[Interview with Sapper George Thomas about receiving the armistice message].
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George Thomas, a New Zealand Division telegraphist in World War I, talks about receiving and writing down the Armistice message. He reads from the original message which he retained as a souvenir, along with the pencil he used at the time.
Interviewer: Well, lets take a look now, mentally, Sapper George Thomas at this day of 11 November 1918. Can you remember what sort of day it was?
George Thomas: Yes, yes it was a good day I remember, I remember going in on duty and took up my eight o'clock shift and, ah, only, well I think there'd only been one or two, I'd hardly touched the key that morning before, between then and until this message came through. This priority message came all at once; priority New Zealand Division, they call it. NYC was it, NYC was our call then, yeh, DCO was the British Headquarters in Montreal and our call in was NYC.
Interviewer: What effect did that have on you?
George Thomas: Well, they said, "Priority message", we all, we started to think, there were one or two others there besides me of course, we just wondered what this priority message was going to be although we had had them before but nothing as important as this. Ah, we just wondered for a time, ah, what this thing was going to be although with the way that the Germans were retreating we were not actually surprised.
Interviewer: Alright, well 8:25 arrives, priority call is made.
George Thomas: At 8:20
Interviewer: 8:20 how do you accept this message?
George Thomas: Well, I just got their priority when they started off it with, way up to the preamble goes and all the headings and that sort of thing, ah, it starts off "The following from Third Army: hostilities will cease." Well, then of course when it came to hostilities going to cease, well I don't know, it sort of gave you an attack of the jitters - you didn't know whether you were writing it down properly or not. Ah, hostilities will cease at 1100 hours, of course the army timing is always in hundreds, and that came and then of course as soon as I got that then there was one or two looking over me shoulder to see what I was writing and then the officers round to show it, one or two of the NCOs they were all hanging over looking, and looking and of course they got the men more excited than what the message did. And then, got it all right then of course "I want a copy of that", "Can I have a copy of that?" "Can I have a copy of that?", ah but they got a copy alright but they didn't get the first one, the army waited. The original one still, of course, hasn't reached the army yet so the war finished just the same.
George Thomas: I had, I had a bit of a quick think and I put a couple of carbon copies in. I had to write out another pencil one for the, to send into the division, of course. That didn't take long, it only took me a couple of minutes and I just hung onto this for a souvenir. I've still got that pencil, you know, that type you get four a penny at Woolworths in those days. I still got all that.
Interviewer: How does the complete message read?
George Thomas: The complete message reads, um: To the New Zealand Division priority DCO, that is the British Division Headquarters, called at 8:20, handed in at 8:20 from Sir Douglas Haig's to the British Division
received at 8:25 following from Third Army begins: HOSTILITIES WILL CEASE, in capital letters that piece, HOSTILITIES WILL CEASE AT 1100 HOURS TODAY NOVEMBER 11 STOP TROOPS WILL STAND FAST ON A LINE REACHED AT THAT HOUR WHICH WILL BE REPORTED BY WIRE TO THIRD ARMY STOP DEFENSIVE PRECAUTIONS WILL BE MAINTAINED THERE WILL BE NO INTERCOURSE OF ANY DESCRIPTION WITH THE ENEMY UNTIL THE RECEIPT OF INSTRUCTIONS FROM ARMY HEADQUARTERS STOP FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS WILL FOLLOW.
Addressed all concerned.
Signed Headquarters 4th Corp, eight o'clock
Eight o'clock that was the ending, 4th Corp eight o'clock, it was received at the tele- at the signal station at eight twenty and we got it at eight twenty-five.
Interviewer: That is the actual piece of paper that you've got there, the top copy of that
George Thomas: That's the actual piece of paper that's been half way round the world, that piece.
Interviewer: Well your writing is remarkably clear for such an important message.
George Thomas: The old pencil, the old cheap thing, it still writes. It's a good souvenir that although it's a cheap pencil.
Interviewer: So you thought pretty quickly and you decided to hold onto the original here and send on the copies to the others
George Thomas: Yes I made sure of that.
Interviewer: And you've mounted it on cardboard, and apart from slightly yellowing of age, or a browning of age, it's in remarkably good condition.
George Thomas: Yeah it's worn out a bit but still at the same time it will still be readable in a, for a long time to come yet.
Interviewer: Well, now having completed the message, Sapper Thomas what was the next job did you do that day?
George Thomas: Well, I don't know, I think it was a matter of take time off, as far as I can remember now. Nobody wanted to do anything. I thought well old Jerry's gone. He's reported to be about 18 mile ahead of us and not in any formation at all, straggling, just straggling anywhere, they were retreating, going for their lives. They'd probably, the German division had probably got the same message we got, bound to go through to the German general and the British general and the French general, it'd go right through to the three armies, the whole lot would get the thing. Of course the Germans would say, "Oh well, the thing's over" and take it easy the same as we did.
Interviewer: Once the message was accepted by both sides, which would have been within minutes of you accepting it there at 8.25 on the 11th of November, was there any sign of military action, shells or anything from either side?
George Thomas: I never saw, I never heard, never heard a shot fired. There was nothing.
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 247165
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Nonfiction radio programs
Thomas, George, Interviewee
New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (estab. 1962, closed 1975), Broadcaster