OLD NEWS: On Nov. 11, 1918, Long Beach and the world celebrated peace at last

Editor’s note: “Old News” is an occasional series looking at some of Long Beach’s quirky and interesting historical stories and headlines.

The Great War, “the War to End all Wars,” waged on in Europe from 1914 to 1918. It was one of the most bloody and brutal wars in history, with the Entente Powers (a coalition of countries led by France, Britain, Italy, Russia, Japan and the U.S.) deploying 40 million troops, and more than 5 million of those died; the Central Powers (led by Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) deployed 25 million, losing 3.5 million. Roughly 9 million dead altogether. That’s about 6,000 soldiers killed per day for four years, three months and one week.

Add to that the death of about 13 million civilians in the war. And the era’s death count soared with as many as 40 million killed by the Spanish flu, about 675,000 in the United States.

There was no question the world needed a break.

That break came on Nov. 11, 1918, with the signing of the armistice between the two powers that ended the war. And the celebrations began in Europe, where battles were still smoldering.

Webb Miller, UPI’s London Bureau chief, was the first American journalist to report the armistice and his story, datelined “With the American Armies in France, Nov. 11, 2:10 p.m.,” was carried by the Long Beach Daily Telegram that day:

Motorcycle couriers tore along the roads today shouting:

“It’s over, boys!”

Marching columns, tired and mud-spattered, were galvanized into new life. They shouted, laughed and sang…

Two words—”It’s over”—changed the grim men into laughing boys.

News of the armistice arrived in Long Beach a half hour after midnight on Nov. 11 and the report in the Daily Telegram described the town’s reaction:

The erstwhile midnight stillness was shattered by jangling bells, tooting horns, revolvers and all other forms and manners of noisemaking.

At 1:10 a.m. the bathhouse siren raised its rangeful, if not beautiful, voice and about that time the people in the farther-out districts began to kick off the covers and feel around for slippers.

Many of the townspeople early this morning “beat it” for the Downtown section and in a short time a parade had been formed, bonfires had been kindled here and there. Police officers became active as traffic cops at an unheard-of hour.

Everywhere, ever since, everyone has continued to be in a very ecstasy of rejoicing.

At dawn, some 2,000 workers from a nearby shipyard picked up empty five-gallon oil cans and banged and bashed their way through Downtown, making a couple of riotous rounds along city streets.

Cars, motorcycles, bike and street cars all tied boilers, cans, dishpans and other noisemakers behind their vehicles and raised a racket down Pine Avenue and up Ocean Boulevard.

The police let the celebration run riot. A sergeant explained that “when people get to celebrating victory in a war with an unscrupulous nation as Germany, they are not accountable for all they do and are certainly pardonable for overstepping ordinary bounds just a little.”

The enthusiasm didn’t wane as the celebration went on. The biggest parade in the young city’s history snaked through the town at 3 p.m., with nearly 850 cars and trucks, accompanied by shipbuilder bands as well as the Long Beach Municipal Band, which exhausted its repertoire of patriotic songs and marches, before the crowd of thousands went a cappella, singing Great War-themed songs such as “Keep the Home Fires Burning” and “Over There.”

The Daily Telegram reporter caught a sublime moment in the midst of the celebratory bedlam in the early hours of what would soon be termed Armistice Day (the name of the Nov. 11 observance until it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954).

Wearing only his nightclothes, an elderly man came out on his front porch at 2 a.m. and played “Over There” and “The Star Spangled Banner” as cornet solos.

Despite the cold night air and nervousness betrayed by continually getting off key, the musical patriot stayed with it till both airs had been finished.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.