Honoring Armistice Day, 100 Years Later

This Veteran's Day marks the 100th Anniversary of the signing of the Armistice between the Allied Countries and Germany, ending the hostilities on the Western Front of the War and officially beginning the end of World War I. 

"The eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month" is the exact date and time that the Armistice between the Allied Countries and Germany began in 1918, temporarily ending hostilities during World War I. This upcoming Veteran's Day marks the 100th anniversary of this momentous event. In honor of this, and for all veterans who've served our country, here's a look-back to 100 years ago, when the Armistice was signed, the creation of the holiday to remember it, and how Tennessee responded to the War (clearly I'm not going in chronological order). 

Armistice Day Parade in Nashville, circa 1941

History of World War I and Armistice Day

The first World War (or the Great War, as it is sometimes referred to) was a long, 4-year campaign, that began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on June 28th, 1914. The two sides were the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) vs. the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and the U.S.). The U.S. joined the fight in 1917. By the time the Armistice was signed and the Allies had claimed victory, a total of 16 million people were killed due to this war—both soldiers and civilians. While the Armistice ended the fighting, it was the Treaty of Versailles that officially brought the war to an end. 

The following year on the first anniversary of Armistice Day, the U.S. honored the date with a celebration of parades and a brief suspension of business beginning at 11 a.m. President Wilson proclaimed the date as the first commemoration, with the words:

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory..."

 

News clipping from the Nashville Banner from Armistice Day

And a few more dates important to Armistice Day becoming a holiday...

  • June 4, 1926: The United States Congress officially recognized the end of World War I by passing a resolution urging all state governors to observe the day as a holiday.
  • May 13, 1938: November 11 was made a legal holiday. During the House debate over the legislation, it was decided that the holiday would not only be dedicated to the end of the war, but also for the promise of world peace (unfortunate timing considering World War II would begin the following year).
  • June 1, 1954: Due to the conflicts that the U.S. was involved in after 1938 (and instead of creating additional federal holidays), it was on this date that "Armistice Day" was officially renamed "Veteran's Day", making it a day to honor all veterans for their service.

Tennessee's Involvement

President Woodrow Wilson was reportedly a pacificist, and clearly wanted to avoid involvement in the war until absolutely necessary. That didn't stop the U.S. from preparing themselves for war though, and this is when Tennessee initially became involved. The National Guard was created, taking over the state militia units. Though these units remained with each state, legislation was passed in 1916, establishing that the National Guard would fall under complete federal control during times of war or grave public emergency.

Not long after this legislation was passed (the legislation was officially known as the National Defense Act of 1916, by the way), the Tennessee National Guard was enacted along with the rest of the National Guard when revolutionary upheaval in Mexico and the Southwest occurred. This was prior to the country's entry into the war, and the call-up included almost 2,000 Tennesseans. 

Despite the Guardsmen's dissatisfaction of their assignment (and an unsuccessful lobbying for their return home by Christmas, by the state's governor and the TN delegation in Congress), most of the men remained there until March 24th, 1917. When they returned home, it was unfortunately a short vacation for many, because 2 weeks later (on April 6th), the U.S. formally entered the war. 

Highlighting a few notable contributions from Tennessee...

  • Flying Aces: While most Tennesseans in the military served in the infantry (and Marine Corps, Army Air Corps and Navy), the state apparently claimed flying aces. To name a few of these aces - Lt. Edward Buford (Nashville), Lt. Claude O. Lowe, and Lt. McGhee Tyson. Both Lowe and Tyson lost their lives in the line of duty.
  • Signs of Bravery: Most are familiar with the name Alvin C. York in terms of brave Tennesseans during World War I, so I won't mention much more about him other than that he was 1 of 6 Tennesseans who won the Congressional Medal of Honor. But please, look him up if you're not familar with his accomplishments. The photo below is when he came to Nashville, presumably with his family, for the premiere of the Gary Cooper movie "Sergeant York." But another Tennessean worth mentioning is Colonel Luke Lea. Lea staged one of the most daring exploits of the war when he served as the commander of the 114th Field Artillery Unit. In January 1919, Lea and a few other men from his unit traveled to the Netherlands with false civilian passports, in an attempt to capture the exiled German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, hoping to bring him to justice. The attempt was a failure, however, and he was reprimanded by the Army because it was illegal to have entered a neutral country, but he also eventually received the Distinguished Service Medal. 

