Out of Our Past

Armistice Day 1918

Posted:  Wednesday, November 7, 2018 - 8:30am

The 100th anniversary of the end of World War I is Sunday, Nov. 11, formerly called Armistice Day. It was renamed Veterans Day after World War II in 1954. This article is a look back at the 1918 local response when peace came at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. At 3 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, the Navy's local Coast Patrol, located in the old Carbone building on Boothbay Harbor's waterfront, picked up wireless traffic that peace had been declared in France. This article first appeared in 2014 and is drawn from the Register's Nov. 15, 1918 account of the "peace celebration."

In France

But first, a world away across the Atlantic, nurse Harriet Delamere of Boothbay Harbor had been stationed at a French hospital close to the Argonne Forest to aid the men arriving by ambulance from the front. On November 11, she wrote, "The glorious news of the Armistice having been signed reached us all! We rushed outside, offered prayers of thanksgiving, hoisted flags, and sang the French and American national anthems. The air was hardly free of our patriotic vibrations when the sounds of revelry and happy voices reached us. Coming down the road were men on foot, men or horses, and men in a variety of vehicles – all marching to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy, and each thinking of home, sweet home." Harriet was decorated by France (Croix de Guerre) and America (Victory Medal Service Ribbon with two bronze stars for participation in the St. Mihiel offensive and the Meuse-Argonne offensive). And a printed form letter of thanks came to her from King George V of England.

The Parades and a Grand Holiday

Celebrating on Nov. 11 in Boothbay Harbor began between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. with Clarence Hodgdon firing several shots across Mill Cove, while the Navy boys on Wharf Street turned out with horns, drums, and parade regalia. The yacht club, then on Commercial Street, fired its cannon at 6 a.m., amid the clamor of church bells, whistles, and the "din of the naval boys." Holidays were declared as workers arrived at the shipyards, large and small, and the businesses. Soon there were three parades: the naval boys, the East Coast yard workers on the east side, and the Atlantic Coast yard workers on the west side, helped by Bill Stewart's ox team and cart. About 7 a.m. the separate parades were brought together, accompanied by three quickly-assembled bands: those of B. E. Hume, the Sons of Veterans, and the Coast Patrol.

First in line for the parade was the town's old hearse with Dr. George Gregory as Uncle Sam, accompanied by Herbert Reed and Willard Benner. Placards on the hearse read, "To Hell with the Kaiser," with "borrowed" gravestones on top inscribed with "Kaiser Bill." Almost everyone who was out, old and young, joined the parade waving flags, beating tin cans, and blowing tin horns, while Lester Hemore, the telephone company man, cranked a big siren. The cheering, joyful parade throng went over a big part of the harbor, both the east and west sides.

"The parade, although quickly arranged was even better for being spontaneous and imbued with keenest rejoicing at the first flush of our allied victory and its momentous import. Everyone seemed to realize how much the day meant, and the accustomed workday and school day were forgotten."

The Kaiser's Funeral Pyre

The parade was not the end of festivities. "A great funeral pyre was built up on the ledge back of the bank building and it was announced the Kaiser was to be cremated at 7:30 sharp." The largest crowd ever gathered appeared, strung out along the harbor's park and ledges (occupied now by the post office and the parking lot below) and stretching over toward the brick house and onto Oak Street and Townsend Avenue—all there to watch the wooden boxes and tar barrels go up in flames.

The pallbearers brought the body, though "badly punched up and battered on its way to the obsequies [funeral], the Kaiser's body was plainly recognizable. Representative James B. Perkins delivered the funeral oration, and was quite mild in his eulogies. Then B. E. Hume sounded taps and the body in its wooden casket was placed at the very top of the big pile. The fires were lighted and made rapid reaches for the world's worst human enemy. The Kaiser's head, stuck up in the box for all to view, was the last to catch afire. While the body was going up to smoke and the soul probably descending to its future home, B. E. Hume played 'The Star Spangled Banner' as a cornet solo."

Several hours passed before all the barrels and boxes were consumed, and people remained as long as the fire lasted. Many went on to dance at the Pastime Theatre (on the site of The Hutch), where manager Saul Hayes provided a good orchestra and program. The Methodist Church men and boys managed to keep the church bell ringing steadily from morn till late at night, occasioning many blistered hands. The first Armistice Day here sounded spectacular!

The end of the war meant no more reports of men's deaths overseas, no more Liberty bonds or saving stamps, no more drives for donated items such as binoculars, and no more women stepping into men's jobs. There would also be fewer "war gardens" to make up for the lack of farm labor and no more rationing of food, coal, and gas, with "heatless Mondays," "lightless Tuesdays," and "wheatless Wednesdays." Fewer hardships for all certainly deserved the welcome it got. Please come to the historical society to view the new display on Armistice Day.