  Number 23/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918.  Howard Papers.]

It is not certain from Ferguson’s telegrams what actually transpired in Paris, what was done or said to dispel the censors’ suspicions about Howard’s armistice cablegram, or what discussions took place with House and Auchincloss for the report House sent to Secretary of State Lansing.  But from Howard’s 8 November telegrams to Paris, it seems the allegation that Admiral Wilson helped make sure the censors in Brest allowed the cablegram to be transmitted did not come from him.  It is possible Howard discussed matters with Ferguson by telephone.  Ambassador Sharp’s report says he did, but it states only that Howard “accompanied by one of Admiral Wilson’s aides filed the cable to the United States which was passed by the censor”.  The explicit claim that the Admiral “sent an aide with him to cable censor so that Howard would be permitted to send through a dispatch stating that the armistice had been signed” was in House’s report.

In his 8 November telegrams, Howard did not attempt to explain how or why his armistice cablegram was able to leave Brest (with or without the permission of the local censors).  But his statement that Admiral Wilson assigned one of his aides to help him file the cablegram could easily be taken as implying that the Admiral used his authority to influence the censors to pass the cablegram, which offered a feasible explanation.

Whether or not Howard was complicit in this story in November 1918, he certainly endorsed it in his 1936 memoir, as described earlier, three years after the House and Sharp reports were published.

Details from Hawkins of UP’s precarious situation in America

Probably not very long after reading Ferguson’s “COMPLETELY EXONERATES US” 6:30 pm telegram above, alarming details reached Howard from Hawkins in New York about what was happening in America.  Hawkins sent the details from New York at 12:30 pm to the Paris office, where he assumed Howard would see them.  This was at 5:30 pm French time.  The Paris office at first relayed just their details to Howard in Brest in a separate telegram sent presumably sometime after 5:30 pm.  They paint a stark picture of the armistice cablegram’s impact in the United States, the crisis it created for Hawkins, and the serious consequences threatening United Press.

Hawkins began by informing Howard that the latter’s “ORIGINAL PARIS FLASH” had been received at midday (local time) on the 7th and was “PUBLISHED EVERYWHERE EXACTLY AS SENT”; that his “CONFIRMATORY BREST BULLETIN”, transmitted at 6:30 pm French time, had arrived at 2:40 pm.

Nothing more, however, had arrived until 11:30 am today – Friday 8th – when he received “FIRST REFERENCE ADMIRAL WILSON OR UNCONFIRMABLE” together with “YOUR BREST MESSAGE STATING ADMIRAL APPROVED FILING”.

[The “FIRST REFERENCE ADMIRAL WILSON” cablegram was the “10:50 PM” Thursday night one from Howard, the next his Friday morning 11.55 AM one sent on an Army Signal Corps form and before he sent Hawkins a copy of Admiral Wilson’s “statement for information of United Press editors”.]

United Press was “CARRYING FULL EXPLANATION QUOTING YOUR MESSAGES”, Hawkins continued, but he urgently needed “FULLEST POSSIBLE STATEMENT FOR PUBLICATION FACT THAT [YOUR] CABLES RECEIVED EXPARIS [from Paris]”.  And then, without mincing words, told him why:

“[YOUR] ANNOUNCEMENT YESTERDAY CAUSE[D] GREATEST DEMONSTRATION AMERICAN HISTORY DAYLONG NIGHTLONG OPPOSITION SERVICES PAPERS ATTACKING UNIPRESS VICIOUSLY … WE STOOD PAT UNTIL OFFICIAL COMMINIQUES FRIDAY SHOWED FIGHTING CONTINUING IMPOSSIBLE OVERESTIMATE SERIOUSNESS INCIDENT WHICH UNPARALLELLED ALL NEWSPAPER HISTORY IN TREMENDOUS EFFECT PUBLIC”. 

[24-25/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers.  The Paris office later forwarded the cablegrams themselves, which arrived in Brest on Saturday 9 November – 2-3/17 in the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers]

Before Friday was over, Hawkins sent three more (much shorter) messages, also via Paris: : one to acknowledge the receipt and release of Admiral Wilson’s statement; the next to report that “all agencies” were carrying it; and the last asking when Howard would be returning to America. 

[4-6/17 and 26/34 in the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers]

 

Even after Wilson’s exonerating statement was published, some of UP’s rivals (unfairly) interpreted it as an attempt to shift blame for what had happened, and as further evidence of dishonesty in their handling of the whole false armistice affair.  The New York Times, for instance, commented accusingly that United Press had placed “full responsibility for the circulation of the false news … on Vice Admiral Henry B. Wilson … one of the most distinguished officers of the American Navy”.  More bluntly, the Oklahoma Daily Ardmoreite’s heading for its feature on the statement accused United Press of “Making Admiral Wilson the [Scape] Goat”.    III. 14 

In his 1936 account, Howard described their attacks on him and his agency in lucid detail:

“Indignation burned like a brush fire in the columns of those virtuous paragons of American journalism which had not printed the report.  According to most of their editors, the United Press was a nefarious, soulless outfit, trafficking with the emotions of American patriots; the government should suppress it; its officers should be jailed; it should be made to pay the bill for cleaning up the New York city streets and restoring all the ash and garbage cans which had been commandeered for noise-making.  Similarly, the news­papers which had printed the dispatch, including many of the most reputable publications in the country, were co-conspirators. They had printed the false report to increase circulation; they had deliberately hoaxed their readers; they should be boycotted by both readers and advertisers.

