The False Armistice began in France on 7 November 1918 when misinformation that a German armistice had been signed that same day was released in Paris and spread to many other parts of the country. From France, the news crossed the Channel to Britain and the Atlantic to the United States and Canada; from here it travelled across the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand, and reached (at least) Mexico City, Havana, and Buenos Aires in Latin America. Believing the news, masses of people in all these places celebrated the end of the Great War – four days prematurely.
This article presents an overview of the False Armistice in France. It is based on what a number of newspapers said about it at the time, on the G-2 (SOS) American Army Intelligence Report about it, and on the recollections of people who recorded their experiences of it.
False Armistice News in Paris
“On 7 November, unrestrained joy erupted on the boulevards when the (false) news was announced that the armistice had been concluded.”1
Starting early in the morning of Thursday 7 November, Paris newspapers began reporting the previous day’s German press announcement that a delegation had left Berlin for the West to conclude an armistice and open peace talks with the Allies. The French news agency Havas released the information, quoting the official Berlin announcement of the delegation’s departure from bulletins printed in neutral Switzerland and the Netherlands. Some Paris papers carried the story in 5:00 am issues, others in later morning, afternoon and evening editions.2
Commenting on the German bulletins, the Petit Parisien told its readers that the envoys “will no doubt arrive at their destination this morning”, while La Presse calculated (inaccurately) that, although there was no official information, the envoys had probably completed the journey from Berlin and were already in France.3 From Paris the news about the German delegation went out to other parts of France, where local newspapers published it throughout the day.
It was against this background of German delegation reports raising hopes that the war would be ending soon that news was suddenly released – not long before midday – of the signing of an armistice with Germany. But it did not come through the newspapers. Initially, it was released and circulated from French and American official sources, particularly at the War Ministry and the American Embassy.
Officials at the War Ministry reportedly affirmed the armistice news during much of the day.4 People crowded around its building in Rue Saint-Dominique hoping to hear details “of the German application, under a flag of truce, for an armistice”.6 And most expected the Government to announce the armistice in the afternoon session of the Chamber of Deputies.7
Having received the news from American Liaison Service officers, the American Embassy played a major part in its dissemination. The Consul-General, Alexander Thackara, announced it during a luncheon at the American Club of Paris; one of the guests there was Admiral W. S. Benson, Chief of US Naval Operations. Champagne was opened and celebrations followed the announcement, “on the authority of the Embassy”, that Germany had signed an armistice.34 The American Military Attaché cabled it to the War Department in Washington, DC, during the morning; and the Naval Attaché allegedly wired it to American Navy Headquarters in the French port of Brest during the afternoon (from where it reached the United States).4 It also reached the American Embassy in London during the afternoon.9
“Most of the officials in Paris and practically every non-official person here believed yesterday that the armistice had been signed” Edward House, President Wilson’s ‘special representative’ in Paris, reported to US Secretary of State Robert Lansing the following day. Lansing had asked House how the United Press news agency had been able to send the false armistice news to America. House told him Admiral Wilson at American Navy HQ in Brest had given the Naval Attaché’s news to Roy Howard of United Press and “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.” But “the fault if any” House suggested “lies with [the Naval Attaché] or the French official who started the rumor.”9
Among those who were in Paris on 7 November:
Will Irwin, an American war correspondent, recalled that the Paris Embassy told a British nurse he knew that “the armistice is signed (and) goes into effect at three o’clock this afternoon.” “It’s official” she assured him, “they’re out of their heads with joy!” Irwin passed the news on to people he met in the street, in the Café de la Paix, at Ciro’s and in Harry’s New York Bar, which he visited in turn and where his announcements immediately provoked loud celebrations.8
John P. Street, an American serviceman, wrote home that “There was an air of excitement . . . with cries of ‘Finie la guerre’ or ‘La Guerre est finie’, and news girls were surrounded by crowds eager to buy the one page journals, where in bold letters appeared the welcome news . . . that the Armistice was un fait accompli. This was the day when you good people at home had your premature celebration.“ 35
In a letter to her husband in London, Alice Snyder, a nurse at the American Hospital of Paris, described what happened when they heard the news :
