Armistice Day

Page 3 – False armistice

Speakers marking Austria-Hungary’s surrender in early November 1918 weren’t the only ones planning for Germany to follow suit and bring an end to the First World War. Within a day or so of many communities held meetings to discuss what form the next celebrations should take. At one such meeting Nelson’s mayor, William Snodgrass, commented that they had held ‘several impromptu celebrations’ but wanted the next ones to be ‘more memorable’.

Businesses such as Auckland-based Smith and Caughey’s and Wellington’s E.W. Mills began encouraging people to stock up on Union Jacks and the flags of other Allies for such ‘bright days’.

Speculation grew about when Germany would surrender. On 7 November Prime Minister William Massey assured the public that the government was not holding back news of a surrender, following rumours to the contrary. The next morning - a Friday - celebrations broke out across the country after newspapers published a cable from America announcing that Germany had surrendered. Though no confirmation came from the government, many people stopped work and businesses closed.

Celebrations continued even after the government announced later in the day that it had been a false alarm. Many either didn’t believe or didn’t care that the news was untrue. The people of Feilding, for example, went ahead with a large procession. Crowds loudly cheered the mayor’s pronouncement that ‘the fact [the news] was not official was no guarantee that it was not true’. But neighbouring Palmerston North stopped its celebrations – reportedly scoffing at Feilding for ‘going on with the game’.

Parliament adjourned for several hours that afternoon because of the ‘upset’ the premature announcement caused members of the House. This also allowed a Cabinet meeting to take place.

By this time the machinery of war had begun to adjust. The Defence authorities slowed mobilisation but were careful not to attribute this to the impending end of the war. In mid-October they decided to delay the entry of future drafts into camp – because there were already too many men there, not because of the direction of the war or any decline in the need for reinforcements.

Early in November two groups of reinforcements due to embark for overseas were held back because of the epidemic. Again the authorities emphasised that this was not because ‘the war has come to an end’. They also cancelled the mobilisation of the next draft due to enter camp because of the epidemic, although some men still went into camp.

Auckland and the training camps remained affected by the influenza pandemic. The number of new cases at Awapuni and Featherston peaked in the two days before the false news arrived,  while those at Trentham peaked two days after the news.

Though influenza was now apparent across the country, from Whāngārei to Invercargill, people were determined to celebrate Germany’s supposed surrender. Auckland’s authorities again decided not to have an official gathering, but crowds converged on Queen Street nevertheless. As impromptu bands played and all kinds of vehicles were decked out as floats, Union Jacks predictably sold out. One man had taken Smith and Caughey’s advice and gotten in early:

A stout, staid business man [wore] the Stars and Stripes as an apron, and the Union Jack as a shoulder cloak, while from his hat rose two more of England’s emblems.

Afterwards Auckland’s acting Chief Medical Officer, Dr Joseph Frengley, spoke out against such large gatherings. Noting that they had interrupted the work of volunteers and disturbed the sick, he recommended that no more such events take place until the epidemic had abated.

Others reserved their criticism for the censor who had let through the false news. One newspaper thundered that ‘words fail to properly condemn such folly’. The government promptly announced that to avoid future false alarms, news of the surrender would be heralded by the forts in the main centres firing their guns. Auckland’s authorities decided not to do this because it would disturb the sick and encourage people to gather in the city.

Elsewhere, planning for celebrations continued. Some areas went ahead with meetings scheduled during this period; others hurriedly organised them. With the good news imminent, a number of newspapers included notices outlining their community’s agreed order of events for 11 or 12 November.

How to cite this page

'False armistice', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/armistice-day/false-armistice, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 27-Aug-2014