Howard was a traitor to his country and to his profession. He was the greatest faker in the long annals of journalism.  He had known that the report could not possibly have been true. Being in uniform and an accredited war correspondent, he was subject to military authority and should be handled without mercy.  Nothing that Admiral Wilson had said should be accepted in mitigation, even though he was conceded to be a very gallant gentleman, and though he had given the United Press a clear bill of health and had in turn been completely absolved by his superiors.”  

[Howard 1936, pp91-92]

 

By the time Howard received the last of Hawkins’ Friday messages, it would have been well after 8:00 pm in France though still mid-to-late afternoon in New York.  However, Howard apparently put off sending any replies until the following day, giving himself time to prepare a lengthy response but leaving Hawkins for many more hours without the information he requested.

Saturday 9 November

Hitting Back At The Competitors

[No times are shown on any of the following telegrams to indicate when during Saturday they were sent or received in New York City, Paris or Brest.]

Howard eventually replied to Hawkins in two cablegrams which went first to Phil Simms in Paris with instructions to forward their contents “urgent rate” to New York City.

In the first, Howard provided details of what had happened in Brest on Thursday afternoon for release to the New York Times and other newspapers. 

Admiral Wilson’s 8 November statement “TELLS WHOLE STORY”, Hawkins was to assure them while explaining that:

“ADMIRAL GAVE TO ME PERSONNALLY AND TO BREST PAPER WITH PERMISSION TO BOTH OF US TO PRINT A BULLETIN STATING THAT ARMISTICE BEEN SIGNED AT 11 AM HOSTILITIES HAD CEASED AT TWO PM AND THAT AMERICAN HAD TAKEN SEDAN UPON THE ADMIRALS ASSURANCE THAT THE INFORMATION WAS OFFICIAL AND FULLY AUTHENTICATED I FILED A VERBATUM COPY OF HIS BULLETIN THIS WAS FILED IN THE REGULAR MANNER IN PLAIN ENGLISH AT THE BREST POST OFFICE TO BE PASSED ON BY THE FRENCH CENSORS HERE

I WAS TOLD YESTERDAY [8th] THAT IN THE EXCITEMENT IN THE BREST POST OFFICE DUE TO THE LOCAL NEWS PAPERS BULLETIN ANNOUNCING THE ARMISTICE MY MESSAGE DID NOT REACH THE CENSORS UNTIL MORE THAN TWO HOURS AFTER THE MESSAGE HAD BEEN CABLED TO NEWYORK

I AM PERSONALLY CONVINCED THAT ADMIRAL WILSON WAS ASSURED THAT THE BULLETIN HE MADE PUBLIC WAS OFFICIAL AND THAT HE ACTED IN ABSOLUTE GOOD FAITH I HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ADMIRALS MISINFORMATION MY OWN PART WAS MERELY THAT OF A NEWSPAPERMAN AT THE END OF A CABLE RECIVING FROM A BASE COMMANDER WHAT I WAS ASSURED AND HAD EVERY REASON TO BELIEVE WAS AN OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT OF AN ARMISTICE I MADE USE OF THE SUPPOSEDLY OFFICIAL INFORMATION ONLY AFTER REQUESTING AND RECEIVING SPECIAL PERMISSION TO DO SO”

[11-12/17 in the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers.]

In the second telegram, which followed immediately afterwards, Howard responded to Hawkins’ request for an explanation for the press as to why his armistice cablegrams “RECEIVED EXPARIS” – that is, carried a Paris dateline.

Ferguson had already suggested what Howard should say on this particular point (the previous day in his relay of Hawkins’ messages): “SHOULD BE MADE CLEAR EVERYTHING FILED FROM BREST   UNFORTUNATE WAS DATED PARIS BUT WELL HAVE ACCEPT THIS MISTAKE EXPLAINING THIS DUE CABLES BEING SIGNED SIMMS OWING HIM HAVING FILING PRIVILEGES”.

[In 26/34.  In the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers]

Howard took the advice and told Hawkins:

“UNIPRESS DISPATCH WAS CABLED FROM BREST DIRECTLY NEW YORKWARD MESSAGE CONTAINED BOTH MY OWN SIMMS SIGNATURE LATTER BECAUSE COLLECT CABLE PRIVILEGE REPOSES SIMMS NAME STOP  UNDERSTAND DOUBLE SIGNATURE CAUSED CONFUSION NEWYORK CREATING ERRONEOUS IMPRESSION MATTER FILED PARIS STOP  SIMMS PARIS OFFICE UNINVOLVED STOP”

He then followed with an uncompromising, combative, statement holding a clear warning to UP’s competitors.  It represents Howard’s personal response to the uproar in American newspapers over his false armistice message:

“CABLES RECEIVED INDICATE INCLINATION INTERSTED PARTIES CAPITALIZ FOR PERSONAL ENDS INCIDENT WHEREOF UNIPRESS UNFORTUNATELY VICTIM STOP SERVE NOTICE EVERY ACTION UNIPRESS MATTER OFFICIAL RECORD OUR HANDS CLEAN [later amended to “ABSOLUTELY CLEAN”] ALL OFFICIALS DIRECTLY CONCERNED ABSOLUTELY ABSOLVED UNIPRESS RESPONSIBILITY WILL TAKE ANY STEPS NECESSARY PROTECT REPUTATION AT HOME UNQUOTE HOWARD”.

