Armistice Day in Denton: 1918
by Irene Delashaw
(from "I Remember: a Collection of Writings of Denton Senior Citizens",
edited by Emory and McCloud)
Now listen, my grandchildren, and you shall hear, not of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, not of our nation at the beginning of a war, but of how the good news of the ending of World War I was received in Denton.
Scarcely a family in my circle of acquaintances was not touched to some degree by the war, having relatives or friends in the Army, Navy, or Air Force. One such example was the pastor of the Central PresbyterianChurch on Bolivar Street, Dr. Charles M. Collins. His son, Louis Norman, had volunteered and was in Company M, 142nd Infantry. When he was eighteen and stationed in Fort Worth, he often came home on weekends. One Sunday morning while Dr. Collins was in the pulpit preaching, the door opened and in walked the son in uniform. Dr. Collins paled, paused, visibly striving for composure, then went right on with his sermon. I thought of that incident months later, when I learned that he was resigning his pastorate to go to France as a volunteer chaplain in Y.M.C.A. work. Incidentally, father and son were actually reunited in Toulouse, France, at the end of the war, and later the son attended the University of Toulouse until his father's release from active duty. Then they were free to return to America.
In World War I, aviation was really in its infancy, but Denton did have some enlisted men in the Air Force. One family, all members of this same Central Presbyterian Church, had a son who became an Ace (top rating) in the Air Force. On one occasion, when he was home on furlough, he spoke to a group about his experiences. I remember his description of what it was like to ride in an aeroplane. He said, "Just imagine you are on a huge mound of Jello which has been unmolded on a plate, and that someone occasionally shakes the plate."
At our school, the Normal College, which is now North Texas State Univeristy, most of our assemblies, chapel services, and lyceum programs (even our conversations) were concerned with the war. The college president, Dr. W.H. Bruce, had two sons in the service, as did that great personage, Mme. Schumann-Heink, who stirred our hearts when she appeared. Her voice was still superb, even though she was aging. The thing that brought us to tears, however, was her asking our indulgence while she sang one song, "Silent Night," in her native language for her oldest son in the German army. She was traveling over America to give our boys in camps a boost. The heartbreak of many in our land must have been as great as hers. People of German descent and loyalty put aside that feeling because they wanted to serve America. There was a classmate of mine at the college, Ruth Hamilton, whose brother was in the Navy. I marveled at her courage when she gave oral reports which were largely made of material from his letters home. She sensed my amazement and one day said to me that before her brother's departure she had wondered how the family would be able to bear the situation. "But," she added, "you will learn that when things happen that are beyond your control, Someone bears the burden for you and life can go calmly on." Ruth's parents were foreign missionaries for the Southern Baptist denomination. They had all been living in Brazil, but the mother and children were in America to solve the school problem. I feel sure that fortitude had been instilled into all of them by their lives as missionaries.
One assembly program was for girls only. The speaker was a representative of the Red Cross. In her address she diverted from the main topic to appeal for volunteers to go as nurses for the wounded American boys. It was deeply moving, but not until years later did I learn just how that appeal struck the heart of one student. I did not know her then, but it so happened that in time I married her uncle. I asked her once why she dropped her original plan to become a teacher and became a nurse. She cited that very Red Cross speaker's appeal. Upon leaving the assembly, she went directly to her boarding house, packed her suitcase and took the next train for Bonham, her home town. In Bonham she enrolled at the hospital for training to become a Red Cross nurse, and that is where she was when the war ended. Those of us who knew her best, however, were aware that she would have gone to France as gallantly as she went to her room to pack her suitcase that day in Denton.
So much for the wartime atmosphere that permeated our lives that year. As a student I was living in the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Downer. Mr. Downer was Head of the Mathematics Department of the college. Now you must remember that this was more than sixty years ago. We had no radios, no televisions, no cars, and few communication facilities of other sorts. News such as the Armistice, however, spread like wild fire. When it reached Denton, fire bells started ringing. Church bells took it up. Telephones relayed the message. People ran shouting, "The War is over! The War is over!" The Germans had surrendered, and Armistice Day had dawned.
I awoke suddenly and asked what all the noise meant. "The War is over," shouted Mrs. Downer. That one little exciting sentence expressed the culmination of the united effort of Americans all over the land to do our bit to end the war.
When the impact of Mrs. Downer's cry, "The War is over!" really struck, I was ready for action. Mr. Downer came home and said students were gathering at the Administration Building. I ran over there. The students were shouting, but I cannot remember what was being said. I was shouting, myself. Then Dr. Bruce appeared, other members of the staff, and more students. Downtown fire bells were still ringing, and people were converging on the Courthouse Square.
The parade, as such, was a very disorganized one. We just found ourselves, after a time, going toward town, with Dr. Bruce, bareheaded, leading the procession. People in their homes on Hickory Street waved and called out to us. We sang "Over There," "Farewell to Thee," "Picadilly," and other wartime and patriotic songs. Arriving at the Square, most of us found companions and submerged into the crowd on the sidewalks, or went to see the place where an effigy of the Kaiser had been burned earlier in the day.
When the College of Industrial Arts students appeared over on Locust Street, they looked more orderly. Their uniforms, with the tassels on their square tops bobbing and swaying, made a pleasing picture. During the impromptu program one of the students, dressed in white and riding a white horse, represented Joan of Arc. She sang the French national anthem, "Marseillaise."
The program was not long. There were speakers. We sang "The Star Spangled Banner," a band played, and after a prayer we gradually dispersed. Thus ended the celebration of the first Armistice Day in Denton, as this grandmother remembers it.
Irene Delashaw has spent her life in Texas as a student and teacher, a wife and mother. She was born in Bryan, Texas, in 1900. When she was seven years old, she moved with her family to a rural community near Wichita Falls - a change to which her sisters and Irene had to adjust. One day, when she was still a newcomer in the one-room country school, a little girl said to her, "I'm Bohemian. What are you?" "English American," she replied, wondering whether it was true. That night her mother said, "You were exactly right. You are American and your ancestors came from England." After the eighth grade in that school, and one year in Wichita Falls High School, she came to Denton to the North Texas State Normal College, now North Texas State University. She found it to be a wonderful place. She wanted to be a teacher, and she started teaching after only two years of college. In those times young people were allowed to teach without degrees. She had a teaching certificate issued from Austin, but the B.S. degree was obtained by going back to school in summers.
Mrs. Delashaw enjoyed forty-six years of teaching. When her husband died in Lubbock, she decided to move to Dallas. Her son, an only child, was living there with his wife and three children. They were building a house on acreage near Denton, where they now live. In 1979, after seven years in Dallas, she moved to the Heritage Oaks Apartments in Denton, where she hopes to remain.