Puslapio vaizdai

fighting activities in French waters, which included, of course, the delicate destroyer operations against enemy submarines and the command of all naval personnel in France. His was a job of enormous responsibility and required an inordinate amount of wakeful attention. But there was about him at no time any of that suggestion of rush and over-exertion common to the smaller man with far fewer cares. The navy knew that the meanestgrade fireman could reach the admiral's ear as easily as a congressman, perhaps easier.

But fate was still having its bizarre way. The admiral was out, and his aide, Ensign Sellards, made an appointment with Howard for four o'clock that afternoon. On such slender threads as this does history hang! Had the admiral been in when we called, and Howard had spent half an hour or so with him at that time instead of later in the day, the famous armistice celebration of November 7 would never have occurred.

By the time I had shown Howard a few of Brest's sights (nothing much to see) and we had lunched at the Navy Club, it was after two o'clock. I then took him back to his hostelry, the Continental, where he had been lucky enough to find quarters, the place being packed to the roof with congressional "visiting committees," known unpleasantly in the army as "joyriders," Y.M.C.A. workers, French demi-mondaines, hordes of quartermaster officers and naval paymasters, a few stray doughboys on special pass, an assortment of "Swiss" salesmen of considerable interest to my department, and an occasional, very occasional, Frenchman, bearing an apologetic air for seeming to intrude on so happy an

[merged small][ocr errors]

At four-thirty or thereabout, as I sat at my desk mulling over some reports, I heard a great shout go up somewhere in the general direction of the Place du Président Wilson. Exuberant behavior of all sorts being more the rule than the exception of the Yankee-burdened Brest of those days, I paid no attention to the racket; but shortly afterward one of my men entered with the report that official news had been given out to the effect that an armistice had been signed and the fighting had ended at the front. Had been given out, what more, by naval headquarters!

Astounded at the suddenness with which truth had been given to the odd rumor that had hovered over Brest all day, I started inquiries that quickly disclosed what had occurred. It was

not for some time that I located Howard, who, with Major Cook of General Harries's staff, was going from one official bureau to another in his endeavor to procure additional information. From him I learned that the armistice tidings had been pronounced official by Admiral Wilson and that Howard had sent a cable to the United States saying that the war was over.

If the news was true, Howard probably had scored the biggest news beat of history. And from Howard's recital of the facts there seemed to be no question of the news being authentic. Back in my office, he told me what had happened, beginning by tossing on my desk a copy of his message to the States.

It was addressed to the United Press office in New York City and read:

Urgent. Armistice allies Germans signed 11 smorning hostilities ceased two safternoon.

It was signed "Howard-Simms." Simms was the United Press man in Paris. Apparently Howard wanted to let him share the glory of his "beat." Where and how the latter had arisen so suddenly in Brest, several hundred miles from the front, I could not imagine. I looked up wonderingly and heard the story.

Promptly at four o'clock Howard had been presented to Admiral Wilson. They had been chatting a while when the admiral remarked that he had just received a message which might possibly interest Howard, and handed it to him for his perusal. Howard beheld an official telegram, signed by Commander Jackson of Admiral Wilson's office in Paris and naval attaché at our Paris embassy.

It said:

Armistice signed this morning at 11 all hostilities ceased at 2 P. M. to-day.

Howard was amazed. So the war had ended! Rather suddenly, perhaps, but none the less surely. There could not possibly be any doubt about it. Any question as to the authenticity of the report that might have arisen in the minds of the two men was justifiably dismissed by a consideration of the telegram's source. Naval officials are scarcely given to making so flatly the report of a highly important fact unless it is based on truth; much less so to the commanding naval officer in France, whose receipt thereof might entitle him to believe that submarine warfare had likewise terminated and that his destroyers might relax their

vigilance. It was incredible that, however surprising, the message might be fallacious.

No other official source, French or American, appeared to have the great news, and, desirous that the people of Brest learn of it, Admiral Wilson despatched an orderly to bulletin the tidings in the public square, where the naval band happened to be giving its weekly concert.