Alvin C. York and presumably family, visited Nashville in 1941 for the premiere of the movie "Sergeant York"

  • Other Tennessee recipients of the Medal of Honor: Joseph B. Adkinson, James Karnes, Milo Lemert, Edward Talley, and Calvin Ward.
  • Women in the War: Women's service to the war effort became highly essential in many ways. Some women actually entered the Armed Forces, while others worked on the homefront in private organizations such as the YWCA and the American Red Cross (Nashville received an official charter in 1917 - click here if to read my blog post about the history of the ARC) in whatever way they could be most useful, which included driving ambulances to assist physicians and public health authorities. Those who worked as nurses dealt with more than just the war as well; the Spanish Influenza pandemic was also dangerous in the latter years of the war, leading to a shortage of doctors and nurses when they themselves became infected with the illness. 

News clipping for the Women's Motor Corps as a valued civil and military aide

  • The Munitions Plant: I also wrote a history about this plant if you'd like to read that. But if not, here's the brief history of it: the Old Hickory Powder Plant was constructed rather quickly for its time in 1918, and operated by the Dupont Company (who was ordered by the Federal Gov. to build the world's largest smokeless powder plant). Though it was only in operation for a short time, it was still effective in the war effort.

Photo from Nashville in the New South book - showing the line of workers at the Old Hickory Powder Plant, waiting for their paycheck.

In total, Tennessee furnished over 100,000 men and women for the armed forces, with 3,000+ deaths and 6,000+ casualties. Of the 3,690 officers provided, 110 of them were female nurses. 

Nashville Families in the War

And as I'm talking about notable Tennesseans who served in World War I, Metro Archives actually holds a few collections of veterans who've served in not just World War I, but in several other U.S.-involved conflicts. But in honor of the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, these collections below are strictly from World War I veterans... 

Clarence Alford Collection

Clarence Alford was a native Nashvillian and Hume-Fogg graduate. Alford enlisted in the National Guard of Tennessee in 1917, and hoped to then join the U.S. Marines. He was turned down due to his poor eyesight. He was still interested in serving, however, so the company he worked for at the time (Abb Landis) helped him join the military. Alford was assigned to Supply Company #323 in Camp Johnston (after arriving in Fort Oglethorpe in June, 1918). 

When his company was sent to France, it was August, 1918. In September of that same year, Alford was transferred to the Military Justice Hospital Group that operated out of the town of Toul, France. There, he worked as a payroll clerk in the finance office, where he determined the pay for the doctors, nurses, and ever-rotating group of sick or injured servicemen in the hospital group. Alford remained working in the finance office even after the Armistice was signed, until April 1919. He then was transferred to another town in France, working the same job. He was eventually relieved of his duties, returning home on June 6th, 1919.

Though the bulk of Alford's collection consists of correspondence during his war years (including a letter he wrote on Armistice Day), it also includes photos, military records, post cards, and travel guides. Check out some of his postcards, letters, and photos in the slideshow below. A few materials from his collection, including his journal, are currently on display in Metro Archives' Veteran's Day exhibit.

Primo Bartolini Collection

This is another intriguing collection currently on display in our Veteran's Day Exhibit. Primo Bartolini was born in Fanano, Italy, in 1889, but immigrated to the U.S. in 1907, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1921. When the U.S. entered the war, and President Wilson promulgated the Selective Service Act of 1917, Bartolini didn't hesitate. His number 854 was drafted, and he became the first foreign-born Nashvillian to enter World War I. 

During his service, his ability to speak several foreign languages fluently led him towards a job as an interpreter for the Army in Vancouver, Washington. He was later awarded the Cross of the Knights of the Crown from King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy for his services.

Among his collection on display in the exhibit, you can also see some of this poetry as he was an avid writer of poetry throughout his life. Some of these items are also included in the slideshow below.

Marsh Collection

Similar to the Clarence Alford Collection, the Marsh Collection consists of various materials such as correspondence, photos, and ephemera from a Nashville family. But where it differs is that it covers more members of the family, and also the family's business. 

Most of the photos in the slideshow below are unidentified in subject and location, but show more of the conditions that soldiers lived and worked in. 

McClanahan-Weakley Collection

This is a collection primarily made up of photos, from two Nashville families - the McClanahans and Weakleys (related by marriage). While a lot of their photos are from around Nashville at the turn of the century (great photos too), there are also some from one of the family members that was a veteran. The name of this family member is unknown, but the photos include himself with (assumably) other family members who became nurses. Maybe, I'm not sure. 

Items from World War I Collections

Honoring Armistice Day, 100 Years Later

 

I've already mentioned the exhibit in Metro Archives at least once, but here's the official description... 

Another way that Metro Archives and the Library is honoring the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, is through an exhibit we currently have on display in our reading room. The "100 Years of Veterans Day" exhibit includes materials commemorating veterans from World War I up to the War on Terror, with special emphasis on Nashvillians that served. It'll be on display through January 3rd of next year, please come check it out!

My next blog post in a couple of weeks will be about the ever-favorite topic of the Flu! Stay tuned!

Sarah

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