[13/17 in the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers.]

 

In the first telegram, then, some considerate words in support of Admiral Wilson and the position he found himself in as a result of releasing the peace news on the 7th; nothing about an aide helping Howard with the bulletin, about the armistice cablegram’s composition in La Dépêche, or about its overall appearance of having been sent from and already censored in Paris.  Just a note alleging that it was not seen by the local censors until two hours after it was transmitted.

In the second, a claim that people in New York – censors presumably – assumed the cablegram had been sent from Paris because it had his and Simms’ name on it (which still did not explain why it actually left Brest with a Paris dateline).  And a defiant, clear warning directed at UP’s detractors.

In supplementary cablegrams, he added for Hawkins’ information that “WHILE BREST DEMONSTRATION HEIGHT LEARNED FRENCH ARMY OFFICERS BREST QUESTIONED ACCURACY REPORT IMMEDIATELY SOUGHT WILSON FOUND HE HAD RECEIVED WORD HIS ORIGINAL BULLETIN ?” And that, unless advised otherwise, he proposed to leave for America on Monday [11th].  (He actually left on Sunday 10th)

[14-15/17 in the collection at 25 April 1957. Howard Papers.]

 

Hawkins issued a new press statement the same day to reinforce UP’s defence against its accusers.  It contained details from these Saturday telegrams and reiterated ones from his previous day’s press statement.  And concluded with Howard’s powerful warning to rivals: “I will take any steps necessary to protect our reputation at home”. III. 16

And it had the desired effect, for Hawkins reported jubilantly:  “YOUR FINE SATURDAY STATEMENT EFFECTUALLY ENDS ARGUMENT … OUR ENEMIES … NOW REALISE THEY SQUAWKED OVERQUICKLY… INCIDENT ONLY SERVE CEMENT REAL FRIENDS CLOSER REVEAL HYPOCRITES ALTOGETHER RESULT HEALTHY CLARIFYCATION ATMOSPHERE MORALE WHOLE ORGANISATION HIGHEST NEVER WAVERED ASIDE BUSINESS ….”  

[15/34, in the collection at 7 November 1918. Howard Papers. No date or times shown, may be Saturday 9 or Sunday 10 November.]

Probably later on in the day, Howard finally sent a telegram to Captain Stone, the American Military Censor at the Bourse in Paris, about his three 7 November armistice cablegrams, which Fred Ferguson had twice prompted him to do.  He started with a copy of Admiral Wilson’s 8 November statement, then presented the following information:

“I FILED THREE MESSAGES FROM BREST FIRST A VERBATUM COPY OF ADMIRAL WILSONS BULLETIN STOP I DID NOT DATE THIS BREST AS I SUPPOSED CABLE WOULD CARRY BREST DATELINE WHEN DELIVERED SECOND DESCRIBED STREET SCENE IN BREST FOLLOWING PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT HERE THIRD WAS A CORRECTION STATING ADMIRAL BEEN INFORMED HIS NOTIFICATION WAS NOT OFFICIAL AND NOT CONFIRMED STOP UNIPRESS PARIS OFFICE FILED NOTHING STOP IF NEWYORK STORY CARRIED PARIS DATE LINE WAS DUE FACT CABLE COMPANY UNDATED MY MESSAGE BREST OR TO CONFUSION RESULTING FROM MY NECESSARILY SIGNING SIMMS NAME IN ADDITION”.

[9 November 1918. To Captain Stone. Howard Papers.]

The abrupt ending of the telegram, without Howard’s name to sign it off, suggests there may have been a following sheet which is missing from the collection.  If so, perhaps the information it contained explained why Simms’ name was ‘in addition’ to Howard’s – “BECAUSE COLLECT CABLE PRIVILEGE REPOSES SIMMS NAME”.

Shortly before he sent this to Captain Stone, Howard sent similar details to Ferguson in Paris, together with answers to queries Ferguson had raised earlier:

“WILL WIRE STONE IN FEW MINUTES YES I FILED THREE BULLETINS FROM HERE THE ARMISTICE FLASH THE FACT BREST PROBABLY FIRST CITY IN WORLD TO CELEBRATE  AND THE CORRECTION AFTER WILSON LEARNED THAT HE HAD BEEN MISINFORMED I SUPPOSED BREST DATE WOULD SHOW ON CABLE IN NEW YORK I DID NOT PUT BREST DATE ON FIRST FLASH BUT DID MENTION BREST IN OTHER TWO CABLES THIS PROBABLY ACCOUNTS FOR HAWKINS REFERENCE TO PARIS FLASH”

[Howard to Ferguson. 9 November. 10/17, in the collection at 25 April 1957. And 27/34, in the collection at 7 November 1918.]

