Delivering the Most Important Message of the Great War: The Tale of a Springfield Doughboy’s Morning Ride

By Sherri Goudy


Corporal Leon Roth

100 years ago, a young corporal from Springfield, Ohio, started out on a journey that would change history forever.  21-year-old Leon Roth, a dispatcher for the 319th Signal Battalion and serving in France, had carried and delivered thousands of messages over the course of his Army career. But this one was different.  Life altering.  Historic.

In the early morning hours of November 11, 1918, Corporal Roth was instructed to ride through the Compiègne forest to a discreet site where two trains had met. His orders: to pick up an important message there.  The location to which he was to report was actually an old railway dining car on the first train, serving as Headquarters for Ferdinand Foch. The Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies and other French and British officers were in the middle of a critical meeting with Matthias Erzberger, head of the German peace delegation.  Erzberger and other delegates had arrived 3 days prior on the second train to discuss ending the war. It was shortly after 5:00 am, on November 11th that an agreement was finally reached between French and British Allies and German delegates.

General Foch and Armistice signers

General Foch, front and second from right, standing with his entourage and German delegates who had just signed the Armistice. (Photo courtesy of C N Trueman “Terms Of The Armistice” The History Learning Site, 6 Mar 2015. Accessed 9 Nov 2018.)

Upon his initial arrival at the train at 4:00 am, Corporal Roth waited outside, not knowing what was happening inside.  Over an hour later, an orderly came out and shoved some papers into his red dispatch carrier tube, telling him to “hurry this up to headquarters and ride like hell. This is one message that you must get through.”


Photo of Leon Roth and the red canister he carried the Armistice message in on November 11, 1918.

Roth’s journey to General Pershing’s headquarters near Souilly, France was treacherous.  Traveling by motorcycle, he first was nearly killed after a shell exploded nearby and knocked him from his vehicle.  Later, a German sniper bullet grazed his helmet.  Though Roth had escaped death twice, he pressed on.  30 minutes later, Roth arrived and handed the message to an American orderly, who disappeared inside the building. Roth lingered outside, this time waiting to see if there would be a reply.  Soon after, the man returned, declaring “You’ve just brought us the best news we’ve heard. The war is over!”

However, the terms of the Armistice dictated that ceasefire was to occur at the 11th hour of that 11th month of that 11th day but because it was not yet 11:00, the fighting continued. Finally, when the firing did cease, Roth said it was “so still I could hear the ticking of my wrist watch.”

SDN November 11, 1918 front

Headline on the front page of the Springfield Daily News, Monday, November 11, 1918.

Corporal Roth had unknowingly delivered the Armistice, an agreement which changed the course of history.  For his brave actions, the French awarded him their highest honor, the Croix de Guerre.  He returned to the United States and Springfield to a hero’s welcome.  Though the memory of his ride began to fade after the war, Hitler reenacted the armistice scene in the very railcar where it had originally happened, to establish German occupation in France at the start of WWII.  Newspapers that carried the story recounted Roth’s morning ride as well and the memory of a Springfield doughboy was recalled worldwide.




June 22, 1940 Armistice signing between Germany and France establishing German occupation zone there.  This is the exact railway car that the Armistice which ended WWI was signed in.


Hitler entering the railway car for the Armistice signing of 1940.  He chose the exact railway car used in the Armistice which ended WWI to start WWII.

Today, as we honor the centennial of the Armistice, the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, and Veterans Day let us be aware of the lessons of history.  Though the Armistice was a celebration for the Allies, it was an angry ember for Germany and the roots of WWII.  How a war ends can be just as important as how a war begins, and though the Great War was supposed to be “the War to End All Wars,” it was anything but.  Up to that point in history, an armistice was originally meant to be a peace treaty and a cease fire in fighting.  In this case, it was a total surrender–the Allies forcing Germany to completely give up all elements essential to waging war. The Armistice that ended WWI was merely a temporary ceasefire in a long battle for domination of Europe.

This is my final post for the Centennial Anniversary of WWI, and my last blog for the Clark County Heritage Center.  I hope you have enjoyed what I’ve written over the past 2 years.  If you would like to know more about Corporal Leon G. Roth, you can find his collection at the Heritage Center, along with the newspaper articles from all of my previous posts. I encourage you to visit the archive to learn more about any of the topics I’ve written about.  Sometimes the stories you uncover, are not the stories that the history books tell.  More than this, the narratives found in small collections in your town tell the history of the everyday people who lived where you do, and they can reveal the most amazing things.  We are all connected to the people and histories around us.  By learning about the past, we can understand the present and be better prepared for the future.