“This afternoon, at the hospital, news was brought that the armistice had been signed this morning at 10 A.M. and that fighting had ceased at 2 P.M. You may imagine the excitement and rejoicing among patients and personnel. Colonel Hutchinson had the tidings posted in his office; Mrs. Munroe called up the Ministry of War and was told (so it was said) the same thing. Nurses were talking of how soon they would be going home; the blessés [wounded] beamed at the thought of returning to the U.S.A.” Elmer Roberts, the Paris chief of the (American) Associated Press (AP) news agency, went to the hospital around 5:00 pm to meet his wife, Claire, who was working there. He had the unenviable task of announcing that the armistice news was “premature, to say the least.” 5 a)
(On the arrival of the armistice news in the United States, the AP News Department in New York cabled Roberts the same day asking for information about what was happening in Paris that would help them deal with “a great many inquiries from our members” and “show the true state of affairs”. Roberts affirmed that the armistice news was “without foundation”, but to the department’s annoyance his reply otherwise “contained nothing which [they] could publish”. A few days later, he reported that he had been told “some one in the French War Office rung up the American Embassy and told them that the armistice had been signed and that hostilities would cease at two that afternoon”. 5 b)
Paris “bubbled” with emotion as the misinformation spread around the city.10 And the arrival later in the day of other exhilarating, but inaccurate, reports that the Americans had liberated the town of Sedan (close to the border with Belgium in the Ardennes where Emperor Napoleon III surrendered to the Germans in 1870) boosted the “patriotic gaiety, so long contained.” Well into the evening, in spite of rain, people walked in “large processions” in some parts of the city singing the ‘Marseillaise’ and the ‘Sambre et Meuse’.11 a)
(Surprisingly, and prompting the obvious question – ‘where was he at the time?’ – the Paris correspondent of the London Times newspaper sent the following report on 7 November:
“Paris remains austerely calm, and there would appear to exist a national conspiracy to reserve all manifestations of joy for the final day when the Armies march back up the Avenue de la Grand[e] Armée and through the Arc de Triomphe. The streets are silent, except for the cries of the newspaper hawkers, who, perhaps are justified in moments such as these in ignoring the police regulations as to street noises. Even the students are dumb. But everywhere there is deep and heartfelt joy, which at the present is finding expression only in tributes of admiration to the great architect of French victory, M. Clemenceau.”)11 b)
Although some one-sheet armistice ‘extras’ seem to have been printed and appeared on the streets, the papers were not allowed to publish anything about the news. The press censors rejected all demands various editors made for permission to report what was going on in the city and dedicate their late afternoon and evening editions to the news that the war was finally over.
For instance, seizing on the American Consul-General’s luncheon announcement, the editor of L’Heure called the censors at the Press Bureau not long after 1:30 pm to inform them that, at a meeting attended by numerous journalists, a “very high-up Allied official” had just announced that the German armistice had been signed. The censor told him not to print this. Separately, Le Petit Parisien’s editor, seemingly mistaking the Consul-General for the American Ambassador, William G. Sharp, insisted that the papers must be allowed to publish the news as no less a person than Mr Sharp had officially announced it. By 3:00 pm, all the afternoon papers had called, wanting permission to print the news everyone in Paris was talking about.
The censors checked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and the President’s Office. All refuted the armistice news. Reassured, the Press Bureau warned the editors that the American Ambassador was mistaken, that the rumours were false, and that it was forbidden to print anything about an armistice having been signed or about the German delegates having arrived in France (which they had not yet done). Regional censors were instructed by telephone to enforce the same guidelines.12
Without the newspapers’ help, the armistice news therefore spread mostly by word-of-mouth and by private and official telephones and telegraphs, many beyond the censors’ control. And it moved, it seems, “at a remarkable rate”.4
From Paris to other parts of France
During the morning of 7 November, La Dépêche de Brest, the local newspaper for the port city of Brest (on the tip of Brittany in north-western France) printed the German bulletin (sent from Paris) about an armistice delegation travelling to the Western Front. The news, it commented, removed “all possible doubt that the Germans had asked for an armistice.”14 Groups of “excited” people gathered outside the newspaper building, which overlooked President Wilson Square, “waiting eagerly around for more [information]”.15 The news they wanted to hear – that the war was over – arrived in the afternoon at the nearby American Navy Headquarters overlooking the same square.