Both telegrams are clear about the order in which Howard filed his three armistice cablegrams on 7 November.  But they do not explain (to Captain Stone or Ferguson) why the French censors in the Brest Post Office had allowed the first two armistice cablegrams to be cleared for transmission to the United States.

Perhaps towards the end of the day, Howard found time to type out his long 9 November letter to Phil Simms, containing his earliest account of what had happened in Brest.  No doubt understating the torment he must have experienced over his armistice cablegram, Howard told Simms:

“Personally I’m still a bit groggy from this jolt I received here”, and “fully conscious of what it has done to us in America”.  “Conservatively speaking” he reckoned “that thing” had probably caused United Press at least “a quarter of a million dollars worth of damage”.  But in spite of everything, he confessed that if “the same thing [happened] again today”, he would do exactly as he had done before – “there would be nothing for me or any other newspaper man to do except just what I did”.

[Letter to Phil Simms, 9 November 1918, p1. Howard Papers]

Sunday 10 November

Departure

Howard left for the United States on Sunday 10th November aboard the USS Great Northern, the fast troop-transport between Brest and the Port of New York.  Major Fred Cook had seen him on Friday in the La Dépêche building, “in touch with Paris by wire, endeavoring to straighten out the muss”, and saw him again on Sunday on board ship just before it departed, “utterly distressed” because of the armistice cablegram. I. Fred Cook Admiral Wilson, of course, met him again on Friday at Navy Headquarters.  Neither Hornblow nor Howard intimated whether they met again before Howard left Brest, though it seems unlikely they would not have done so.  Before he left, Ferguson telegraphed to wish Howard ‘bon voyage’ and assure him that although it had “BEEN SOME BATTLE HERE” United Press “WIN BY AMILE”.

[No date or time shown.  Perhaps Saturday 9 November.  16/34 in the collection at 7 November 1918.  Howard Papers.]

The following day, the ship’s radio picked up the official broadcast to “All Allied Men of War” announcing that an armistice with Germany had been signed and that hostilities should be “forthwith suspended”.  Howard kept a copy of it in his papers.  [Single item at 11 November 1918.]

He was back in America by 18 November, and on 20 November spoke at length to reporters about what had happened in Brest.  Much of what he told them is contained in the telegrams he sent and received on 8 and 9 November and in his 9 November letter to Phil Simms.  For instance, he stated that the armistice cablegram reached New York “unchallenged” because “all Brest, including operators and censors, accepted the news as official, and was celebrating at the time”.  And claimed that Admiral Wilson “sent his personal aid with me to assist me in filing the dispatch, as I do not speak French fluently”. III. 17 One detail – that the 7 November armistice news was announced at a luncheon in Paris attended by the American Consul-General and Admiral William Benson, US Chief of Naval Operations – came from the United Press office there.

Almost all the information he released on 20 November would be included in his 1936 memoir, augmented by such significant items as the deceptive appearance of the armistice cablegram, and the unambiguous assertion that Admiral Wilson and his aide Ensign Sellards assisted with its transmission from the Post Office.

 

In spite of Howard’s efforts to vindicate himself and silence detractors, his armistice cablegram remained “a huge embarrassment to UP and left a bitter taste in the mouths of those who had worked so hard to compete with, and often beat, A[ssociated] P[ress] during the war”. III. 18  According to some, it cast a shadow over Howard’s subsequent career and damaged the agency’s reputation for many years to come.  The authors of a history of United Press, for example, writing early in the present century, considered that adverse effects on the agency persisted for “the rest of the twentieth century”.  It was “never allowed to forget the goof” and “many newspaper editors, some who were not even born when Howard ended the war prematurely, would not print a United Press ‘beat’ but would wait for AP to confirm it”. III.19  Even as late as November 1951, Howard was publicly labelled as having been “responsible for” the 7 November 1918 armistice report – on this occasion by President Harry S. Truman, no less. III. 20

As far as its business operations were concerned, however, United Press “amazingly lost only one client” (the Vermont Burlington News) because of the cablegram, making Howard’s gloomy $250,000 “conservative” estimate of the probable False Armistice cost to the agency seem over-pessimistic, in the event. III. 18

ADDENDUM

HOWARD’S 7 NOVEMBER CABLEGRAMS TO HAWKINS, AND EVENING MEETING WITH ADMIRAL WILSON.

The historical evidence is clear:

On 7 November 1918, by his own contemporary account, Howard sent his armistice cablegram to United Press in New York City at 4:18 pm French time; at 6:30 pm, in a second cablegram, he reported that peace celebrations were taking place in Brest; and in a third, sent around 10:50 pm, he cancelled his armistice message because he had subsequently learnt from Admiral Wilson that the news was “unconfirmable”.  Admiral Wilson gave him this news sometime after 6:30 pm, when Howard left the Brasserie de la Marine to find him and ask him about reports that the German armistice had not yet been signed.

Bill Hawkins informed Howard at the time that his armistice cablegram reached the United Press office in New York City at midday, local time, on 7 November; that his 6:30 pm (second) cablegram, the “confirmatory Brest bulletin”, was received at 2:40 pm; but that nothing more from him arrived until the following day, Friday 8 November, when, at 11:30 am, Hawkins received the “unconfirmable” cablegram containing a “first reference” to Admiral Wilson.  No date or time is given for this cablegram in Hawkins’ message, but it is the third one Howard sent to him on the 7th which carries the “10:50 PM Thursday” detail.