Until we meet again, farewell!


Clark County and the Great War: Temperance Advertisements in the Springfield Daily News

By Sherri Goudy

As we near closer to midterm elections in the United States, our news and social media feeds are bombarded with political ads about candidates and issues. 100 years ago, Americans relied most heavily on newspapers to provide the latest in community and world events, especially when it came to elections.  Today, local newspapers offer a way to understand how political advertising in the past was viewed from local, national, and international perspectives.  They can also provide insights into how communities were using the war to politicize their own social issues.

November 5th, 1918 was election day, and though the war was not yet over, its influence weighed heavy on the upcoming vote.  One of the major issues on the ballot was the issue of temperance and prohibiting the manufacturing and sale of alcohol.  The Springfield Daily News published several ads in the days before the election, and many of them were about this issue.

Many supporters of prohibition argued that the production of alcohol used valuable resources such as coal and food, which were extremely scare during the war. This advertisement from November 1, 1918 declares “The liquor traffic helps the Kaiser by hindering America.”

Photo 1 SDN November 1, 1918 pg 21

Another ad was published by the Ohio Dry Federation on November 3, 1918.  In it were several little anecdotes about why the voter should “vote dry.”

Photo 2 SDN November 3, 1918 fashion pg 4

This ad from the day before the election pulls at the patriot’s heartstrings as the soldier pointing out from the page asks, “Will you back me – or back booze?”

Photo 3 SDN November 4, 1918 pg 7

While many ads wanted to argue the dangers of alcohol and squandering of valuable resources needed to fight the war, other ads contained information about how these arguments were not true. This ad from October 20, 1918 states “Prohibition will not win the war.”

Photo 4 SDN October 20, 1918 pg 4

This ad, which stated voters should vote “no” on prohibition, used soldiers not being able to vote because they were away at war as its plea.  One line of the ad reads “he left Ohio a state which had three times voted against Prohibition.”

Photo 5 SDN November 3, 1918 sports pg 8

The day after the election the newspaper served another purpose.  On November 6th, 1918, the Springfield Daily News published the voting results per city ward and precinct.  Though difficult to read, the latter photo shows a zoomed image of the result: 7,547 yes; 6,142 no.  Prohibition in Clark County had passed.

Photo 6 SDN November 6, 1918 results

Photo 7 SDN November 6, 1918 results close up

We hope you have enjoyed our posts over the past 2 years.  I personally have enjoyed writing them. Please join us on November 11th, Armistice Day, as we celebrate the official end of the war with our final blog post.

The Influenza Pandemic and Clark County: Deadlier than Battle

By Sherri Goudy

The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 killed more people than died in WWI.  It’s almost unfathomable to consider, but the fact is an estimated 16 million people were killed in WWI, but Influenza (also called the “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe”) killed about 50 million people worldwide between 1918-1919.

By the fall of 1918, the Great War was coming to an end.  Victory for the Allies grew ever closer, and letters home reflected optimism that soon the war would be over.  But just as hopes were rising, a new threat literally plagued the world.  The “three-day fever” came on suddenly, and some patients died within hours or days of first having symptoms. The most vulnerable were people ages 20-40 years old, a rare trend for flu outbreaks, as usually the very young are old are most susceptible.  Though the flu spread rapidly among soldiers living in close quarters, even the most remote areas of the world reported cases of the deadly influenza. This flu had consequences that impacted even the national life expectancy rate, which dropped by 12 years.

100 years ago, the Springfield Daily News published several headlines daily about the impact Influenza was having on its community.  On October 9, 1918, the number of cases in Ohio was reported to be 28,700.

Photo 1 SDN October 9, 1918 front

Also reported that day, Private Henry Canter, who had lived in Springfield with his brother died while at Camp Sherman of the flu.

Photo 2 SDN October 9, 1918 pg 5

Another article, reports that 650 deaths had been reported at Camp Sherman related to the flu.

Photo 3 SDN October 9, 1918 pg 13

The Clark County Chapter of the American Red Cross shared this on October 16, 1918, giving readers helpful tips on avoiding and caring for those with this deadly flu.

Photo 4 SDN October 16, 1918 pg 9

The influenza that plagued the world during WWI is recorded as the most devastating epidemic in world history.  It killed more people in one year than the entirety of the Bubonic Plague. Though illnesses during wartime were not uncommon, this flu that could not be prevented with vaccines caused tremendous loss that remains the worst in history to this day.

