Eyewitness to Armistice Day

Eyewitness to Armistice Day

One hundred years ago, on November 11, 1918, at “the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” the signing of an armistice between the Allies and Germany officially ended the long and horrific conflict known then as The Great War and later as World War I.

Thomas S. Buie, Class of 1917, was with his platoon in Verdun, France near the German front line on November 11, 1918, the day the war ended.   The Thomas S. Buie Papers (Mss 365) includes a long letter he wrote to his family in South Carolina a few days later describing his involvement in the last fighting of the war and his feelings when learned it was over.  It provides a fascinating view from the front line as the war ended and the reality of peace set in.

Nov 15, 1918

Dear Folks at Home,

Thank God it is all over. You cannot know our and my feelings when we heard that after four and one-half years of horrible bloodshed and suffering the world is again at peace.  I was right there in the thick of the fight when it was over too, only a few yards from German machine guns, from which the bullets were singing with a vim. Right behind us were the German shells bursting like everything.  Sometime – if the censorship rules permit – and if not, I will tell you all about it. It will take some time. Our Battalion went after them early that morning not having any idea the war was to end within a few hours. We advanced for quite a ways, and as I said we were right up on top of their mgs when it was finished. We were wet as could be, as we had waded a stream from knee deep to waist deep, and had been lying in the mud and water for some time. I was probably the first officer in our Regiment and no doubt one of the first in the American Army, to talk with the Germans. They came out, and I went to them, unarmed, and our relations were very cordial. They seem to be very nice in every way. Will tell you more later, however. Their Red Cross men did a great work for us, dressing our wounded.

That was the first time I had ever been under what might be called real fire, I mean machine gun and rifle fire. I was anxious to know how I would behave. Well I was not scared, but things were real hot around me. It is no fun for machine guns to be peppering away at you, from a distance of only about fifty yards – or less. One bullet hit about a foot from my head, and filled my face with mud. I thought sure I was gone, but did not get a scratch. I did get just a little gas earlier in the morning but not enough to bother me. My throat has been sore for the past few days. It is also rather straining on one’s nerves to be lying in a shell hole and have the shells bursting all around you – as I have had – so near until they would throw mud all over me. One never really knows how to appreciate life until then. I feel that the Lord has been watching over me, and caring for me, and I have resolved to try to live a better life.  Capt. Emerson, my Capt. complimented me on my behavior and said I conducted myself well. I appreciate it, and especially coming from him, for he does not say anything he does not mean.

We cannot yet hardly realize that it is all over. You should see the Frenchmen, they are all overjoyed, for that matter we all are. A German officer told me that Nov. 11 would be a memorable day – just three months after I landed overseas. I suppose it will be Liberty Day. One of the men said it should be Thanksgiving Day. I guess this will be the happiest Thanksgiving since 1913. Just think this war has been going on ever since I had been in school one year. That night the sky was lighted up for miles and miles with flares of all kinds – white, red, green, yellow, etc. Just like a big fireworks celebration. Last night the French soldiers passed the house where I was staying singing and happy. About daylight a crowd of them stopped in the street and we could hear them beating their drums and blowing their bugles. They certainly seemed happy. Some time in the night a crowd of women and children woke us up. Would you believe me if I told you I had not seen a woman or child in two weeks? Do not [unreadable] when I will either. I have been through a great deal during the past few weeks, but thank goodness it is all over now. Of course we are going to have hardships and discomforts, but nothing like it might have been. It is needless for me to say anything about our going home, for we know absolutely nothing as to what we are going to do. Expect that it will be several months yet, however, before we sail Westward. We are all looking forward to that day.

Well it is about bedtime – after seven o’clock, and as I have no idea when I will have the opportunity to mail this, will stop for the present – more later.

Today the wind is blowing and it is real cold, frost and ice on the ground yet – 1 P.M. We are having real cold weather, but have plenty of fire, and then we do not have to hide about and dodge shells, etc. I would not  [unreadable]   experiences of the past few weeks, neither would I repeat them for a similar amount. I Honestly feel that I have done my part in this war. I may not have as some of [unreadable] others but I have done all that I could.

I do not know what I am going to do now. If given the opportunity may stay in the Army for a while, but if so, hope that a part at least of my service will be at home.

I have many things to tell you, I know I will never get through – one thing is the feeling I had when I at last knew – but could hardly realize – that the war was over, and that I had something to do with ending it – that no more would I hear the shells come screaming through the air, or see my comrades shot down by my side. I may not have seen all the horrors of war, but I have seen enough. I truly nope to never hear another shell or bullet.

I have received two or three letters from you within the past two or three days, have not mailed a letter to you in about two weeks – have one which I wrote two weeks ago which I will mail with this one. I have also received quite a few papers in the past few days. Many thanks for them.

I do hope you will keep well of the influenza. We have had but very little of it here. I have a slight cold now, but am better than I was a few days ago. Hope Aunt Alma will soon be well again.

I tried to cable you the other day after the war was over but found that we were about thirty miles from a cable office. Do not be alarmed if you get one from me anytime. You know it take so long for a letter to reach you.

I am lying flat on my blankets in a little shack writing this, and it is rather uncomfortable, so must stop. Will write again in a day or so. Hope to reach civilization soon.

Your true son,

Tom

To learn more about Thomas Buie and Clemson’s involvement in World War I, see the online exhibit “World War I and the Clemson Community” here.