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