100 Years Ago Today – Patriotic Day – September 2, 1918: How Labor Day Ushered in Change for a Country at War

By Sherri Goudy

Labor Day: a national holiday set in observance of workers contributions to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.  Though today we celebrate this holiday with barbecues and pool parties for the official close of summer, this holiday has a violent past for workers’ rights. First celebrated in New York in 1882, it took 12 years for the US government to officially make it a national holiday.

By 1918, Labor Day had been accepted in all the states for some time.  Though the citizens of Clark County had been used to this 3-day weekend for some time, the first Monday in September 1918 was different.  The United States had been involved in the war for 17 months, and lives had been changed, some lost forever. But now, the German army was beginning to retreat, and the end of the war was near.  Changes in the social and political climate were happening as well, as women fought for the right to vote and temperance became a big issue for the nearing election.

The Springfield Daily News promoted this Labor Day as Patriotic Day and invited all to “Participate in the Greatest Day in the History of Springfield and Clark County.”

SDN Aug 18, 1918 2nd pg 8

The celebration included games, sports, and other recreational activities.  The day kicked off with a Patriotic Parade, to be led by the women of the American Red Cross.  They wore white dresses and veils.  Other participants included the Patriotic League and mothers of soldiers, who were asked to bring service flags.

SDN Aug 31, 1918 pg 2

The parade included floats, of which the most popular was the “Liberty Loan Float” with Joan of Arc “calling on the people of Springfield and Clark County to get ready for the fourth Liberty Loan bond issue.”

SDN Sept 3, 1918 pg 3

SDN Sept 3, 1918 pg 6

Patriotic Day in Springfield was a day of patriotism and propaganda in support of the US in the War.  Speeches, visual representations of victorious leaders, and togetherness for the cause was a way for Clark County and the rest of the nation to build and showcase patriotism. The United States appealed to its people by encouraging patriotic obligation, from the soldier on the field to the men, women, and children at home.

In the months to follow, great changes were in store for the United States.  The war would come to an end, but not before influenza took its toll and caused more deaths than the battlefield.  Temperance would go to the ballot and win.  And for women, the fight for equality and the right to vote would take center stage.  But for now, on this Labor Day 100 years ago, the country and citizens of Clark County came together for a day of rest and celebration.

Communication During the Great War: The Critical Role of Letters and Newspapers

By Sherri Goudy

“’My dear son, it’s almost June
I hope this letter catches up to you, and finds you well
It’s been dry, but they’re calling for rain
And every thing’s the same old same in Johnsonville
Your stubborn old daddy, ain’t said too much
But I’m sure you know, he sends his love’ and she goes on
In a letter from home
I hold it up and show my buddies like
We ain’t scared and our boots ain’t muddy, and they all laugh
Like there’s something funny about the way I talk
When I say, ‘Mama sends her best y’all’
I fold it up and put it in my shirt
Pick up my gun and get back to work
And it keeps me driving me on
Waiting on letters from home”        …Letters from Home, by John Michael Montgomery

It is evident throughout history, that in times of war and separation, communication between families and soldiers was the most important way of boosting morale and keeping hope alive.  Letters to soldiers showed that families were thinking of them and loved them, and it provided them motivation to press on despite horrible conditions and constant death.  For families, a letter was a reassurance that their loved one was still alive and gave them an uncensored look into what war was really like. These essential communications were often memorized and handled frequently.  Today they offer us a valuable historical record about what life was like for both the soldier and the Homefront.

Private Robert E. Bryant wrote letters to his cousin Geneva (Jackie) Fath and his Aunt Grace Quinlan of Springfield throughout his service during WWI.

Photo 1 Envelope addressed to Geneva April 8, 1918

Bryant, born in 1899, enlisted in the US Army Artillery Corps and began his service in 1917 at the age of 18. By January 1918, he was serving in the Coast Artillery Corps at Fort Constitution, in New Hampshire and in March he was part of the Coast Defense at Fort Stark in Portsmouth. On July 19, 1918, he went to England then France to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces.  After the war, he was promoted to Corporal, and worked in the Education and Reaction Department at Camp Zachery Taylor in Kentucky.

In his letters to his cousin and aunt, which span from June 1917 through August 1920, you can see his evolution and growth as a result of being at war.  His first letters home were playful, and he talked about his training to become a marksman and sharpshooter and in this excerpt from December 1917 he says,

“What would you think of me as an ambulance driver going to France before long? I am afraid that is what will happen if we don’t get some action of some kind soon. A friend of mine that works for me (and myself) by the name of Frank L. Core, is going to France before very long. We had our names sent to Washington D.C. and we’re waiting anxiously for an answer.”