In a telegram from (ostensibly) Captain R. H. Jackson, the American Naval Attaché in Paris, the news was sent to Admiral Henry B. Wilson, the commander of American naval forces in France. It stated that the Allies and Germany had signed an armistice at “eleven this morning”, that “hostilities ceased [at] two this afternoon”, and that Sedan had been “taken this morning” by American forces. Shortly after 4:00 pm, the Admiral ordered the news to be announced in the town.13 Almost immediately, it “set a flame that . . . spread like a prairie fire from one end of Brest to the other.” Peace celebrations broke out everywhere as people “pressed” into the streets, “laughing, screaming, sobbing, singing” and “opening up into a mad rejoicing”.15
American sailor Lawrence G. Gilliam’s ship put into Brest for supplies on 6 November. In a long letter home, he described what happened the following day:
“ [I]t was reported unofficially that the Americans had taken Sedan, and it was rumored that the Germans were ready to stop fighting . . . . Immediately the celebration began. Sirens and whistles on all ships blew continuously for a half-hour, powerful searchlights from destroyers and other ships in the harbor swept the sky in all directions, and different colored rockets, ordinarily used for signaling purposes at sea, went up in large numbers . . . . Ashore the people went crazy; French and American soldiers and sailors paraded the streets, yelled, sang, held meetings and reunions – some dry, some wet, but all happy . . . . Later in the evening it was rumored that the announcement had been a mistake, but this rumor did not stop the celebration, which the French people had been saving for four years and which now continued all night. In the morning the newspapers declared the report to be false and the population of Brest sobered to some extent, although everyone knew, as the French said, ‘La guerre est fini’.“ 36
La Dépêche reported how sirens on American ships and church bells in the town were still sounding at 7 o’clock in the evening, and how “a thousand” floodlights lit up the harbour while rockets burst overhead into the night.16 The commandant of a British army line-of-communication base there, which appears not to have been affected by the news, noted in his war diary for Thursday 7 November, without any elaboration, that the town and ships in the harbour were “illuminated” following a false report received by the Americans that an armistice had been signed.17
Vice Admiral Frederic Moreau, the Maritime Prefect for the Brest Region, had received information on 7 November that the news was false and, “a bit upset by the turn of events”, complained to Admiral Wilson when the latter went to see him the next day. Wilson recorded what the Vice Admiral told him:
“Crowds had kept marching up and down the rue de Siam – the main street of Brest and the street on which is situated the Prefecture, his residence and office – and kept him awake most of the night. Then again the workers on war material in the Arsenal had wanted to knock off work now that the war was over. He had told them to keep at work; that the war was not over. They had replied ‘Admiral Wilson says the war is over’. The saloon and restaurant men demanded an extension of the usual closing time of nine o’clock because the war was over. He had declined to grant an extension saying ‘the war is still on’. Then they had also replied ‘Admiral Wilson says the war is over’. I laughed and gradually he thawed out and laughed heartily with me.”38
Having ordered its announcement in the town, Admiral Wilson handed a copy of the peace message to Roy Howard, the United Press news agency president, who was in Brest waiting for a ship to the United States. Claiming the Admiral gave him permission to do so, Howard had the message sent from Brest to the United Press office in New York City. In little more than half an hour, the false armistice news was on its way to the American papers, with an immediate and explosive impact across the whole country.13
Elsewhere on the Brittany peninsula, the news spread to the port of Lorient to the south-east of Brest.16 Also to Morlaix and Saint-Brieuc to the north-east, Quimper and Pontivy to the south-east, and La Guerche-de-Bretagne to the south-east of Rennes, the regional capital.39 In Rennes itself, by 3:30 pm all the streets were so densely packed with people that the trams virtually came to a halt. Crowds pressed inside and outside the building of the L’Ouest-Éclair seeking verification of the news, which the newspaper was unable to obtain. Despite this, people behaved patiently and with self-control, according to the paper, which urged them to remain calm and not be taken in by rumours.22
In the words of La Dépêche, the armistice news generated “indescribable joy and wild enthusiasm” as far away as Tours and Bordeaux, and indeed “in all the towns where there were American headquarters”.16 Lieutenant Arthur Hornblow, the American Army Intelligence Officer in Brest, named St Nazaire, Marseilles, Nice, “and other French points” as having received the news.18 While the G-2 (SOS) Report noted that Le Mans heard it from French sources, and Chartres also celebrated.4
North-east of Rennes, in the Argentan area of Normandy, rumours started spreading that the armistice had been signed just as the weekly Journal de l’Orne was going to press. The paper reported how local people set about bringing out flags and decorating the streets without waiting for confirmation.23
Elizabeth Van der Veer was in Bordeaux on 7 November. She described what happened in a letter to her mother the following day:
“I was still in the cafeteria one of the servants came rushing in with a paper crying ‘L’Armistice est signé – Finis – la guerre!’ All the soldiers in the line made as much noise as they could with their mouths but how they did long for a penny whistle or something that would squeal . . . . The whole big square was jammed, packed and jammed with all Bordeaux . . . . An impromptu parade of French soldiers, civilians and girls, all adorned with flags and cocadex [cockades] would attract a following and press a slow way through the crowd singing the Marsaillaise joyously . . . . Gay soldiers inspired by vin blanc would kiss the French girls who looked as if they’d like it, or the girls would find some Americans and clutch them crying ‘Vive l’Amérique’.” 37
Around the region of Montpellier, on the Mediterranean coast to the west of Marseilles, the news spread throughout the afternoon. Le Petit Méridional wrote about crowds filling the streets and the ‘place de la Comédie’ and gathering outside its office building and the Prefecture hoping for confirmation of the armistice. In the port of Sète, to the south-west, “everybody” was in the streets, and all the church bells were rung.
