Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Arkansans Celebrated End of War

A cease fire that effectively ended World War I went into effect 100 years ago this week.

One hundred years ago this week, Arkansans cheered the end of the “War to End All Wars.” World War I was a bloody, worldwide conflict that lasted four years and killed millions of people.

Americans awakened Nov. 11, 1918, to news the war had been won. Statewide, commerce came to a screeching halt. Placards hung outside of many prominent retail establishments that read “Closed for the Kaiser’s Funeral.” 

At 4:30 in the morning, residents of Searcy, Arkansas, woke up to the sounds of whistles and the ringing of bells throughout the town. By 5 a.m., people began to arrive at the First Methodist Church for a service of thanksgiving for the peace that had finally arrived. 

By the end of WWI, about 72,000 Arkansans had served.
In Fort Smith, a man dancing down the center of the street at 4 a.m. awakened his neighbors. He waved his hat and shouted: “Peace!  Peace! Germany gives up!”

Before he could reach the end of the street, he was joined by other townspeople, all shouting the mantra together. The celebration continued all day and into the night.

Little Rock experienced its own revelries as crowds shut down normal traffic throughout the city and pedestrians flocked into the streets to cheer. Airplanes from Eberts Field performed aerial tricks above the city while people hastily arranged parades that made their way down the city thoroughfares.  At 10 a.m., the bells at St. Andrew’s Cathedral on the corner of Seventh and Louisiana streets began to toll. The parades stopped for 5 minutes for Little Rock residents to reflect in silence upon the end of the war. Then, the crowds continued their celebrations. Some people drove to Camp Pike to celebrate with the young recruits in training.

In Pine Bluff, residents waited until afternoon to celebrate. At 2:30 p.m., people gathered in Pine Bluff’s courthouse square to hold a rally and parade. Henderson students in Arkadelphia staged an evening demonstration where they brought an effigy of the Kaiser out in a casket, then burned it at the stake.

J. Harrell Burke, an Arkansas, WWI soldier, writes home
Back in Europe, American soldiers also celebrated. The war was over; they were going home. 
J. Harrell Burke, a soldier from Marion, Arkansas, wrote home from Verneuil, France, to say the only question being asked among his fellow soldiers was when they could go home. Burke wrote to his mother that the soldiers “received the news in the afternoon about three o'clock, when it went into the machine shop the boys just turned the electricity of their machines and grabbed a hammer and began to beat on a piece of iron. At the same time there came a message to a French lady, who is doing some kind of work in there, that her son had been killed at the front. A case of joy and happiness coming at once. The real racket did not start until 5 p.m., when the shops closed. And then the real noise started. Men hollowering [sic], whistling, singing, Cyrenes [sic] on autos shrieked, horns were blown American engines whistled and the French engines with their popcorn whistles blew, oh, and everything. There is a different atmosphere around here now."

When World War I ended, many in the crowds believed the war was truly a war to end all wars — that war, itself, had been defeated. For a brief moment, the world breathed a collective and hopeful sigh of relief that world peace had finally come.

World War I, however, had already taken a horrible toll. About 40 million soldiers and civilians had died in the war. By the time the war ended, nearly 72,000 Arkansans, including more than 18,000 African Americans, had served in the armed forces. More than 2,000 died during their service and more than 1,700 were injured.

To honor those soldiers, Gov. Asa Hutchinson proclaimed Nov. 11 as “Bells of Peace: World War I Remembrance Day” and called on Arkansans and organizations to ring bells 11 times at 11 a.m. Nov. 11. The gesture recognizes the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended the war and honors those who served and died in it.