Dakota Datebook

Armistice Day, 1918

Thursday, November 11, 2010


In 1918, the Great War was nearing an end, and the words of General Pershing echoed in the trenches: “Heaven, Hell or Hoboken by Christmas,” was the phrase, but for many, Christmas would never come. Major Dana Wright, later an historian with the State Historical Society, describes the scene as he neared the battlefield in the first week of November in the following letter home:

“There was a steady rumble of artillery all night and as we neared, it was worse. At 3:30 the real barrage started. … The sky was red with the reflection of the flashes and the very ground shook. We got to the jumping off point in the morning. … Our advances had gone over the top … and their wounded had gone back and been cared for, but the dead lay just as they fell. The open valley that lay between the two lines in the morning was dotted with little piles of equipment.”

To Major Wright these piles of equipment had meaning as he continued, “At each of these little piles you could read a story; the rifle with magazine and chamber filled and bayonet fixed lay on the ground, sometimes with bullet marks on it. …The pack of blanket and other equipment lay on the ground and in most places was the little tin box that had held the first aid bandage and a smear of clotted blood in the muddy grass.”

Further on, Major Wright came upon four of his unit who had fallen to German machine guns. Beyond them, he came upon the German dead with their guns still pointed at the fallen Americans just as they had been firing a few hours before.

It was soon after this that Major Wright was shaving in the field and he heard a German artillery shell coming at him. He stated he could tell when they were going to go past, but this shell would be close. He noted, “There was no time to do anything so I just held my breath and waited. The thing hit the ground just ten feet from me, went deep down in the soft wet leaf mould and busted throwing mud all over me, but never touch me with a single fragment.” This was three days before the armistice and he had narrowly survived.

On this date in 1918, he sat in a hotel and described the scene as word came that the Germans had accepted the surrender terms: … “a little before 11:00 this morning word was received … The light artillery fired a salute at 11:00 and the locomotives whistled and the men yelled.” The celebration had begun. More tomorrow.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Mott Pioneer Press December 26, 1918

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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