by Paul R. Spitzzeri
This Sunday marks the end of our programming concerning the centennial of World War I and our “The End of the Great War” event includes a staged reading of the British play “Journey’s End,” period music, and other elements, so we hope to see you there.
Meanwhile, we preview the coming of the event by highlighting another great artifact from the Homestead’s collection, this one being a copy of the Los Angeles Times from 11 November 1918 and the announcement of the armistice signaling the end of major hostilities and the conclusion of the conflict.
The news reached Los Angeles very late the evening before and the Times turned on its siren to announce the end of the war. The blaring drew foot and automobile traffic to the paper’s headquarters and “streets were jammed with shouting, happy, half delirious people” while “old and young danced in joy” as women “embraced and kissed as they realized the end had come and peace had been proclaimed.”
Searchlights then directed attention to the statuette of an eagle, the paper’s mascot, that surmounted the Times building and the same statue that survived the terrorist bombing by radical unionists eight years before. The crowd yelled louder than before, the report continued and “men tore their collars and ties off and hats were thrown into the air.”
Minutes later, a band appeared and “people in Mardi Gras costume formed a parade and marched and counter-marched up and down Broadway. In this parade were a number of movie queens in stage costume and the crowd yowled in delight.” Amid the celebrating, the account went on,
Everyone down deep in their hearts uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving that bloodshed was at an end and our brave boys “over there” had carried the glory of America to the Old world and taught the lesson long deferred that no group of men longer [sic] could make the world a slaughter pen.
In the mad frenzy of joy reported to take place in and around the paper’s headquarters, the piece concluded, “laws and city ordinances became forgotten. It was everybody’s celebration, and everyone took part in it.” It was stated that some persons unloaded their “pocket artillery,” apparently meaning change, and “the crowds did not care how near their toes came to the bullets [sic] that reflected the mood of the city.”
The particulars of the armistice were noted, as hostilities were to end at 11 a.m. Paris time and five hours earlier in Washington, D.C. time. German representatives signed the terms at midnight and a State Department announcement was relayed not quite three hours later.
While the specifics were not yet released, it was assumed that German forces were to immediately withdraw from Belgium, France and the long-disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine between the latter and Germany.; that German forces were to demobilize and disarm right away; that the allies and Americans would occupy key areas of Germany to prevent a resumption of fighting; that all allied and American prisoners of war were to be immediately released; and more.
The presumption was that the new German government sent its assent to signing the terms to its representatives in France, though the details were not made public. The news was phoned to the White House and given to President Woodrow Wilson and then released to the press, though the White House declined to issue a formal statement at the time.
It was also reported that Kaiser Wilhelm, having abdicated to the new government in Germany, drove to The Netherlands, being joined by his wife and son and heir Friedrich Wilhelm, to take up quarters in exile at a castle near Utrecht. When the Kaiser yielded his authority on the 10th, in front of his son and Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (later the chancellor who yielded power in early 1933 to Adolf Hitler, a corporal in the defeated German Army who used his humiliation as motivation for his horrendous Third Reich), it was said that he received a message from a Socialist minister in the imperial cabinet, and “read it with a shiver.” He was reported to have said, “it may be for the good of Germany” as he signed the abdication paper.
Meanwhile, it was stated that a revolution engulfed Berlin the previous evening with cannon fire heard and many killed or wounded before German Army offices surrendered. Reports were that Communists were leading the effort to seize the capital, while other German cities, including Leipzig, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Cologne quickly assented to the formation of a republic. Naturally, these were early reports and conditions would change with respect to the creation of what became the Weimar Republic.
Two full pages were devoted to significant events leading up to and including the grueling four years of war that consumed Europe and spread elsewhere on the planted, as well as material on the notable battles fought in the conflict. Portraits of allied and German generals were included, with the former lauded as they “overcame the Hun armies and smashed the German ambition for world domination,” while the former “led the Kaiser’s armies to [the] worst defeat in history.”
