With the centenary of the Armistice approaching, I wanted to celebrate, but how? I couldn’t find any planned events for Remembrance Day (as it’s called in the Commonwealth) here in Cape Town.* But I knew that veterans lay a wreath at the war memorial every year, so I figured they’d be doing something special for this one. I arrived at 10:30 and found marching bands marching, bagpipers piping (oddly, “Sarie Marais,” an anti-British song from the Boer War) and a big tent full of people. A young woman gave me a paper poppy.
There were prayers, hymns, and a speech by Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson, my old friend from Pretoria in the late eighties. (South Africa can be small-towny like that.) How to celebrate an event like this, in the presence of both current soldiers and elderly white veterans who won their medals doing who knows what, is always a fraught question in South Africa. Ian hit just the right note, highlighting the contributions of black soldiers in South Africa and the United States for whom the Allied victory didn’t bring freedom.
At 11:00, the hour of the Armistice, there was a two-minute silence, a tradition that, it turns out, originated in Cape Town. Representatives of diplomatic missions and veterans’ groups laid wreaths on the monument, and afterwards the rest of us were given white roses. Here’s where I placed mine, thinking about the soldiers I’ve gotten to know in my year of 1918 reading, many of whom who didn’t make it home.
Now on to the best and worst of November.
Best fake news: Allies win the war!
What’s fake about that, you may be asking. Well, check the date.
In one of the most monumental screw-ups in the history of journalism, the United Press Association (which later became the UPI) reported on November 7 that the war had ended. According to a gloating report in the New York Times, which didn’t run the erroneous story, reporters mistook a ceasefire in an area where French and German officials were meeting for the end of the war. The censors, who were responsible for weeding out secrets, not errors, OK’d the story, and the agency cabled its headquarters. Which didn’t bother to check with officials in Washington, the attitude being “What do they know?” Newspapers rushed out extra editions.
Secretary of War Baker said this was news to him, and Secretary of State Lansing checked with Paris and issued a denial, but no one cared. New Yorkers poured onto the streets. In Washington, newspapers were dropped from helicopters.(CORRECTION: From an airplane. As an alert reader has pointed out, helicopters weren’t invented yet.) 1,500 women workers from the State and War Departments, who apparently didn’t take their bosses any more seriously than anyone else did, rushed over to the White House, where they waved American flags and cheered President Wilson.**
Later that night, when word spread that the war was in fact still going on, a lot of people were too drunk to care.
Luckily, only four days passed before the…
Best real news: Allies win the war!
Or, more succinctly and colorfully,
I worried about the fake victory celebration putting a damper on the real victory celebration, but that was just me being a gloom:
People went wild with joy all over again.
What persons were these, I wondered. Three-day-old persons? But the premature celebration had vanished from everyone’s heads, apparently.
I only kind of get this Harry Gant Dart cartoon–something about the Germans not being in control of their own country anymore–but the drawing is amazing and it’s a refreshing change from all the cartoons about people hanging and strangling the Kaiser.
Amid the celebration, a reminder of the conflict’s cost.
Worst Thanksgiving celebration:
According to the New York Times, New Yorkers were eager to entertain the troops, including 750 convalescent and wounded soldiers who had returned from France during the week and were quartered at Debarkation Hospital No. 3 at 18th Street and 6th Avenue. Between them, they had received 1,400 invitations–two each! Lavish dinners and theater tickets had been laid on. But, when their uniforms returned from the sterilization department and the soldiers “prepared to don them to sally forth to the feasts,” it turned out that they had shrunk beyond recognition. A “big soldier,” presented with his outfit, declared it a “Boy Scout uniform.”
Many unsuccessful efforts were made by others to wear the shrunken military garb, and, of course, regulations barred them from appearing on the streets in any other clothes.
An emergency order went out, and 125 uniforms were procured. What to do with the rest of the soldiers? Waive the regulations in appreciation of the sacrifices they had made in securing the biggest military victory of all time? Don’t make me laugh!
The fortunate wearers of these went forth, while the others, grumbling at their ill-luck, reclothed themselves in pajamas and hospital blankets.
Thank you for your service, boys!
The headline had me worried
and the illustrations confirmed my worst fears.
Since you didn’t die in the war…
Worst magazine cover:
Like I said, not a fan of the Kaisercide trope.
Best magazine cover:
I like this George Wolfe Plank Vanity Fair cover a lot,***
and also the crisp, clear lines of this one from Golfers Magazine,
but the best cover award has to have something to do with what happened during this momentous month.
This J. C. Leyendecker Saturday Evening Post cover is wonderful, but I’ve already given it enough love.****
I was just about to bestow the award on Norman Rockwell’s joyful soldiers on the cover of Life
when I thought, “Wait, what about Vogue?”, and found the winner, this gorgeous, understated Georges Lepape cover:
On to—can it be?—December!
*Of course, only reading news from 100 years ago didn’t help.
**This item, which I cribbed from Whatever It Is, I’m Against It, makes me blush on behalf of my fellow women State Department workers.
***If you’re wondering what’s happened to Erté, there aren’t any copies of the October and November 1918 issues of Harper’s Bazar, or even the covers, anywhere on the internet as far as I can tell.
****Fun fact: the soldier is Neil Hamilton, who later played Police Commissioner Gordon on Batman.