Armistice Day November 11, 1918
One hundred years ago the First World War ended. It was a milestone in the history of the United States and of Bennnington and would have a lasting effect on our society.
In the fall of 1918, the Banner began reporting news of peace conferences giving impetus to the advancing “Yankee Army” which was driving the Germans into full retreat back towards the Rhine. Diplomatic notes were passing between the Allies and Germany and Wilson called for unconditional surrender. However, there was no talk of an end to the fighting. The draft went on and young men continued to report for service. The Fourth Liberty Loan was launched on October 2 with Bennington’s objective of $352,000. By October 15th $672,500 was collected.
The Spanish Flu epidemic was receding and it was reported that Bennington was clear of the disease and the ban on public gatherings was lifted. People looked to the future with hope. It was felt that Germany would capitulate soon and a Victory Meeting was planned to be held at the Opera House on November 10th. All Sunday evening church services would be cancelled to allow people to attend this patriotic event. Little did they know that an armistice would be signed ending the conflict that very night.
On that evening the Opera House was packed, with standing room only and hundreds were turned away. The program began with the chairman of the United War Work Drive, Frank Howe, reading a message from the Associated Press that the Kaiser had fled to Holland and on hearing this the crowd burst into applause. The Banner reported it was the best meeting ever held in Bennington.
When the meeting broke up, the citizens returned home. Then, at four o’clock in the morning, the telegraph operator in North Bennnington received a wire from the Associated Press that an armistice had been signed and ending the war. The operator was able to reach the editor of the Banner and wake him with the news. A little after 4:00 a.m. the news was posted outside on their bulletin board. One of the first people to learn of the Armistice was Mrs. W.H. Bradford, of Bradford Mill, who ran across the street and sounded the siren at the mill. Chief Brazel heard the siren and sounded the fire alarm. Soon the entire population were awake and heard the news that the war was over. The celebrations immediately began and continued throughout the day with bonfires, firecrackers, horns and small groups marching about. At 6:30 a.m. it was announced that schools, mills and businesses were to be closed for the day. Saloons even decided to shut their doors from 4 – 6 PM.
The celebrations lasted all day and into the night. As the day went on a massive parade, two miles long was organized. It started a one o’clock and wound through the streets of Bennington, with music provided by the Drum Corps, the City, and the Odd Fellows Bands. Cars and trucks were decorated in red, white and blue and filled with men, women, and children all overjoyed that the war was over. Their husbands, brothers, and sisters were out of danger and would soon be coming home. The bonfires that were started early in the day were continuously fed by youngsters who scoured the area for fuel, including accumulated rubbish and even some fire tenders got a little carried away in their enthusiasm and burned things that were still serviceable, including old wagons and sleighs.
Ten days later, there was a larger, more organized victory parade. It formed up on Main Street at Safford Street and was led by the Home Guard and a number of marching bands. It was a parade for the working people of Bennington, the factory and mill workers, to show their patriotism and joy at the end of the war. Each business constructed a float or designed a uniform or insignia to represent their trade. Main Street was illuminated “with red fires” and the marchers carried “sprinklers, Roman candles and other fireworks”. The parade marched down Main, countermarched back to the Black Cat Athletic Field and then around a great bonfire. One group carried an effigy of Kaiser Bill and, to the cheers of the crowd, threw him into the fire. Fireworks and more music followed. The Banner called it “the longest in the town’s history” and one of the most successful public demonstrations held in Bennington.”
But after the fires had died down and people went home the effects of the war would continue. The fighting men would not return soon, many would not get home until the summer and fall of 1919. Telegrams would continue to be delivered to Bennington homes telling families that their loved one had been killed in action. Articles in the Banner still reported the deaths of local servicemen and casualty lists would still be on the front page.
The Red Cross announced that they would carry on with their work as long as the soldiers remained in service. In a message from The Red Cross war council it was stated that “cessation of the war will reveal a picture of misery such as the world has never seen before”. They rejoiced in the victory but would continue to work with the populations of the war-torn countries and with the men still in Europe. The Information bureau would continue to help returning men with the pay and allotments, life insurance and other issued connected with their discharge. The Red Cross would also continue to help families get news of their men overseas.
The First World War would have a tremendous effect on Bennington, bringing it screaming into the Twentieth century and thrusting the weight of world affairs onto this pastoral southern Vermont town. A generation of young men brought back the experiences of fighting in a world war in a strange country and tried to fit back into society.
On this Veterans Day let us remember the sacrifices made by the citizens of Bennington 100 years ago, those 515 men and women who left their homes to “make the world safe for democracy”. Men served in every branch of the Armed Forces and several women enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps or Red Cross and served in France. Of those men and women 16 would be killed and 27 wounded in action.
The Banner stated the role of Vermont quite well in 1917:
In this old Vermont town, we are lovers of peace but we are believers first in national fair play and integrity…we may have to enter the world war. If we do let it be known that Vermont is not behind the rest of the union nor Bennington the last place in Vermont in readiness for this duty.
“Lest We Forget”