Photo 2 Letter Bryant to Geneva Dec 1917

Photo 3 Letter Bryant to Geneva Dec 1917

Photo 4 Letter Bryant to Geneva Dec 1917

Photo 5 Letter Bryant to Geneva Dev 1917

Photo 6 Letter Bryant to Geneva Dec 1917

Photo 7 Letter Bryant to Geneva Dec 1917

In early 1918, he still is waiting to hear about going to France and mentions that the newspapers say there will be peace soon.  He also mentions the “shenanigans” that happen in the barracks between himself and his buddies.

 “From what the paper says tonight we will have peace in a short time. (I hope the paper tells the truth.) I have not heard anymore about going to France. Everything is as quiet as a mouse around here except at night after the lights goes out, and then—we start throwing shoes and anything else that is throwable or grabable. Oh yes, sometimes we get soaked on the “Dome” about proper. All we can hear when the lights goes out is: Zipp! Boom! Buch! Cut it—Zipp! Out. Someone threw a shoe at me last night (It was more like a steam-boat than a shoe) and as my bed is near a window I saw the shoe heading straight for my “Bean” and I ducked just in time. The shoe went through the window and as it was snowing, the snow came through on my bed, so I had to keep my head under the blankets for the rest of the night. Such—is the army life.” 

Photo 8 Letter Bryant to Geneva Jan 1918

Photo 9 Letter Bryant to Geneva Jan 1918

Photo 10 Letter Bryant to Gevena Jan 1918

Photo 11 Letter Bryant to Geneva Jan 1918

Photo 12 Letter Bryant to Geneva Jan 1918

Photo 13 Letter Bryant to Geneva Jan 1918

Just a few months later, Bryant learned he would be going to France.  In this letter, dated March 7, 1918, he wrote to his aunt asking for financial information, so he could make out his will.

Photo 14 Letter Bryant to Aunt March 1918

Photo 15 Letter Bryant to Aunt March 1918

Photo 16 Letter Bryant to Aunt March 1918

In his final letter for quite some time, he apologizes for not writing sooner, but says he had been putting it off because he knew he would be going to France.  Though he didn’t want to say goodbye, possibly forever, he closes with this line,

“Give my love to Aunt Grace and tell her goodbye for me and I will say goodbye to you little girl in case I don’t get to see or write to you again.”

Though letters were the preferred method for receiving news about their loved ones, the people of Clark County, just as was the case across the nation and world, relied heavily on newspapers for the latest information about the conflict.  Acting as the Facebook or Twitter of the day, the newspaper was the source for daily updates about what was going on “over there.”  Letters could take weeks even months to reach their intended recipient, so the newspaper provided “immediate” information for anxious communities.  Local newspapers published the names of men that entered the military, printed letters home from servicemen overseas, reported casualty information, and informed readers of the efforts to support the war on the home front. The newspapers from WWI provide a detailed record of how the war was viewed from local, national, and international perspectives, and how it affected the daily lives of Americans.

In Springfield, the newspaper published daily a “Local Men” section, which provided information about the men serving during WWI.  Private Robert E Bryant was one of the men featured on April 21, 1918.

Photo 17 SDN April 21 1918 pg 8 - Jun 8 2018 - 10-54 AM - p1 (002)

Photo 18 SDN April 21 1918 pg 8 - Jun 8 2018 - 10-56 AM - p1 (002)

Bryant’s last letter to his cousin was written August 9, 1920.  In it he tells about his new job and his future and begs for the latest news (probably gossip) from Springfield.  His playful language with his cousin is consistent throughout his letters, and they are an excellent source for learning one soldier’s experience during and after war.

Photo 17 Last Letter Bryant to Geneva

Geneva received letters from several other soldiers which help paint an even more colorful picture about war and writing letters to someone you’ve never met (and think you’re in love with).

To see this entire collection and to learn more, please come see our exhibit August 2, 2018 at the Ohio State Fair, the Cardinal Building from 9am -9pm.   

Clark County in the Great War: How Propaganda Fueled Anti-German Hysteria in WWI

By Sherri Goudy

The Great War was one of the most damaging conflicts in history.  It was the bloodiest and most deadly.  New weapons were engineered, and old models were improved to maim and kill on a scale not seen before.  But another weapon, and old and trusted powerful instrument of destruction, was utilized in a way to pit not just armies, but entire nations against one another during WWI.