Distorting the facts: Bill Hawkins.

Hawkins assumed that Roy Howard was in Paris on Thursday 7 November, since the two cablegrams he received from him that day both carried Paris datelines (added in the Brest Post Office).  In a press release that evening, he stated that a subsequent cablegram had been received from Howard “telling of a celebration of the signing of the armistice at Brest” and that UP regarded this “as confirmatory of the accuracy of the [armistice] message”.  [New York Times, 8 November 1918, p3] This, clearly, was a reference to Howard’s 6:30 pm, second, cablegram Hawkins reported receiving at 2:40 pm that day.

After that, Hawkins made no reference to the genuine second cablegram again.  It was removed from the record of Howard’s 7 November dispatches to New York City and replaced as his 6:30 pm cablegram by the ‘unconfirmable’ third one Howard sent around 10:50 pm to cancel the armistice news.  In short, the third 7 November cablegram became Howard’s second, according to United Press, and the genuine second cablegram and its message were suppressed.

On Friday 8 November, having finally accepted that the armistice news was not true, Hawkins announced that a cablegram had arrived from Howard “shortly before noon today” stating that Admiral Wilson had been told later on the 7th that the signing of the armistice was “unconfirmable”.  Meanwhile, Howard added, “Brest [was] riotously celebrating”.

This is the actual third cablegram Howard sent to Hawkins on 7 November at around 10:50 pm.  According to Hawkins it “did not show, in the form in which it was delivered, whether it was sent yesterday [7th], or how long it had been held up”.  But he thought it indicated “in every way” that “it was probably filed very quickly after the original [armistice] bulletin”.

Consequently, he concluded, “there was reason to believe that the message … that the news was unconfirmable was badly delayed in view of the fact that it was not received here until almost twenty-four hours after the original cablegram”. [My italics] And added that “the United Press today [8th] asked the Government to ascertain how long Howard’s message … [was] held up by the censors”.  [Endnote III.14, New York Times article cited, under subtitle ‘Hawkins Makes Explanation’.]

Hawkins’ statement, printed in the newspapers along with the other information he provided, is not very clearly set out and may have confused some readers.  But its purpose is obvious.  He sought to conceal Howard’s tardy withdrawal of his armistice news on 7 November, and excuse UP’s embarrassingly long-postponed acknowledgment that the news was untrue, by blaming American censors for holding up the ‘unconfirmable’ news UP would otherwise have printed early in the afternoon of 7 November.

By insinuating that Howard sent his ‘unconfirmable’ cablegram “very quickly” after he sent his armistice cablegram, which had arrived not long before noon on the 7th, Hawkins’ claim that it had been “badly delayed” provided him with some much-needed defence against the agency’s critics who were demanding its blood.  And to add weight to his claims, he asked authorities in Washington, DC, to investigate the matter.

Several days later, on Saturday 16 November, the weekly Fourth Estate newspaper carried what seem to be the results of such an investigation.  In a short item about “the famous United Press armistice message”, it reported that Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels “has admitted that the second U.P. message stating that the report of the signing could not be confirmed, was held up by the [navy] censors”.  Daniels had explained that because he was absent from Washington, DC, at the time, the “supplemental report when received was withheld pending his return”.

[The Fourth Estate, November 16, 1918, p2under ‘Armistice Blunder To Get Coat Of Oblivion’.]

The distortion that Howard’s third 7 November cablegram was his second bulletin to New York City that day was thus accepted and stated as such in print.  And the claim that its release for circulation had been delayed by the authorities in Washington, DC, thus apparently vindicated.

Restating Hawkins’ claims: Roy Howard.

After his return to the United States, Howard did not refer to Hawkins’ claims about a delayed delivery of his ‘unconfirmable’ cablegram, either in his 20 November press statement issued following his meeting with Navy Secretary Daniels or, it seems, in any public comments about events in Brest during the years before his 1936 memoir in Webb Miller’s book.  Here, however, he dealt with the matter at some length, and along the same lines Hawkins followed in his 8 November 1918 press statement.

Across nearly three pages, Howard also claimed that his “unconfirmable” cablegram was the second one he sent from Brest to New York City on 7 November 1918, that US navy censors deliberately delayed its release until the following day, and that the Navy Department thereby prevented United Press cancelling the armistice news not long after it had been released in America.

The evidence and explanations he offered to substantiate the claims included:

  • An alleged 8 November anonymous telephone call to Hawkins (who recognised the caller’s voice as that of a former journalist then serving in Navy Censorship) warning him that a “correcting dispatch” had arrived from Howard “within two hours after [the] first dispatch had cleared” but was being held back by the Navy Department.
  • A reference to the 8 November 1918 reports (favourable to Howard and UP) which Ambassador Sharp and Special Representative House sent to the State Department about the false armistice news, and to the 7 November armistice message Military Attaché Major Warburton sent to the War Department. (Published by the State Department in 1933.)
  • An outline of attempts in April 1914 by the State and Navy Departments to discredit accurate United Press reports (ahead of those of the US government and any other press agency) about the taking of Veracruz by American forces that led to a six-month US occupation of the Mexican port and city.
  • And claims that President Wilson intervened to have the “correction” released after the UP office in Washington, DC, told him it was being held back.

