Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
Armistice Day Eleven Eleven
Congress proclaimed Armistice Day in 1919 to commemorate the end of fighting in World War I, said to have happened around 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918. November 11 (eleven eleven) became a holiday in the U.S., France, Great Britain and Canada. For decades we observed the holiday and were taught in school that the Armistice was signed at eleven minutes past eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in 1918.
My father always said that was hogwash. After all, he was there! Louis Reddick had joined the Army in 1917, had completed his basic training in Texas, and was shipped to France in November. He contracted the mumps and influenza while he was hospitalized with pneumonia, thus Louis spent ten months in a Paris hospital. Soon after his recovery, he joined his unit and they prepared to advance to the front lines.
By this time rumors circulated almost daily that the war had ended. During August and September of 1918, the Allied forces won battle after battle in Europe. By the beginning of November, the famed Hindenburg Line had been broken and the Germans were in fast retreat. The German emperor abdicated and fled to the Netherlands, and by November 10, the new Republic of Germany had been proclaimed. Thus it would seem logical that all of the hostilities would soon come to an end.
On the front lines, however, every rumor of a truce proved to be false. About daybreak as they were marching to the front lines, the unit came up over a ridge. Down in the field below them was an unusual sight as it appeared that people were shaking hands and embracing one another.
"The war is over!" shouted Louis, and his comrades scoffed at him. "Wait and see!" he said as he smiled and began dismantling his war gear. Slowly through the ranks word was passed that the Armistice had been signed at 5 a.m. on Monday, November 11. Yes, it was true; the war was over.
It was eleven o’clock before word reached the fighting units on the western front but long before that, word began to be telegraphed around the world. A seven-hour time zone difference brought the word to Van Buren County at about the same time it had happened in France.
By 5 a.m. local time, every community in Van Buren County had received the good news and the day was set aside for celebration. There was a parade on Main Street in Keosauqua. Bonfires and speeches were widespread in every town. The hated German Kaiser was burned in effigy.
In Stockport a mock court martial for the Kaiser was held at its celebration. The Kaiser was sentenced to be hung by a high wire and shot by a firing squad. Obviously the firing squad were not expert marksmen, because they somehow missed their target!
On November 24, 1918 all of the churches within the county participated in a religious service honoring the men who had given their lives in conflict and those that would soon be coming home as veterans of the war. Prayers of thanksgiving were offered amid prayers for peace.
In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor all of the men and women who have served our country in battle or in service. Some still celebrate Veterans Day on November 11, while others observe it on the fourth Monday of October.
Some still repeat the phrase "at eleven minutes past eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month" as part of the nostalgia, but the facts remain that the signing actually took place approximately six hours earlier.
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick