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SIMON LLOYD: Islanders get the long-awaited news that the war is over

The Charlottetown Cenotaph
The Charlottetown Cenotaph - Contributed

The Guardian for Nov. 1, 1918, carried several items of welcome front-page news. Under the headline “Board of Health Has Lifted The Ban,” it was reported that Charlottetown’s health officer had advised city council the previous evening “that the [flu] epidemic is almost at an end”. As a consequence, council directed that “city churches, theatres and other places of amusement be permitted to reopen,” although the reopening of Prince of Wales College and public schools was deferred.

Bracketing this story were reports that the two Central Powers fighting beside Germany were abandoning the struggle: the Ottoman Empire [Turkey] had just signed an armistice, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was on the brink of collapse. As for Germany, the Allies were reported to be preparing an armistice ultimatum demanding her unconditional surrender.

Not surprisingly, then, The Guardian reported the next day that Nov. 1 had been a “day of rejoicing” in Charlottetown. But even while the front page reported thankfulness that Charlottetown had escaped the epidemic “comparatively lightly” and that there would surely be “peace by Christmas”, the lead editorial counselled caution about “peace rumours”: “although [Germany] knows she is beaten she is not yet sufficiently beaten to accept unconditional surrender.” A similar reticence about the flu’s impact would also have been justified, for the epidemic would, over the coming weeks – and on into the new year – show another of its unusual features, moving from larger population centres to strike hard in rural areas.

For The Guardian, however, it was now time to focus on a “big push” to meet the ambitious target set for P.E.I. in the 1918 “Victory Loan” war bonds campaign: $2,500,000, equivalent to almost $56,000,000 today, to be subscribed by Nov. 16. Every issue of The Guardian through the first half of November was jammed with Victory Loan advertisements and promotional articles, evidently to good effect: a front-page story on Nov. 22 trumpeted the news that P.E.I. had subscribed just over $3,000,000 to the loan, handily surpassing the original target.

The Victory Loan success was marked with fireworks and a banquet, but there was, of course, already a celebratory spirit in the air. On Nov. 12, 1918, The Guardian carried what was surely its most eagerly-anticipated story ever, under the banner headline, “PRAISE BE TO GOD WHO GIVETH THE VICTORY: PEACE WITH HONOR”. Continuing the religious theme, a quotation from the Book of Isaiah followed: “Beauty for Ashes, The Oil of Joy for Mourning, The Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness”.

News of Germany’s armistice signing reached Charlottetown early on the morning of Monday, Nov. 11: the city’s fire-bell began a “lusty clanging” about 7 a.m., soon joined by church bells and steam whistles all over town. Even though mistaken reports of a German armistice had sparked premature celebrations on P.E.I. and across North America on Nov.7, the response on Nov. 11 remained enthusiastic. Charlottetown proclaimed a civic holiday, and thousands turned out for an afternoon parade, which included “the greatest procession of decorated automobiles ever seen on Prince Edward Island.” In the evening, a torchlight procession culminated in a massive bonfire in the Market Square.

Peace had finally arrived, but anxiety lingered for many Islanders with loved ones overseas. With the Canadian Corps’ furious fighting through the war’s final hundred days, The Guardian reported on Nov. 16 that casualty lists had fallen up to 10 weeks behind. Although reports of battle casualties continued to arrive in Island homes up to a month after the armistice, word of one tragedy arrived relatively quickly. On Nov. 15, The Guardian reported that artillery Lieut. Fred Longworth had died on Nov. 10, “just on the eve of victory.” It was later confirmed that Longworth received his mortal wounds during the Canadian attack on Mons, only hours before the final cease fire. He was 25 years old.

The timing of the Longworth family’s tragedy may have been particularly cruel, but the unprecedented trauma of the world’s first total war left no one untouched. On Nov. 8, after the first – false – report of peace, The Guardian wrote: “It is too soon as yet to realize the full significance to the world, to civilization, to us as a province, to many of us personally, of the fact that the war is over …”.

Next month, in this series’ final column, we shall look at The Guardian’s efforts, during the first weeks of peace, to take stock of the most momentous and terrible story it had ever covered.

Simon Lloyd is librarian responsible for the P.E.I. collection at the University of Prince Edward Island Robertson Library's University Archives and Special Collections. This is part of a monthly series of lookbacks at the First World War he will be providing, drawing on the historic issues of The Guardian available online at islandnewspapers.ca.


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