[Howard 1936, pp 85-89]

Of course, it may well be that the Navy Department did block the delivery of Howard’s third November 7 cablegram to the New York City office – his “10:50 pm unconfirmable” one.  For if, as Hawkins originally told Howard, it did not actually reach him until 11:30 am local time on the 8th, that means it was in transit between 10:50 pm French time/5:50 pm New York time on the 7th, and 4:30 pm French time/11:30 am New York time on the 8th: just over seventeen hours in total.  The Howard cablegram Navy Secretary Daniels admitted, in November 1918, that his censors held up was most likely to have been this one.

(In the second volume of his memoirs, published in 1946, Josephus Daniels gave a condensed verbatim version of Howard’s 1936 memoir of 7 November 1918 events in Brest, but he excluded Howard’s claims that the Navy Department had held up his second message.)

Regardless, however, of what Howard wrote in 1936 in reaffirmation of what Hawkins wrote in 1918, the “correcting message which, had it been released on its receipt early in the afternoon of November 7, would have set all United Press clients right on the facts” was not the “second message” he sent in the afternoon of  November 7.  For as he had told US Army Censor Captain Stone and the UP Paris office at the time, his ‘unconfirmable’ message was the third one – the last one – he sent that day.

Howard’s evening meeting with Admiral Wilson

Howard’s 1936 re-arranged details relating to his 7 November 1918 evening meeting with Admiral Wilson are his personal contribution to the Hawkins version of the armistice cablegrams.

The historical details appear to be that Howard (accompanied by Hornblow) left the Brasserie de la Marine, having learnt that the armistice news was false, and went in search of Admiral Wilson and any recent information he might have about what was happening.  They eventually located him at the French Admiral’s house, where he was having dinner, and heard from him that the armistice news was unconfirmable.  Howard then went to La Dépêche and sent his ‘unconfirmable’ cablegram to United Press in New York City.

In his memoir, however, Howard claimed that Admiral Wilson sent the news to him in the Brasserie de la Marine (contradicting what Hornblow stated in ‘Amazing Armistice’), upon which he immediately left the restaurant and went straight to La Dépêche to send his ‘unconfirmable’ cablegram “approximately two hours after the first one”.

By so re-arranging these details, Howard could ignore the fact that he and Hornblow went to find the Admiral on leaving the restaurant, which in turn allowed him to claim that he went directly to La Dépêche from the restaurant and sent the Admiral’s ‘unconfirmed’ news, as his second cablegram, around 6:30 pm, rather than much later after he had found Wilson and obtained the news from him in person.  And he was thereby able to endorse what Hawkins had claimed on 8 November 1918:

“Had it been delivered with the same dispatch as the first, the correction would have been in the United Press office in New York some time after one p.m.” and “would have enabled the United Press to correct the original error within two hours.  [But it] was not delivered … until shortly before noon on the following day, Friday November 8”.  [Howard 1936, p86]  

© James Smith  (August 2019)  (Additional material, May 2020. Re-structured in two parts, November 2021.)

 

ENDNOTES to Parts One and Two

I. Main Sources

Roy Howard:

  • ‘Premature Armistice – Roy W. Howard Speaking’, presented as Chapter IV in Webb Miller’s, I Found No Peace. The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent. (The Book Club Special Edition, Camelot Press, London, 1937, is used in this article.)

Howard kept a copy of the chapter from the 1936 Simon and Shuster first edition of Miller’s book: images 1-21 at 6 January 1936 in his archive.  There are, though, no letters or other documents relating to it.

A German edition of Miller’s book was published in 1938: Ich fand keinen Frieden. (Rowohlt Berlin.)

  • Roy Howard Papers(1892-1964). MSA 1, The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana.  Available online.

Telegrams sent by and to Howard while he was in Brest are in different parts of the archive.  The first collection, of 34 items, is under CONTENTS, at 7 November 1918:  Armistice documentation.  Next, three separate items, wrongly described as ‘letters’, are at 8 November 1918: To Unipress. From: Roy W. Howard (2 items); and (1 item) at 9 November 1918:  To Captain Stone.  Another collection, of 17 items, is at 25 April 1957: To: Naoma Lowensohn. From: Marshall Coles.  Armistice.

Unfortunately, many of the telegrams have been cropped so that only their messages are left, meaning that essential ‘dates and times’ and other information on the cropped forms has been lost.  Some of the telegrams are mixed up between the two main collections, from which others may have been excluded when they were originally put together.

Roy Howard’s Diaries are not in the Media School Archive, and so have not been consulted for this article.  They are with other family papers still held privately and separately from the Media School Archive.

Another archive of Howard’s papers is in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division.  In the ‘Finding Aid’ to it, under Miscellany, 1918-1966, is listed ‘Box 340, World War 1 “Armistice” incident’.  The items in the box, mostly newspaper clippings of reviews of Howard’s chapter in Webb Miller’s book, add nothing to the information provided by the Media School Archive papers.  

