99 years: Armistice Day in Berkeley, 1918

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Joshua Jordan/Staff

When the news at last came in from Washington at 2 a.m., about 2,000 Berkeley residents, students and locals alike, leapt onto the streets, shouting and whistling with joy, reported the Berkeley Daily Gazette. The officers at the aviation headquarters in the city, as reported by The Daily Californian, led a procession to the Shattuck Hotel in Downtown Berkeley, where one member woke its guests with a bugle rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to cheers and applause.

Later, when day dawned, Charles Gayley — then-acting president of the university — declared a universitywide holiday, sending students out on the streets at noon to join in the revelry, according to the Berkeley Daily Gazette. At four o’clock in the afternoon, an official assembly at the Hearst Greek Theatre marked the end of the war. Students rose up from the stands to sing, while professors representing each of the Allied countries gave emotional, triumphant speeches of victory.

It was the day of the armistice, when the German forces had formally surrendered to the Allies in France. For the University of California, the news could not have been more welcome. The declaration of war in the United States had seen more than 3,500 of its students and faculty join the military, with at least 45 reported dead by October 1918, according to Dave Weinstein’s book “It Came From Berkeley.”

The University of California Chronicle’s War Service Record notes that, in the first year of the United States entering the war, the university had created a Military Bureau, and its first order of business was to ask for volunteers for the tremendous amount of work necessary for a nation at war. The positions needed included enlisting officers, cadets, ambulance units, clerks, sergeants, nurses, chemists and administrative assistants — all citing the patriotic pride of serving one’s country and working abroad.

For a student attending class while news of fighting came in every day from overseas, enlistment felt inevitable.

By the end of 1917, 3,070 male students had reported for duty. Another 889 joined the ranks of the military in 1918, and 225 more students signed on for civilian jobs. Every day until the end of the war, the front pages of Berkeley’s papers, including The Daily Californian, would be plastered with enlistment advertisements.

For a student attending class while news of fighting came in every day from overseas, enlistment felt inevitable. Perry Patton, a decorated veteran and Secretary of the Class of 1917, recalls his journey from an award-winning philosophy student to a driver for the American Field Service Ambulance Unit with matter-of-fact seriousness.

“Because the war was coming, we could see the war coming, we thought that way we’d become officers,” he said in an interview with Elaine Dorfman entitled “Berkeley and the University Just Prior to World War I (1913-1917).”

He was a part of the ROTC and had joined the unit before he had even received his diploma.

Though the United States had not yet entered the war then, Patton recalls the sense of preparation that had crept into every nook and cranny of life. Even at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, the ROTC had a place.

“We marched with our guns from the Ferry Building,” Patton commented, according to Dorfman’s transcript.

There were two things he remembered most about the Exposition: one was a Dole Pineapple exhibit, and the other, a telephone recounting headlines from New York.

“It shows how naïve we were,” Patton added in the interview.

The day after the armistice was signed, The Daily Californian would publish more news of student deaths from abroad — an alumnus lieutenant and a flying cadet had perished in the final days of the war.

Patton would go on to serve in World War II as a commandant of the 85th Repair Depot Squad.

“I still believe the day will come, someday, when we will have international peace,” he said in the conclusion of his interview with Dorfman.

The day after the armistice was signed, The Daily Californian would publish more news of student deaths from abroad — an alumnus lieutenant and a flying cadet had perished in the final days of the war. The opinion section would also launch a scathing tirade against admitting those who “believe or teach doctrines opposed” to American values into the university.

But Nov. 11, 1918, the city and the university let out a breath they had been holding for 19 months.

“The siren on the power plant blew for about two hours & yes, the fire department was out, and everyone had horns and cowbells, and the girls went down and got our Chinese gong, and pounded and pounded …” wrote Agnes Edwards Partin, a student at the time, in a letter to her family. This excerpt of Partin’s letter can be found today in Weinstein’s book.

The Campanile chimed too that day, sounding the victory with music from nearly every Allied country, so loud and long it seemed to ring into the future in jubilance and relief.

Contact Anna Ho at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anna_j_ho.

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  • C Bierbauer78

    The University showed it’s true colors when it destroyed the Memorial Grove to illegally upgrade a stadium directly atop the Hayward Fault. I spit on the University of California Berkeley for dishonoring the WWI veterans.