The tiny spark of news set a flame that within ten minutes had spread like a prairie fire from one end of Brest to the other. Into the streets pressed dazed by the victory that had come to the people, stunned at first, literally France, then gradually opening up into a mad rejoicing as the tragic repression of four terrible years rolled from their hearts. As Howard spoke, the crowds surged outside my windows, laughing, screaming, sobbing, singing. They celebrated, yes, but it was a different sort of celebration to the gay-hearted, happy holiday and madcap carnival

into which, thanks to Howard's cable, America was at that very minute plunging.

"My cable will get there in time to catch the afternoon editions," reckoned Howard, measuring the difference in time on his fingers. "There 's a day in history for you!" Actually, the news flashed from Brest to New York in six minutes flat, thereby making special noon editions!

Howard had done what any other skilled newspaper man would have done in similar circumstances. He had seen the opportunity of his lifetime, of any war correspondent's lifetime. Here he was at Brest, the cable point, with hot news just off the official griddle that apparently no one else had, that perhaps had not even

yet been given to the press in Paris. He could beat every competitor in the business on the biggest news break in history! He could get his message to the States in time for the afternoon editions. The others might not get there until morning.

Admiral Wilson expressed his willingness that Howard should use the report. In company, therefore, with Ensign Sellards to assist him in arranging things, Howard rushed to the postes. But desiring to file a typewritten message so there would be no possible misunderstanding or misreading by the French cable operator, Howard dived en route into the nearby telegraph room of "La Dépêche" and demanded a type-writer, explaining hurriedly his reason.

By a further coincidence the telegraph editor undertook to type out Howard's message, and used his own telegraph instrument to do so, it being possible to type on the ribbon with the local telegraph key as well as with the transmitting-key in Paris.

Then tearing off the tape, the obliging Frenchman pasted it as usual on a telegraphic form and, lo! the message was clear and ready for immediate filing. What is vastly more important, it looked exactly as though it had been transmitted from Paris, as were all other United Press messages, and had been censored there!


Looking at it in the light of later reflection, I am convinced that it was this unintended strategy of Howard's that enabled him to get his cable past the local censors. I say "unintended" because it is inconceivable that in the circumstances any man, however alert, could have thought up so extraordi

narily clever a devise. Knowing that type of French official as I do, I am convinced that no one in Brest, of whatever exalted rank, could have caused the local French censors to let by so portentous a message without having the O. K. of either the Ministry of War or the Paris censorship office.

I am further convinced that it was the strange combination of circumstances that led to the message's looking as if it came from Paris. It was even signed, thanks to Howard's generosity, by Simms, the man who signed all the messages that came from Paris, and with whose name the Brest censors were familiar as being the stamp of proper procedure. That resulted in its speedy transmission to America's noon editions! And in New York the censor, justifiably concluding that the. Brest censor would not have passed so important a piece of news unless it had been first passed by the Paris censor, fell victim to the same fluke, and the damage was done. The general belief that the message had, in fact, come from Paris is further verified by the short extract from the New York "Globe" given above, in which it is stated that the spurious report emanated "from Paris."

It is an extraordinary fact that probably, in view of the above facts, Roy W. Howard was the only man in the world who could have sent the message as it was sent or who could have sent it at all. As president of the United Press and in close touch with "La Dépêche," he possessed both the authority and the machinery wherewith to "put the thing across." That he was actually in Brest on that day and in consultation with Admiral Wilson is a coincidence that staggers the imagination.

Torn between believing and not believing, wanting to be as exultant as the throngs that were sending their songs up to us from the crowded, narrow streets, I was perturbed principally by the silence on the subject of an armistice that my own department had maintained. It seemed impossible that, if the news were true, I would myself not be advised by intelligence headquarters, in order that I might inform the commanding general of the base.

I called the Paris intelligence office by telephone and, to their apparent astonishment, explained what had occurred. No word of any armistice had reached it; nothing more than that enemy plenipotentiaries were expected to meet Marshal Foch that afternoon at five. I requested the Paris "I. O." to get into immediate touch with the French Ministry of War and advise me of consequences as soon as possible.


But seeming set-back did not serve to shake Howard's confidence. On the contrary, it indicated to him that his "beat" was all the bigger. He protested that the news was probably just out, and that the Paris embassy had received it before the "I. O.," a perfectly possible occurrence. And always present was the incredibility of Admiral Wilson's office in Paris imparting such news to him unless it were true. There had been neither uncertainty nor doubt in its words. The armistice "signed," all hostilities "ceased"; nothing equivocal about such expressions as those.