The newspaper commented, sarcastically, that among the Montpellier crowds there were many “well-informed” people. Some confidently claimed that the armistice had been signed in Sedan at 7 o’clock that morning, some that it was signed in Nancy at 2:00 pm, while others maintained they had seen its official announcement on a poster displayed outside the Prefecture. The paper explained to readers that it ignored the peace rumours in its afternoon edition that day in compliance with instructions from the censors.24
As well as the towns, the news reached a large number of combat troops and support facilities at or near the Front. Among them were American units along the Lys-Scheldt Canal and, much farther south, in the Argonne Forest.
South of St Quentin, Guise and La Capelle, the news travelled to the ‘309th Infantry Regiment of the 78th Division’ through “unexpected sounds of firing, and shouts that the war was over” from soldiers in the vicinity. To celebrate, they fired off a few signal rockets and their entire stock of signal grenades.19
Another American “outfit” – the ‘Ninth Field Signal Battalion of the Fifth (Red Diamond) Division’ – was in the small Argonne village of Cunel at the time. Its radio operator recalled some years later how the armistice news broke there during “early evening of November 7, 1918” [about 6:00pm it seems]. Someone suddenly gave the order “Lights!”, and immediately vehicles in the vicinity “began to streak white beams down shell-smashed roads . . . . We could hardly believe our eyes.” The reason for this “daring signal to the enemy” was assumed to be that “the armistice had come!” And “frenzy swept over Cunel. Soldiers on all sides shouted: ‘The war’s over!’ Rifle and pistols were fired into the air to herald the end.”20
In the St Quentin area, some thirty-four miles (fifty-five kilometres) to the west of where the German armistice delegation would cross the lines late on 7 November, British troops at Bellenglise heard that an armistice was being arranged through Swiss intermediaries.19 And not far from here, news that the war was over suddenly arrived at a French ambulance station. A British nurse with the French Red Cross described what happened, in a letter to her father:
“Is the war really over? Yesterday afternoon some American ambulance drivers rushed into our house and told [us] that peace was signed at 2 o’clock! Shortly after everyone was rushing round telling everyone else the same news and people were in groups on the road, the hospital and everywhere discussing it. Towards evening the soldiers (especially the Americans) got more lively and the shouting and singing in the roads, the Popotes [canteens] and the Billets was most exuberant!” 21
When the false armistice news stopped spreading in France is not certain. But as late as 9:30 pm it reached British soldiers in a camp close to Cayeux-sur-Mer. As one of them later recalled:
“I returned to the camp . . . on November 5th, and found everyone in a state of tension, expecting the news of Germany’s surrender at any moment . . . . The premature outbreak of excitement on the evening of November 7th demonstrates the almost hysterical state we were in. It was half past nine . . . and nearly everyone in my hut was in bed . . . . Suddenly, through the pandemonium which always preceded ‘Lights Out’ could be heard the sound of distant cheering, apparently from the far side of the Camp . . . . Men gazed at each other with eager, questioning eyes . . . . [A]nd with a simultaneous movement, everybody huddled on their clothes and poured out on to the parade-ground.
On all sides, the other huts were disgorging their occupants and in a few minutes the huge open space was black with excited men: ‘Germany has surrendered!’ and the whole eight or ten thousand of us yelled ourselves hoarse. Backwards and forwards we swayed, arms linked, shouting, cheering and singing. The uproar was indescribable, and it never occurred to us to doubt the rumour. I remember thinking: ‘This is the happiest moment of my life. I must fix it in my memory for ever!’
Someone found a box of Verey lights and there was an impromptu firework display. ‘Lights out’ sounded on the bugle, but the power-house was seized and the dynamo attendants forcibly prevented from turning off the current. Presently, some of the wilder spirits began to get out of hand; a number of men raided the Guard-room and tried to release the defaulters in detention (who wisely refused to be released), and drenched the RSM in the contents of a fire-bucket. Then a small crowd broke camp and marched into Cayeux in a body; they returned during the small hours of the morning, still singing.
