The Great War fi­nally ends

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - JOHN MACKIE jmackie@post­media.com

In some mys­te­ri­ous way, flags and ban­ners ap­peared, fire­works popped, guns fired, bells rang, (and) voices shouted.

At mid­night on Nov. 11, 1918, The Van­cou­ver Sun re­ceived a short mes­sage on its newswire: “FLASH — Ar­mistice signed.”

Within a minute of re­ceiv­ing the news, The Van­cou­ver Sun’s presses were print­ing an ex­tra edi­tion an­nounc­ing the First World War was over.

The Van­cou­ver Mu­seum has a copy of the ex­tra, and it is just awe­some, maybe the best front page in the pa­per’s his­tory.

A gi­ant head­line pro­claims “PEACE!” on the top of the page. The main il­lus­tra­tion is a ghostly image of Je­sus Christ gaz­ing down at the dev­as­ta­tion of a bat­tle­field and the ru­ins of a town.

A sec­ond head­line an­nounced “Ger­many Sur­ren­ders.” At the bot­tom of the page is a third, “HUN CRIES ENOUGH!”

The Sun had pre­pared the ex­tra in ad­vance, hence it had no date.

But the pa­per claimed it had the first copies on the street within min­utes. It would put out five edi­tions on Nov. 11, sell­ing 110,000 copies — not bad at a time when the pop­u­la­tion of greater Van­cou­ver was 163,000.

Once the news came in, the pa­per’s tele­phone op­er­a­tors “called up ev­ery fac­tory that had a whis­tle to blow or a bell to ring,” wak­ing the masses up to the joy­ous news that af­ter four years “of the most aw­ful car­nage, blood­shed and dev­as­ta­tion that the world had ever known, hos­til­i­ties were to cease.”

In fact, the Ar­mistice wasn’t signed un­til 11 a.m. Paris time, which was 3 a.m. in Van­cou­ver.

But that didn’t stop the Nine O’Clock Gun from fir­ing 12 blasts, wak­ing up any­body who hadn’t al­ready been jarred awake from the fac­tory whis­tles.

“In less time than it takes to tell it, the half-de­serted streets were teem­ing with hastily aroused but wildly en­thu­si­as­tic cit­i­zens, who gave vent to their long pent-up feel­ings with hearty cheers (and) in­nu­mer­able con­grat­u­la­tions,” the Sun re­ported.

“(Peo­ple) soon amassed a re­mark­able col­lec­tion of noise­mak­ing de­vices, (and) whis­tle af­ter whis­tle and bell af­ter bell took up the paean of praise and thank­ful­ness … the big cel­e­bra­tion was on.”

It was the sec­ond big cel­e­bra­tion that week — the United Press had sent out a re­port the war was over on Nov. 7, which set off an early cel­e­bra­tion that be­came known as “the false ar­mistice.”

This time it was for real. The ar­mistice was signed at 5 a.m. in Paris, with hos­til­i­ties to cease six hours later, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Some­one prob­a­bly thought it was a po­etic time to end the blood­shed. But the gen­er­als in charge of the armies kept their forces fight­ing right up to 11 a.m., which cost sev­eral sol­diers their lives.

The last Cana­dian to be killed was Ge­orge Lawrence Price, who was felled by a sniper at 10:58 a.m. in Ville-sur-Haine, Bel­gium. He was part of a Cana­dian force that had been sent in to re­cap­ture Mons, a Bel­gian town that the Bri­tish had lost at the be­gin­ning of the war.

The Sun’s front-page head­line for its reg­u­lar edi­tion later in the day was “Ar­mistice Signed, Peace De­clared.” The Prov­ince’s was “Great­est Vic­tory in His­tory is Won.” The Daily World went with “Ar­mistice Terms Are Most Dras­tic in His­tory.”

The cel­e­bra­tions went on for 24 hours.

“Van­cou­ver just emp­tied it­self into the streets,” the Prov­ince re­ported on Nov. 12.

“In some mys­te­ri­ous way, flags and ban­ners ap­peared, fire­works popped, guns fired, bells rang, (and) voices shouted. As for the tin cans, they clat­tered and rat­tled in the wake of ev­ery­thing on wheels. Cars by the hun­dred whizzed by with their over­flow of happy, re­joic­ing hu­man­ity.”

The pa­pers were quite jin­go­is­tic, but ac­knowl­edged the hor­ri­ble toll of the war. The World es­ti­mated that deaths from the war were at least 10 mil­lion, and ran John McRae’s famed Great War poem, In Flan­ders Fields.

The Sun car­ried a story of a war widow with three young chil­dren, strug­gling while the rest of the city went wild.

“She thought she had ad­justed her­self, at last, to the sit­u­a­tion,” it read. “But the heartache was brought sharply back to her yes­ter­day when the baby of the fam­ily, just turned four years of age, ran in from her play say­ing ‘Dorfy says her daddy’s com­ing home now. Where’s my daddy? Isn’t he com­ing home?’ ”

MU­SEUM OF VAN­COU­VER

The Van­cou­ver Sun’s Ex­tra edi­tion on Nov. 11, 1918, mark­ing the end of the First World War.

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