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Armistice Day – a Personal History

November 11 has been known as Veterans Day since 1954.  Before that, it was celebrated as Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of World War I on November 11, 1918.  My grandfather was in the room when that armistice was hammered out by European and American dignitaries…

Ray Farrell was the son of a widowed Irish immigrant who came to the United States to escape the potato famine in Ireland.  

Ray FarrellThe armistice ending World War I might not have been signed at the Palace d’Versaille on November 11, 1918, if it were not for him and the men he led. Their role was less prominent than that of the top negotiators, but it was significant in securing the peace.

A little world history refresher:

Negotiations for ending World War I began in January 1918, with 70 delegates from 27 nations participating, excluding the defeated nations of Germany, Hungary and Austria – and Russia, who had negotiated their own treaty.  Each participant had its own agenda, and discussions were often quite heated.  For example,

Okay, back to my story…

Ray Farrell was the Chief Clerk of the Supreme Allied War Council, a shorthand reporter himself, in charge of all the shorthand reporters who created a record of the proceedings for participating nations (and history).  In 1918, there were no audio recording devices, so every session was painstakingly recorded with pencil in shorthand notes, and later transcribed and reconciled by those shorthand reporters.

When a final product finally evolved, calling for fighting to end on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Ray Farrell devised a plan for securely communicating the armistice back home to the United States for Congressional approval.  He divided the document into several small sections and transmitted each separately by telegraph.

For example, one transmission might include line 10 from several pages, so it would make no sense to anyone who intercepted it.  However, when collated with another transmission that included line 9 and yet another including line 11…

In the end, Congress did not ratify the Treaty because of their objections to forming a League of Nations, but they did approve the armistice which ended fighting on November 11.

On the first anniversary of the armistice ending World War I, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation expressing pride in the heroism of those who had fought during the war.  All business stopped and two minutes of silence was observed, beginning at 11 am.  Several states made Armistice Day a state holiday in the 1920’s and 30’s, and Congress declared it a federal holiday in 1938.  Then, in 1954, the name of the holiday was changed to Veterans Day to honor those who served in World War II and Korea.  Today, all veterans are honored on November 11.

Armistice Day – My Grandfather Was There
was posted originally on the Maryland Real
Estate Blog, 11/07/09

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