But, after the first excitement, the great majority of us began to wonder whether the celebrations were not after all a little premature, since no official confirmation of the news was forthcoming, and gradually we dispersed to our huts again. Next day, at dinner-time, the Camp Commandant visited the large mess-hut in which we took our meals, and addressed us. Without recriminations, he said that he sympathised with our feelings, but asked us not to repeat the performance. He pledged his word that as soon as he received official news of the Armistice, the ‘Fall in’ would be sounded and he would announce the fact on parade; then we should have all the opportunity for celebration we desired.”25
The news may have reached Cayeux from Rouen, to the south-west, where it had arrived at a British Labour Corps Depot “during dinner”.26
Among after-the-event comments a number of papers made about the 7 November armistice news, the Figaro urged Parisians to take it as a clear warning not to believe wild rumours. They must remain calm and wait patiently for victory, it advised. The Excelsior, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, admonished those who had not paused to think about the news before immediately believing it. Had they done so, the newspaper informed them, they would have realized the delegates could not possibly have reached their destination so soon after leaving Berlin.27
The Cri de Paris, a weekly satirical magazine, mocked the way people had reacted on 7 November. It expressed amazement at their credulity and at the confidence with which many had passed the false news on as a certainty – “I know it’s true. I heard the guns in Versailles announcing the good news.” The magazine ridiculed some of those in military and municipal authority not just for being gullible, but also for using the occasion to project themselves as being important and ‘in-the-know’ – “I assure you, the armistice was signed at 11 o’clock this morning . . . I have my sources.” (An army captain to a sceptical civilian on a tram).28
Perhaps alone among French newspapers, the Journal du Loiret of Orléans, the regional capital, published an item explaining how the false armistice news had arisen. The paper stated that a misinterpretation of the 7 November German Spa-Senlis telegram ordering a cease-fire to begin at 3 o’clock that afternoon was the probable source of the misinformation. It wrote:
“The temporary cease-fire, limited in scope, must have been mistaken for the armistice itself . . . . Some persons who heard the wireless message . . . hastily presented it to others as meaning that armistice talks had ended, whereas they had not even begun.”
The news had spread to Orléans, some distance south-west of Paris, by telephone on 7 November. The newspaper did not disclose where the call had come from, reveal who had subsequently given them the explanation about the German telegram, or say who the “persons” were who had apparently misinterpreted it.29
But it is most likely that the paper had obtained its information from an American contact, because the misinterpretation explanation is part of the report G-2 (SOS) in Paris quickly put together about the 7 November armistice news. The report, which was sent to SOS Headquarters in Tours, south-west of Orléans, is dated Saturday 9 November – the same day the Journal du Loiret offered the explanation to its readers.4
Part of La Dépêche de Brest‘s editorial about the false armistice news claimed that it had been received “in all the towns where there were American headquarters.” According to Colonel Maurice Laureau, Head of the French Mission to the American Army Base at Brest, General George Harries, the commanding officer of the American Army base in Brest, took offence at this. He considered that the comment implicated the American Army, along with the American Navy, in the release and spread of the peace rumours, and insisted that the misleading insinuation be rectified. The fact should made clear, he insisted, that “the American Army had been totally uninvolved in, and unconnected with, the dissemination of the false news.”30
General Harries (a newspaper reporter in an earlier career) was obviously determined to distance himself and the American Army from Admiral Wilson’s 7 November peace announcement.
According to Colonel Laureau again, Harries instructed his Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant Arthur Hornblow, to discuss the matter with the newspaper’s editor, Louis Coudurier. A meeting was arranged but what transpired there is not known – unfortunately, Laureau’s report on it is incomplete31. However, in its Tuesday 12 November edition, La Dépêche printed a letter to the editor from Admiral Wilson (with translation) in which Wilson outlined what had happened the previous Thursday.
The English version reads:
“United states naval forces in France
E-l-e-v-e-n-t-h November Nineteen hundred and Eighteen
My dear Mr Coudurier
Regarding the premature announcement of the armistice on Thursday last, I would like to say for your information that a telegram announcing the signature of the armistice came to me that afternoon from source which heretofore had proved most reliable.
It was given out by office to our Brest friends that they might share the good news. Later it was announced that the report was not correct.
Very sincerely yours,
Evidently, the Admiral had been persuaded to help resolve the complaint raised by General Harries. His letter, the newspaper commented, “happily closes the little incident that arose last Thursday, and increases – if this is possible – the respect and affection of the people of Brest for their great friend.”32
The letter was squeezed onto a page of the newspaper whose columns (and those of two other pages) were filled with details and stories about the real Armistice – its terms, its effects, its celebration – and the unfolding consequences and repercussions of the end of the war. Admiral Wilson’s letter, with its reminder about the False Armistice, seems out-of-place there. Events – and readers – had evidently swiftly moved on.
