World War I Armistice Centennial

Sunday November 11 will be the centennial of the end of World War I, called the Great War, and referred to hopefully as the war to end all wars.  Today we still have that hope for peace our kinfolk did so many years ago. To represent that on-going faith in the future, the Swansboro Historical Association will partner with Swansboro Parks and Recreation during the Mullet Festival at 11 am (11th day of the 11th month) and lead the crowd in a state and international ceremony of ringing for peace.  Bring a bell and come down to the Pug or participate anywhere you may be.  The SHA also encourages local churches to take part by ringing bells 11 times at 11 am. This event is also sponsored by the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. 

As part of this anniversary the SHA will have a program on November 5 about the Swansboro Area during the war featuring local people who served in the military and in other ways on the homefront.  The program takes place from 6:30-8:00 pm at the Parks and Recreation building at 830 Main Street Extension.  Steve Anderson, the Director of the History Museum of Carteret County, will focus on YZ Weeks, one of the most decorated war heroes in our area, and local historians, Jack Dudley and I will show slides featuring War World I soldiers: Tom Merritt, Jr, Jim Weeks, Zennie Carney, Braddock Brown,  Nobe Stanley, Dan Sanders, Gus Pittman, Walter Furlong, and sailors: Tyre Moore, John Leslie Bell, and Herbert Clifton Riggs. I will also discuss the Coast Guard and the home front. 

Though many locals can relate their or their parent’s memories of World War II, most are fuzzy when it comes to World War I. Much of life here had connection to the water during the early 20th century. Swansboro citizens had been in the U.S Life-saving Service and U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, and with the outbreak of war in Europe the two merged to become the U.S, Coast Guard in 1915. Local sailors in the Coast Guard were on the cutter the Seminole enforcing U.S. neutrality laws when the U.S. declared war on Germany in April of 1917.  The Coast Guard became part of the U.S. Navy during the war and defended the Atlantic Coast of the United States.

In Swansboro, as in much of America, people experienced shortages and rationing of store-bought goods. They were encouraged to plant victory gardens and can food, and daylight savings time was first introduced for fuel conservation. Songs like Over There and It’s a Long Way to Tipperary became part of our culture and Swansboro families produced rousing renditions to bolster their own spirits as their sons faced the horrors of “no man’s land” on the western front or spent long days at sea keeping watch for the new underwater menace, the German U-boat.

Shipwrights and labors were also impacted by the war.  The Robert Lee Smith, Larry Stanley, and Everett Canady families among others from the area moved to Morehead City temporarily to build merchant type vessels for the war effort.  The pay was much more than they could make at home. Ship carpenters earned $.50-$.75 an hour whereas a laborer made $.30-$.40, much to the chagrin of Mr. Thomas Pritchard, President of the Swansboro Land and Lumber Co.  The N.C. Shipbuilding Company employed 100s of workers who proudly built the largest ship constructed in NC up to that time, the Dassalan, at 281 feet long, 28-foot beam, and 3500-ton cargo capacity. 

Though war was raging in Europe and on the high seas Swansboro by 1918 was a destination for those seeking rest and relaxation. The newspapers in Raleigh and New Bern advertised the clean cooler air and the abundance of fish.  They promoted the Tarrymore Hotel as “the most attractive resort on the Atlantic Coast.”  In April of 1919 the hotel became the setting for a patriotic celebration for the returning servicemen.  Some of those mentioned above were there, as were others like Charles Sewell, Roy Barbour, and Leo Hatsell, who also served.  The entertainment committee was made up of wives, mothers, and other locals like, Mrs. F.B. Pittman, Mrs. M.E. Bloodgood, and Ida Ward.  This welcome home was very festive and celebrated the spirit of the day with a well-preserved flag from the American Revolution and the singing of the “Star Spangled Banner.”  It was quite an event for the people of Swansboro.

Tyre Moore, from Robert Lee Smith Family Collection SHA.

 John Leslie Bell WWI Service Card

Swansboro men helped build  "The Dassalan," a 281 ft. cargo ship launched in Morehead City in 1918, from Robert Lee Smith Family collection SHA.