Arthur Hornblow Jr:

  • ‘The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report’. Published originally in The Century Magazine, November 1921, pp90-99.  Available online.

‘Amazing Armistice’ was selected for inclusion in a collection of narrative writing, compiled by J.W. Cunliffe and G.R. Lomer with the title Writing of Today: Models of Journalistic Prose. It is in Part B. Narrative Articles, pp. 67-73.  (Third Edition. New York, 1923.) Available online. 

Reader’s Digest magazine published a condensed version in its November 1936 issue, the same year Howard’s memoir appeared in Miller’s book.

  • ‘Fake Armistice’, June 1921.

‘Fake Armistice’ is not available in the Hornblow or the Howard archive, but Admiral Wilson kept his copy of it in his ‘False Armistice’ folder.  Extracts given in this article are from the Admiral’s copy.

Roy Howard reasoned 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’”.  He suggested that ‘false’ should be used instead of ‘fake’, but Hornblow settled on The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report as his publication title.  Howard’s memoir, published many years later, appeared with the title ‘Premature Armistice’.  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.

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

Admiral Henry B. Wilson:

  • Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060.

Fred Cook:

  • Articles: ‘Real “False Armistice” Story Is Now Told By Eyewitness’. The Evening Star, (Washington, DC,) Wednesday, November 11, 1925, p4; and ‘False Armistice Day Report Vividly Recalled’. The Evening Star, Tuesday, November 11, 1924, p5II. Biographical Information

For background details about Roy Howard, Arthur Hornblow, Fred Cook, Admiral Henry Wilson and John Sellards, see Biographical Details on this website. 

III. References to sources; and other explanatory details

  1. See the articles on this website about a) the Spa-Senlis wireless messages; b) the American Army G-2’s false armistice findings; c) false armistice cablegrams from France; the spread of the armistice news in d) France and e) Britain. And Stanley Weintraub, A Stillness Heard Round The World (1985) for an account of the spread of the news in the United States.
  2. Accompanied by Peg and UP war correspondent Fred Ferguson, Howard reached Montparnasse station just in time for the 9:00 pm train and a twelve-hour journey to the westernmost region of France. He did not mention his wife or Ferguson anywhere else in his account, and clearly intimated that he travelled alone to Brest (“with the hastiest of farewells I … was off … to Brest”, p77.)  Information in cablegrams Howard sent and received while in Brest indicate that both his wife and Ferguson remained in Paris.  Howard was planning to return to Paris in the very near future.

Emmet Crozier wrote that Peg travelled to Brest with her husband: American Reporters on the Western Front, 1914-1918. Chapter XXIII, ‘Too Soon the Good News’, pp259, 260. (New York. 1959.)

Patricia Beard does not mention Peg’s presence in Paris, but states that Ferguson travelled with Howard to Brest, arriving there at 10:00 am on 7 November: Patricia Beard, Newsmaker Roy W. Howard. The Mastermind Behind the Scripps-Howard News Empire.  Chapter 10, ‘The Worst Day: “The False Armistice,” November 7, 1918’, pp70, 71, 72. (Lyons Press. Connecticut. 2016.)

     3a. The New York Times, 21 November 1918,under ‘Howard Excuses False Peace Report’. Available through NYTimes.com ‘Free to Read Articles 1918’ website.

     3b. Editor & Publisher for November 23, 1918, p18.  Available from Internet Archive.

  1. See: Post Office Engineering Department, Technical Pamphlets for Workmen, ‘Hughes Type-Printing Telegraph’ pp5-6 and illustrations pp7-8. (1919) Available online. Also, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Printing Telegraph.  Videos of working examples of the machines can be watched on the (British) Science Museum website.
  2. “P.Q.” = a “nickname” denoting “all French companies operating trans-Atlantic cables”, after the initials of Augustin Pouyer-Quertier, founder of the Compagnie Française du Télégraphe de Paris à New York.  See: René Salvador, Underwater Cables in the Brest HarborA Short History of French Trans-Atlantic Telegraph Cables from the French Viewpoint. Available online.
  3. See ‘Three False Armistice Cablegrams from France’ on this website for more details.
  4. 1/34, in the collection at 7 November 1918.  Howard Papers. The serrated edge of the note suggests that it was torn, across a strip of serrated metal, from a roll or pad of paper. 
  5. Apart from a few short references to Fred Ferguson and W. W. Hawkins in the indexes of some books outlining the history of United Press, detailed information about them and their careers with the agency seems not to be available. A publication accessible online, called United Press International Centennial Anniversary, 1907-2007,under ‘Unipressers and UPI Staff’, contains some biographical items about other employees over the years, but Ferguson and Hawkins are not among those remembered.
  6. Howard went on to explain to Hornblow that he had “always believed” there was a hidden reason the armistice denial message to Wilson “was not a flat statement that the previous announcement was erroneous, but was a statement that it was ‘premature’”. See Roy Howard’s Search for Information about the False Armistice on this website.
  7. Maurice Laureau, ‘Réjouissances publiques à Brest suite à l’annonce de l’Armistice : minute n2729 du 8 novembre 1918.  Service historique de la défense, Fonds Maurice Laureau, Brest 12 S 202.  Unfortunately, the report is incomplete: only the first two pages were available when this article was written.