Indeed, in France, as in other Allied countries except the United States, public interest in the False Armistice seems to have rapidly evaporated. Afterwards, especially in official circles, it was perhaps too much of an embarrassment for it to be acknowledged and recalled as a feature of the triumphant final days of the war. (See Addendum immediately below)
Twenty years later, at least one journalist regarded it as having been an exclusively American phenomenon – “this American false armistice”. On the 1938 anniversary of the real Armistice, L’Impartial (a Swiss newspaper) printed an article by Jacques Geraud based on Roy Howard’s recently published account of his dispatch of the false news to the United States on 7 November 1918.
“The unforgettable day” the journalist remarked “is the historic 11 November 1918”. The Americans, however, “should commemorate the 7 November” since this was “the day they heard about, and celebrated, the Allies’ victory.”33
Addendum: Few False Armistice recollections by officials
When the false armistice news started spreading on 7 November, the French High Command blamed the Germans. French Deputy Chief of Staff Edmond Buat sent army commanders the following signal:
“It has happened that the enemy has spread the noise [rumour] that an armistice is signed in order to deceive us. There is nothing in it. Nobody will stop hostilities of any sort without [permission] from the C-in-C. The First Army has received very particular instructions.”
[“C-in-C. French Armies. To: Staffs PICARDIE CHAMPAGNE MIRECOURT CONDE LAHEYCOURT. GENERAL HEADQUARTERS, FRENCH ARMIES OF THE EAST, November 7. 1918.” [No time of day indicated.] This copy, “a contemporary translation”, is from United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919. Volume 10, Part 1, The Armistice Agreement and Related Documents. G-3, GHQ, AEF: Fldr. 1203: Telegram. Stuart Heintzelman. Brig. General U.S.A. Chief of Staff. Second Army. ‘Order Forbidding Cessation of Hostilities’.]
In his memoirs, published some years later, Marshal Foch gives the impression that he anticipated just such a move by the Germans. He recorded that he “warned all the armies against false rumours which the enemy might circulate prematurely regarding the conclusion of an armistice” and, at the same time, sent “special instructions” to General Debeney, the commander of the French First Army, to prepare to receive a German armistice delegation in a sector under his command.
From the immediate context of the passage, this seems to have been sometime during 4-6 November. Surprisingly, however, the Marshal said nothing in his memoirs about the 7 November false armistice reports themselves.
[The Memoirs of Marshal Foch, Book II, Chapter XIV, ‘The Armistice’, p465. New York, 1931. Translated by Col. T. Bentley Mott. And p289 in Maréchal Foch, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la guerre de 1914-1918. Tome Second. (Paris, 1931). Available online through BnF Gallica website.]
In the memoirs of American Ambassador W.G. Sharp, there is no mention of any false armistice events in the Paris Embassy, or anywhere else. Indeed, events during the first week of November 1918 are ignored altogether.
[Warrington Dawson (Ed), The War Memoirs of William Graves Sharp, American Ambassador to France 1914-1919. (1931).]
The British Ambassador in Paris, the 17th Earl of Derby, spent much of 7 November with various high-ranking individuals discussing matters relating to the anticipated armistice with Germany. But, like Ambassador Sharp, he excluded from his memoirs any references to the false armistice news. Nor, it seems, did he communicate with the Foreign Office in London about it.
[David Dutton (Ed.), Paris 1918. The War Diary of the 17th Earl of Derby. (Liverpool University Press. 2001)]
General Henri Mordacq on the other hand did acknowledge it in his recollections. In November 1918, Mordacq was French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau’s Head of the Military Cabinet (Clemenceau was Prime Minister and Minister of War). During the inter-war period, the General wrote two books about the German Armistice; both focus on events during 8-11 November, but they also contain (identical) short accounts of the false armistice news of 7 November.
He claimed that the American Embassy in Paris telephoned him a number of times hoping to verify the armistice news. “I remember very well” he recalled, that during the evening of 7 November, I was bombarded with telephone calls from the American Embassy asking whether the armistice had been signed. I of course replied that it had not, adding that the German delegates had not yet reached our lines.”
The information about the Embassy’s telephone calls seems to be his only personal contribution to the false armistice item in his books. Unfortunately, he did not specify where he was when he took the calls (at the War Ministry presumably); shed any light on what else may have occurred that day inside the Ministry in relation to the armistice rumours; or offer details about official inquiries he mentioned that the Americans carried out into the false news. Nor is there any hint that the French may have carried out inquiries of their own or that the General had information from any French sources.
Indeed, judging solely from the account in his books, it would seem that most of Mordacq’s details came from the Amazing Armistice article Arthur Hornblow had written in 1921 – eight years before the General’s first Armistice book appeared in France in 1929 (the second came out in 1937).15
[Général Henri Mordacq, La Vérité sur l ‘Armistice. Chapitre III, ‘Les journées des 10 et 11 novembre’, pp46-48. Editions Jules Tallandier. (Paris. 1929.) And, L’ARMISTICE DU 11 NOVEMBRE 1918. RÉCIT D’UN TÉMOIN. ‘Les fausses nouvelles’, pp107-109.Librairie Plon. (Paris. 1937.) Extracts translated for this article by the writer.]
© James Smith (May 2018) (Reviewed, and with additional text, May 2020; December 2021; November 2022).
French Newspaper Sources
Many of the newspapers cited are accessible on the BnF Gallica website. For those that are not, other website details are provided.
The information quoted in English from the French sources cited has been translated for this article by the writer.
1. Jean-Jacques Becker, ‘Les Français à l’heure de l’armistice’, in Historiens & Géographes No321, Décembre 1988, p288.
2. For example, Le Petit Journal, 7 Novembre 1918, « 5 heures du matin. Edition de Paris », front page coverage ; Le Gaulois7 Novembre 1918, « (5 h. du matin) », front page ; and Le Matin, 7 Novembre 1918, « 5 heures du matin », front page.
3. Le Petit Parisien, 7 Novembre 1918, front page, under ‘Ceux qui se présenteront au Quartier Général de Foch’ ; and La Presse, 7 Novembre 1918, front page, under ‘L’Arrivée des Parlementaires’.
4. See the ‘American Army G-2 (SOS) Report on the False Armistice News’ on this website.
5 a). A. Z. Snyder and M.V. Snyder, Paris Days and London Nights. Chapter XXV, ‘The Fake Armistice’, Letter CLXXI, Paris, November 7, 1918, p366. (New York. 1921) Available online.
5 b) Jackson S. Elliott, Chief of News Department, to Elmer Roberts, the Associated Press, Paris, France. November 8, 1918. Elmer Roberts Papers, Folder 14 (1918) number 136. Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And Elmer Roberts to Jackson S. Elliott, 14th November 1918. APO2A. O3A, Subject Files, Box 27, Folder 6, Associated Press Corporate Archives.
6. The New York Times, November 8, 1918, under ‘French Awaited White Flags. PARIS, Nov.7’. Article available through the NYTimes.com Site Map website.
7. Le Petit Méridional, 8 Novembre 1918, p2, under ‘Sachons attendre!’
8. Will Irwin, The Making of a Reporter, Chapter 20, pp365-366. (New York. 1942); and Emmet Crozier, American Reporters on the Western Front, 1914-18, Chapter XXIII, ‘Too Soon the Good News’, pp260-261. (New York. 1959). There are factual errors in Irwin’s account: he gives 8 November as the date of the False Armistice and confuses the naval attaché in London with the one in Paris. Crozier’s later account claims that the British nurse told Irwin that the armistice had been signed at 11:00 am and would take effect at 3:00 pm.
9. See ‘False Armistice Cablegrams from France’on this website.
10. Le Petit Méridional, 8 Novembre 1918, p2, under ‘Sachons attendre!’
11 a) The Globe (London), 8 November 1918, p4, under ‘Paris Patriotic Outburst’. Accessible through the British Newspaper Archive website. ‘Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse’, a very popular song and military march, dates from the early 1870s and France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. The news that spread on the streets about Sedan (in the Meuse-Argonne region of the Front) was inaccurate. On 7 November, the Americans announced that at 4:00 pm the previous day they had taken “that part of the city of Sedan which lies on the west bank of the Meuse” – that is, not the whole city, which was not cleared of Germans until 10th. It is not known here where the inaccurate version came from. Extract from “AMERICAN official communiqué, Nov. 7, morning”, quoted here from The Times, 8 November 1918, p6, under ‘AMERICANS IN SEDAN’. Accessible through the Gage Cengage Learning Website.
11 b) The Times, 8 November, 1918, p5, under ‘PARIS CALM IN VICTORY’, (FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT).
12. Marcel Berger et Paul Allard, Les Secrets de la Censure pendant la Guerre. Chapitre XVI, ‘Les Armistices : Le « faux Armistice »’, pp375-377. (Paris. 1932)
13. For a detailed examination of what happened in Brest in relation to the false armistice news, see ‘Roy W. Howard in Brest, Part One’ on this website.
