It was the signal that marked the end of the First World War – the moment when thousands of soldiers put down their weapons and all went quiet on the Western Front.
Now burglars have stolen one of the Morse code messages that announced the end of the conflict nearly a century after a British signalman brought it home from the trenches.
Private John Smith, of the 12th battalion of the London Regiment, was in a frontline signal hut on 11 November 1918, when that message came through on a telegraph machine signalling that the war would end at 11am.
He put the transcribed message into his pocket and it stayed in his possession after he returned home and married his sweetheart, Grace. He kept it for the rest of his life.
But decades after John died in the 1950s from lung damage caused by wartime gas attacks, his granddaughter, Suzie Smith, has been left devastated after burglars stole the document and John’s medals after ransacking her grandmother’s jewellery box.
She is now urging the thieves who broke into her home in Stockport to hand back the signal which marked the final act in the world’s most devastating conflict.
“It’s a piece of paper that has no financial value, but it’s so precious to me. It’s irreplaceable. They also took my grandfather’s two war medals,” she said.
“I felt like a custodian who was keeping them for the family’s sake and I was especially proud of that signal. I just hope that whoever took it might have the heart to give it back and I hope they haven’t just scrunched it up and tossed it under a tree.”
The 12th battalion of the London Regiment served at the second battle of Ypres, the battle of Loos and the battle of Amiens. On 11 November 1918, it was stationed near Peruwelz, south east of Tournai in Belgium.
The signal marking the Armistice was sent from Army headquarters to the battalion at 10am that day, declaring that the war would end exactly one hour later. A fellow signalman in John’s hut decoded the message and then wrote it out in pencil on official Army notepaper.
It declared: “Hostilities cease 11.00 today. Troops will stand fast on the outpost line already established. All military precautions will be observed and there will be no communication with the enemy. Further instructions later. Acknowledge.”
“This is a message that was sent to units along the Western Front, telling the men that the war was over. It was last signal of the war and it’s historically significant to the battalion and to anyone who served in it,” Ian Kikuchi, a historian at the Imperial War Museum London told The Independent.
“What we don’t know is how the men in that signal hut felt when they received the message. Were they elated or did they sit there wondering what would happen at 11am? We will never know.”
Ms Smith, said the theft of the document has also brought back painful memories of losing her father, Tony Smith, when she was 15 in 1996. Her partner has been visiting memorabilia and antique shops in the town in the hope that it has been handed in and she has also posted messages on Facebook urging people to look out for the document.
“The Morse code transcript was one of only two mementos I had of my dad,” Ms Smith said. “It was one of a small handful of things that I felt I was looking after for him. It was one of the few things I had left.
“It’s a piece of history and it had such emotional significance for me. I just hope somebody sees this and gives it back.”
Historical signal: The transcribed note
Hostilities cease 1100 today. Troops will stand fast on the outpost line already established. All military precautions will be observed and there will be no communication with the enemy. Further instructions later. Acknowledge.
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