The Colonel’s words about the armistice news are : « La nouvelle annoncée était controuvée de source officielle française. » 

  1. Brown Alumni Monthly, March 1952,‘The False Armistice’ p17. Available online.
  2. The telephone-call statement is reported in the Evening Star (Washington D.C.), 8 November 1918, under ‘”War Over Story” Precedes Events’, front page.  The earlier statement is based on extracts from theNew York Times, November 8, 1918, p3.  (May be accessed through the NYTimes.com ‘Free to Read Articles 1918’ website.)  And from the Greeneville Daily Sun, November 8, 1918, p2.  Available online through Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers portal.
  3. The Fourth Estate, November 9, 1918, p7.  Available online through the Hathi Trust Digital Library.
  4. The New York Times, November 9, 1918, under ‘United Press Admits Peace Report Is False’. Available through NYTimes.com Free to Read Articles 1918 website. And the Ardmore (Oklahoma) DailyArdmoreite, 22 November 1918, p3 under ‘United Press is Making Admiral Wilson the Goat’. Available online through Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers portal.
  5. 15. For an outline of reactions in the American press, see Dale E. Zacher, The Scripps Newspapers Go To War, 1914- Chapter 7, under ‘Such an Almighty Fluke’, pp206-208. (USA. 2008) The newspaper extract is from the Lancaster News (South Carolina), 8 November 1918, front page: “PEACE REPORT WAS HOAX”; “Associated Press Dispatches In This Morning’s Papers Credit United Press With Greatest Hoax Of Recent Years”. Available online through Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers portal.
  6. As featured in the (Kansas) Topeka Daily State Journal, 9 November 1918, p7; the (Oregon) Daily Capital Journal November 9, 1918, p7; and the (Tennessee) Columbia HeraldFriday, November 15, 1918, p3. Available online through Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers portal.
  7. As featured in theNew York Times, 21 November 1918,under ‘Howard Excuses False Peace Report’. Available through NYTimes.com ‘Free to Read Articles 1918’website.  And in the (Utah) Ogden Standard20 November 1918, p6; and the (South Dakota) Saturday News, 21 November 1918, p1. Available online through Library of Congress, Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapersportal.
  8. Dale E. Zacher, The Scripps Newspapers Go To War, 1914-18. Chapter 7, under ‘The False Armistice’, p208. (USA. 2008)
  9. Richard M. Harnett and Billy G. Ferguson, UNIPRESS. United Press International. Covering the 20thCentury, Chapter 7, ‘World War Sells News’, p58. (USA. 2003)
  10. Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Harry S. Truman, January 1 to December 31, 1951,‘The President’s News Conference at Key West, November 29, 1951’, p637. (US Government Printing Office, Washington, 1965.)
  11. See ‘False Armistice Conspiracy Theories’ on this website.
  12. See TheFalse Armistice in Francearticle on this website, in the section under ‘Afterwards’.
  13. 23. ‘To file’ is a journalistic term meaning “to send a story to the office usually by wire [telegraph] or telephone”. The Wall Street Journal. ‘Glossary of Terms: Journalism’. Available online.
  14. Letter to Fred Cook, 28 November 1925, p3. Roy Howard Papers.
  15. See ‘Admiral Wilson and Roy Howard’s Armistice Cablegram’ on this website.
  16. Before July 1918, President Wilson Square was known as Place du Champ de Bataille (Battlefield Square). It is defined by four streets (rues): Émile Zola, Jean Macé, d’Aiguillon, and Castle (Château).  In November 1918, US Navy Headquarters occupied the premises of the Crédit Lyonnais Bank at 35-37 Émile Zola Street, on what may be called the upper side of the square.  The La Dépêche buildings, with their dome and clock, were at 25 Jean Macé Street, on the right-hand side of the square.  The Post and Telegraph building (originally the Lamarque Hotel) was on the lower side of the square at 32 Castle Street, close to the corner where Castle Street met d’Aiguillon Street on the left-hand side of the square.  The Brasserie de la Marine restaurant was at the corner of d’Aiguillon Street and Émile Zola Street.

    The Continental Hotel, where Howard stayed in Brest, like the US Navy Headquarters, was on Émile Zola Street but farther along to the north-east where it overlooked the La Tour d’Auvergne Square.

    For maps/drawings showing the location of President Wilson Square, and studies of the bandstand, go to http://www.wiki-brest.net/index.php/Kiosque-à-musique-Brest

    For postcards/images showing:

    * the La Dépêche buildings overlooking the bandstand in the square, go to ‘Diverses cartes postales sur Brest’ at brest – cartes postales anciennes – bretagneweb.com

    * the US Navy Headquarters/Crédit Lyonnais Building, search for ‘NH 121623 Street Scene in France’

    * La Brasserie de la Marine (prior to demolition after WW2 damage), go to ‘Archives municipales de Brest – Brest métropole’, click ‘recherche par mots clés’ (middle icon), type ‘brasserie de la marine’ in ‘les notices contenant’ and click ‘lancer’.

    For postcards/images showing the Continental Hotel and Place de la Tour d’Auvergne, go to 1 – Brest – Cartes postales anciennes diverses.