14. La Dépêche de Brest, 7 Novembre 1918, p3 under ‘Un gros événement’. Accessible at http://www.ladepechedebrest.fr/idurl/1/18961
15. Arthur Hornblow, Jr, ‘The Amazing Armistice: Inside Story of the Premature Peace Report’, p4. Originally published in The Century Magazine, November 1921. Available online.
16. La Dépêche de Brest, 8 Novembre 1918, front page, second column on the left.
17. The National Archives (Britain). War Office document in WO95/4017/2.
18. Arthur Hornblow, Jr, p15. Surprisingly, Hornblow states that “It was impossible, of course, to fool Paris”. He also claims, p15, that “Holland and parts of Belgium” had it.
19. Stanley Weintraub, A Stillness Heard Round the World: The End of the Great War, November 1918, pp22-23. (OUP, Paperback, 1987).
20. Amico J. Barone, ‘November 7 [7 crossed through] 11’. Article in The American Legion Magazine, December 1938, pp1-3. Available online at http://www.oldmagazinearticles.comThe German Peace Delegation Crosses the Lines (American Legion Monthly, 1938)
21. Pleasance Walker, ‘Trenches and Destruction’. Letters from the Front 1915-1919. An Oxford Woman in the French Red Cross.Edited by Caroline Roaf. (Oxford, 2018) Letter to father, sent from St Quentin, ‘Nov 8th1918’, pp155-157.
22. L’Ouest-Éclair (édition de Rennes) 8 Novembre 1918, p3 under ‘Restons Calmes’.
23. From, ‘La presse locale raconte le 11 novembre 1918’. Article posted 3 November 2008 on http://www.alencon.maville.com/actu/actudet-La-presse-locale-raconte-le-11-novembre-1918
24. Le Petit Méridional, 8 Novembre 1918, p2 under ‘Sachons attendre !’ (Sète was spelled Cette until 1928.)
25. F. E. Noakes, The Distant Drum: A Memoir of a Guardsman in the Great War, pp190-191. Frontline Books, 2010.
26. Stanley Weintraub, p22.
27. Le Figaro, 8 Novembre 1918, front page, under ‘Le Voyage des Parlementaires’. Excelsior, 8 Novembre 1918, p2, under ‘Une Fausse Nouvelle Courut Hier A Paris’.
28. Le Cri de Paris, 17 Novembre 1918, pp12-13, under ‘CHOSES ET GENS – Les fausses nouvelles’.
29. Journal du Loiret, 9 Novembre 1918, p2, under ‘Faux bruits, fausses nouvelles’. Available online from AURELIA – Bibliothèque numérique d’Orléans.
30. Maurice Laureau, ‘Réjouissances publiques à Brest suite à l’annonce de l’Armistice : minute no 2729 du 8 novembre 1918. Service historique de la défense, Fonds Maurice Laureau, Brest 12 S 202. This is a report from Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Laureau, Head of the French Mission to the American Army Base at Brest, to “Monsieur le Commissaire Général aux Affaires de Guerre franco-américaines“ in Paris.
31. Only the first two pages of the report were available when this article was written, and details of Hornblow’s meeting with the La Dépêche editor are apparently on page three.
32. La Dépêche de Brest, 10 Novembre 1918, p3, ‘Une lettre du vice-amiral Wilson’.
33. L’Impartial, 11 Novembre 1938, in the first and second sheets, under ‘Le mystère du faux armistice. Comment les Américains ont célébré dès le 7 novembre 1918 la fin des hostilités’. By Jacques Geraud [No known biographical details here.] Accessible on the Archives Historiques L’Express, L’Impartial website, www.lexpressarchives.chRoy Howard’s account is in Webb Miller’s book – see note 15.
34. Telegram to Roy Howard in Brest from United Press in Paris, Friday 8 November 1918. Roy W. Howard Papers. The Media School Archive, Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington, Indiana.
35. Excerpt from John P. Street letter to Earl Reed Silvers. France, ca. January 14, 1919. Rutgers College War Service Bureau, RG 33/CO/01.
36. Excerpt from Lawrence G. Gilliam letter to Earl Reed Silvers. Brest, France, ca. January 1, 1919. Rutgers College War Service Bureau, RG 33/CO/01.
37. Excerpts from Elizabeth Van der Veer letter to her Mother. Bordeaux, France, ca. November 8, 1918. Gaston Family Papers, MC 547.
38. Papers of Henry B. Wilson, Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC., p14 in the collection, under ‘Odds and Ends’.
39. For an account of the spread of the false armistice news to these towns, see ‘La Bretagne et l’armistice … du 7 novembre 1918’ by Yann Lagadec in En Envor.