Also printed was President Wilson’s famous Fourteen Points, first issued in January, and which formed the basis for his approach to the resulting peace conference in Paris and his efforts to form a League of Nations. While many were inspired by the broad statements included in the points, others noted that a number were overtly vague and terribly idealistic, including the “removal of all economic barriers,” and “open covenants of peace,” not to mention “absolute freedom of the seas.”
In late September, Wilson offered a series of comments about the soon-to-be-expected peace, stating
the impartial justice meted out must involve no discrimination between those to whom we wish to be just and those to whom we do not wish to be just. It must be a justice that plays no favorites and knows no standard but the equal rights of the several peoples concerned.
Wilson spoke of not allowing the single interest of any nation or group of nations to supersede the common interests of all countries concerned and that any league of nations had to overrule existing leagues, alliances and covenants. In such a league of nations, he went on, there were to be “no special, selfish, economic combinations” and no boycotts or exclusions from markets, as the league was to be the “means for discipline and control. Finally, any existing treaties and agreements were to be completely revealed to all nations in the league.
Yet, Wilson’s refusal to allow Republicans a place in the American delegation and his insistence on participating directly in the peace talks, much less the tenor of his fourteen points and other statements, essentially doomed the prospects of congressional approval of the League of Nations. So, while the body was formed and did exist until the Second World War, the U.S. was never a member and that fact, among many other conditions, meant the League would essentially be a failure.
A notable item of interest in the paper was a special installment of the famous cartoon “Mutt and Jeff” by Bud Fisher. It specifically concerned the use of the “Mills hand grenade,” the first fragmentation device and which was first used by British troops in 1915.
Observing that American troops used the Mills grenade as a way to “clean up trenches,” Fisher depicted Mutt and Jeff engaged in one such action, with Jeff cheerily inquiring “Hello! How many of you Fritzes are there in there?” to which a response came: “Dere iss twelve of us,” leading Jeff to toss in a grenade with the rejoinder “Here! Share this among you!”
Because newspapers rely on advertising revenue to survive, there are many of these in the issue, some of which are war-related. One, from a magazine called Electrical Experimenter, pronounced “A Real Man’s Magazine,” has a title of “Fool War Dreams.” This involved samples of many inventions submitted to the War Department (later renamed the Department of Defense), and which included to determine if someone was actually dead; how American submarines could evade Hun nets; the story of dirigibles or blimps; how tuberculosis could be diagnosed through x-rays; and how airplanes could deal with anti-aircraft guns.
Another interesting one is from Los Angeles Trust and Savings Bank and is the seventh in a series of how Los Angeles was “The War-Service City” in that its economic might helped to further and support the war effort. This installment concerned the fact that “Ninety-five percent of all walnuts grown in the United States are produced in Sunny Southern California.” 30 million pounds valued at $8 million came from the 1918-1919 crop and this was significant because “walnuts constitute the richest food product known . . . as a vital factor in maintaining America’s physical strength.”
Much of the walnuts produced in the region came from areas near Los Angeles and, because the growers and producers received a high rate of return (said to be about two-thirds paid by consumers), “substantial fortunes repay the interesting work of the walnut grower.” The Puente Valley was one such major area of walnut growing and the town of Puente would very soon boast of having the world’s largest walnut packing plant. A year before, Walter P. Temple used revenue from his new oil lease at Montebello to buy the 75-acre Homestead. Though an existing lease with a Japanese farmer named Yatsuda was in effect to the end of 1918, Temple planted much of the ranch to walnuts when he took control of the property at the beginning of 1919.
Meanwhile, what this statement about walnuts had to do with the bank was the statement that “fifty thousand Californians are helping to build America’s financial strength through systematic savings at this war-service bank.” Readers were invited to add their name to that roster.
As we wrap our commemoration of the centennial of the First World War, artifacts like this newspaper issue vividly tell part of the broader story of a conflict that remains, even now, vastly underappreciated and underrecognized.