“Oh it was grand!” A World War I soldier’s account of Armistice Day
My grandfather, Arley E. Hughes Sr., wrote the letter below on Nov. 11, 1918 to his younger sister, Lela, then 22 years old. At the time he was 27 and stationed in France, where he was serving in Sanitary Squad No. 59 of the U.S. Army’s 81st Infantry (“Wildcat”) Division.
I am posting my grandfather’s letter here, on the 94th anniversary of Armistice Day, because it gives us a firsthand account of an extraordinary day in history as experienced by an ordinary soldier, who wrote the letter to tell the story to his family back home in the small, rural community of Kennedy, Alabama.
In addition to Lela, my grandfather’s letter makes reference to his brother, Eli; to another of his sisters, Ethma, and to his wife, Virgie (my grandmother).
Dear Sister; — The Armistice with Germany is signed and these French and our boys too are in a frenzy of excitement. I’ve never seen people so overjoyed. And I myself am unspeakably happy.
This P.M. flying machines of 3 or 4 countries and of several types flew over us and did all kinds of fancy stunts. Oh it was grand! They would dip right down to the ground and mount to the skies again next minute. They showed how recklessly happy they were.
Lela, words won’t convey an idea of what a flash of color and flags you can see on the streets tonight. See we are in a good big city. The railroad stations are even gay with all the Allied flags, St. cars, autos and every-body.
The next thing is: When will good old Uncle Sam start us home? I won’t complain at all makes no difference if I have to stay till spring. But I do hope I come home earlier.
Lela, Uncle Sam has provided wonderfully for us. We have fared far better than some civilians back home. And honestly I have more and better clothes than ever before in my life. (Tho I bought for $5.00 a tan leather coat the other day. I could not buy the same in civil life for 3 times the money.)
Lela, I weigh 67 kilos or 147-lbs. So you see I am well fed. Eli and I both are over our “flu”
Say, I got a lot of German souvenirs today from Germans. Got 56 coins, 8 pieces of paper money, 1 canteen, 1 match case, 1 match box, 7 identification tags, several buttons, 1 medal, and a few ornaments.
The match box has the iron cross on it.
Eli got four or 5 purses and pocket books, a watch, watch case, belt and some money.
Now you’ll be surprised to know that we were trading for another and consequently we got half our purchase without a pennie’s monetary cost.
These Germans would crowd around us like kids. They were crazy for a cigarette. They were so happy because of the cessation of war! One who spoke good English told me in convincing terms how glad they were. He gave me his photo. I’d also got a few others.
Lela, let Ethma and our kin all read this letter. Also send it home if you are writing to homefolks in a day or so.
Listen, I’d give anything almost to see my Virgie to-night. Oh, how happy she is, I know! Homefolks all I guess!
Lela, I make extra in my trading. Have more money than I used to. But of course I don’t make over $2.00 a day. May make $4.00 or $5.00 out of today’s trading.
Your big “bud,”