During our luncheon and before the storm had broken, Howard had asked me to dine with him that night, little thinking that he was, in effect, asking me to an "armistice celebration." There was to be no official army cele

bration of the "victory," inasmuch as General Harries, after telephoning me to ask whether I had had confirmation of the report from Paris or Chaumont, declared that he would refuse to believe it until I did.

At Howard's request I had earlier in the day rounded up a small band of cronies, and six of us gathered around the tiny table that our host had managed to engage at La Brasserie de la Marine, Brest's Delmonico, and that evening a pandemonium of gaiety.

It need hardly be said that some spirit of that same unrestrained emotion that was sweeping through our own home towns at that minute animated our little group. The war over! It It seemed impossibly, wonderfully true. Only a few weeks back it had seemed as though it would never end. And now here it was-"finie la guerre!” The famous doughboy phrase rang out on all sides. The brasserie was alive with flags, confetti, and streamers that had leaped suddenly into being from nowhere, and the usual clatter of dishes was replaced by the yells and songs of several hundred unrestrained throats.

Two pretty girls danced recklessly on a narrow table packed tightly against ours, while their Yankee escorts roared a jazz accompaniment. An orchestra played in a far corner-played madly, furiously, but no one heard it. A drunken sailor climbed up on the chandelier, fell off; the world shrieked with laughter. A near-by French officer, turned martial by Moet, 'cent quatre, exhorted a deaf multitude not to stop the war, and finally fell to weeping on the table-cloth. Everywhere noise, din, madness, a universe gone drunk with a wine that knew no grape. Then came, as it had to come,

[merged small][ocr errors]

Then suddenly came the crash, just as it had to come, out of a sky that was blue and beautiful, out of a sky the

horizon clouds of which I had come near to forgetting. I had left word for any wire from Paris to be sent to me immediately. In the midst of a din that was getting louder momentarily, a signal-corps orderly entered the room unnoticed and made for our table. A feeling of chilling apprehension seized me as I grasped and opened the message that was handed to me. I felt Howard's eye on me as I read, and the blood rushed to my head.

The communication was in intelligence code, and the process of translation was slow and fearful. Finally it was done. I had only to read it aloud to that screaming mob about me to be torn to little pieces. The message said:

Armistice report untrue. War Ministry issues absolute denial and declares enemy plenipotentiaries to be still on way through lines. Cannot meet Foch until evening. Wire full details of local hoax immediately.

The message was signed by Major Robertson, my immediate superior at Paris.

I shall draw a swift curtain over the cruel scene of reaction: Howard's white, drawn face as he realized what he had done, as he read in the words I handed him his own doom and that of the United Press; our filing out with him back to the Continental, leaving

behind us, undisillusioned, the tragically joyous throngs celebrating a peace that was not a peace a peace whose morning after would find men still killing one another monotonously, hopelessly, as had every dawn since August, 1914.

lieve even Robertson's definite words, A revival of hope, an inability to be

impelled Howard to go in search of Admiral Wilson. The two of us finally located him dining en famille with a French local official, and in answer to the inquiries we sent inside Ensign Sellards came out to tell us that the

admiral had heard from Paris that the news he had received that afternoon concerning an armistice had been "premature." Clinging to the faint belief that "premature" meant "true, but not properly released," Howard spent most of the night trying to get information from his own Paris office. When that came, all hope crashed to the ground. "Premature" meant untrue. The world collapsed about Howard's ears. The biggest "beat" in the history of journalism had turned cruelly into its biggest "bloomer."

The blackest of black skies cleared considerably for Howard the following morning when Admiral Wilson, every inch the gentleman and the man, took upon his own shoulders complete responsibility for Howard's fateful cable. In the admiral's statement, issued at once to the press, he did not even make mention of the official who had sent, or, at least, whose signature was affixed to the erroneous communication from Paris. To the latter he referred simply as "what appeared to be official and authoritative information."

The career of a lesser man might very well have been marred by this brave assumption of blame, but, then,

« AnkstesnisTęsti »