This Month in History – November 11, 1918 – Armistice is Signed

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I effectively came to an end, as the warring sides agreed to an armistice. The armistice was a truce, an agreement to stop fighting. Official peace came later with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, but no one seemed to care about that technicality. Around the nation and in Allied countries, bells rang, shots were fired, flags were raised, and people took to the streets to mark the end of the Great War. As Wilmington’s Mayor Parker Q. Moore later described it, “On the 11th of November, 1918, the people of Wilmington, and the people of probably every hamlet, town, and city in the United States, and of other great countries, spontaneously, with one accord without asking or waiting for authority, declared a holiday. It was a day of rejoicing, of reaction from the dread, the privation, and the restraint to which all had been severely subjected in the great struggle of mighty nations. The Armistice had been signed. The conflict of armed men, of great armies, had ceased. Our people were happy. Their enthusiasm knew no bounds. Work was impossible.”

Contemporaneous accounts agreed with Mayor Moore. On November 12, 1918, the Wilmington Morning Star reported that people took to the streets in an “impromptu pageant” and a “bedlam of noisy fun.” According to the headline, Wilmington was “A Seething Mass of Glad Humanity.” And the paper observed that “At some time during the day and evening practically everyone who could possibly do so, ventured out and took part in the jubilation. They included men, women and children of every walk of life, many of whom employed the time in driving through the streets in every conceivable conveyance with bells, tin cans, and anything else that would make a noise dangling from the rear of the vehicle.”

The armistice was signed early in the morning on November 11, 1918, and went into effect at 11 AM Paris time. Americans officially knew the war was ending when the state department announced it just before 3 AM. Wilmingtonians woke up to the sound of factory whistles and church bells announcing the news.  And local residents started celebrating the war’s end early in the day. There was a spontaneous morning parade. The “celebration was inaugurated by employes (sic) of the Carolina Shipbuilding corporation” who showed up for work but decided not to do any. Instead, they created a makeshift passenger train from a company engine and flatbeds and used the streetcar lines to head towards downtown. Their convoy ran into trouble when it got to a streetcar derailment at 3rd and Wright streets. The workers did not let that stop them. Instead, they jumped off the train and walked the rest of the way. Then, led by company manager Ralph Starrett, they “marched through the principal streets of the city rejoicing that peace had been once more restored to the ‘land of the free.’”

There were also quickly-planned city-sponsored events. Mayor Parker Q. Moore asked businesses to close at 1 PM, and for people to gather at City Hall for an “appropriate exercise in honor of the Great Victory of our country and its allies.”  A second parade was also organized.  At 3 o’clock, this more formal procession took place in the city, with Captain E. A. Metts at its head. By the time of the parade, most of the town’s businesses had closed for the day, and the county’s schoolchildren had been dismissed from their classrooms. After the parade, Mayor Moore spoke to the crowd, and declared that “We are gathered together today with grateful hearts to almighty God to express our gratitude to Him for giving to American people & their splendid allies and the civilized world a victorious peace.” After the mayor finished speaking, the city adopted a set of resolutions that thanked God, President Wilson, the Allies, and “those who, making the supreme sacrifice of their lives for their country, left their bodies on the battlefield, in hospitals, in camps, or in the depths of the seas” for their efforts.

November 11 became the day that nations commemorated the war’s end.  Even though the Treaty of Versailles marking the official end of the war was signed in June of 1919, the November date resonated with the combatant nations of the war.  In 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson issued the first official Armistice Day commemoration proclamation, he said “To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…”

Today, we honor all veterans on November 11, not just those who served in World War I.  In the U.S., Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, after veterans’ service organizations successfully lobbied for the change. There was a short time in the 1970s when the Veterans Day commemoration moved around to make sure it was on a Monday so that federal workers had a three-day weekend.  But this practice was quickly discarded in the face of popular opposition. Since 1978, Veterans Day has again been observed on November 11 of each year.

To see some of the Museum’s World War I collections, click here.

Previous Columns

October: Fire Prevention Week, October 8 through 14, 1972
Neal Thomas’s One-Man Show, September 13, 1958
August 26, 1920 – the Women’s Suffrage Amendment is officially ratified 
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
D-Day, Henry Jay MacMillan, and World War II
Firestarter Premieres on College Road
The Kenan Memorial Fountain gets a facelift, April 14, 2005
Lethia Sherman Hankins
The Great Fire of 1886
January 2020:
Cape Fear Museum gets a new home, January 18, 1992
The Catherine Kennedy Home: a longstanding local institution
Taft Day, November 9, 1909
The Daily Record, October 20, 1898
September 15, 1990
Honoring “Hi Buddy” Wade on his 90th Birthday
July 15, 1977, One Short March, One Long Journey
The USS North Carolina lands a Kingfisher, June 25, 1971
May is Prom Season, May 12, 1962
Income Tax Deadline Day
Women’s History Month, March 8
A February Fundraiser, 2008
January 2019: 
Voting for Liquor by the Drink, January 12, 1979

Armistice celebrations, November 11, 1918
Gift of the estate of Ida B. Kellum

Mayoral proclamation, November 11, 1918
Gift of Pat Coughlin

Paul L. Cantwell’s wartime service poster, 1918
Gift of Robert C. Cantwell, III

“Our Colored Heroes” poster, 1918
Gift of Dorothy Franks King
814 Market Street • Wilmington, NC 28401 • Phone 910-798-4370 • Fax 910-798-4382