Propaganda is a formidable weapon of war. It is used to promote patriotism and convince populations that their cause is just. It strengthens nativism, nationalism, and an “us vs them” mentality.  However, it can be destructive as easily as it rallies.  It can be more powerful than any other weapon because it is used to dehumanize.  Using false ideas and images, propaganda is used to create hatred towards the enemy.  And it works, often with lasting effects.

In WWI, the US was allied with European countries against Germany. Part of the war effort was to promote patriotism and ensure that every American citizen was invested in the war.  People were bombarded daily with newspaper articles, political cartoons, and posters telling them what was happening overseas.  Headlines read: “Soldiers killed in action with the Germans” and “German U-boat shells American Ship.”  Increasingly, Anti-German sentiments began to develop across the nation. This resulted in book bans, changing street names from German sounding to English, removing German language classes from the education system, and falsely accusing German-Americans of treason.  Even popular foods with German names were changed, some of which have remained today – such as “frankfurter” to “hot dog.”

In Ohio, where there was a huge German-American population, and anti-German sentiment was a serious problem.  In Cincinnati, the attacks on German culture are well documented.  13 street names and businesses with German names were also changed.  The German newspaper there was raided.  And the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Ernst Kunwald, was unjustly taken into custody under the Alien Enemies Act and later deported.  This was not exclusive, and any city in Ohio with German populations reacted with similar anti-German hysteria.

The Springfield Daily News was filled with anti-German propaganda.  Movies advertisements such as this one fed into the hysteria that Germans were not just the enemy, they were a curse.

Photo 1SDN Feb 24 1918 pg 9 - Jun 8 2018 - 10-15 AM - p1 (002)

Political cartoons also fueled the sentiments that Germans were not civilized.

Photo 2 PC Unclean

Fear about the German agenda also plagued the US during the war.  The headline at the top of the paper read “Huns plan to Germanize America unearthed.”  The article which accompanies the headline is about rifles being imported to the US by Germany to be used by Germans if they won the war.

Photo 3 SDN May 14 1918 front - Jun 8 2018 - 10-35 AM - p1 (002)

The Ohio Americanization Committee was originally formed to promote values of being American and to teach English to immigrants wishing to become US citizens.  Formed by Governor James Cox, it had good intentions at the start.  However, this group quickly adopted anti-German sentiments, and began to censor German books.  They suggested banning “pro” German books from libraries and schools.

By April 1918, just a year after the US had entered the war, the anti-German sentiment had spread to the schools in Springfield.  All German classes had been eliminated from the curriculum.  The newspaper published this image drawn by one of the students in the city.  The headline read “High School Boy is Talented Cartoonist.” The image depicts the exile of German books from the school, with a boot kicking them out, and the children and teachers watching with a smile.  The caption reads “no more Hun for us!”

Photo 4 SDN April 28 1918 sports pg 10 - Jun 8 2018 - 10-22 AM - p1 (002)

The promotion of American ideals was also a huge part of the propaganda machine during WWI. Governor Cox travelled throughout Ohio speaking about the war.  He came to Springfield on numerous occasions, and beginning on May 22, 1918, the Springfield Daily News published ads and articles about his talks on Americanism.

Photo 5 SDN May 22, 1918 pg 4

Governor Cox vowed that “Treason will be stamped out.”  He gave a talk that he expected each naturalized citizen to prove its loyalty to Ohio and America by fighting under the flag.  For some communities, such as the Mennonites who did not believe in fighting in war, it was near impossible to stick to their beliefs without appearing to be a traitor to America. For them, this article must have seemed almost threatening to their culture.

Photo 6 Treason will be stamped out like a snake

Anti-German hysteria had major consequences for the US, specifically the German Americans.  Springfield, as well as many other communities throughout the US had thriving immigrant populations.  These communities felt a deep connection to their heritage and enjoyed speaking, writing, attending church and clubs, and eating foods that helped to keep them in touch with their roots.  However, during WWI to be pro-German meant you were anti-American, and many people were forced to give up, or at least hide their truth for survival.


Clark County in the Great War: How Local Industry Supported the War

By Sherri Goudy

“War, huh, yeah – what is it good for, absolutely nothing…” Though the lyrics often get stuck in my head (thanks Jacki Chan), war has both positive and negative effects on our world.  The bad includes death, famine, destruction, displacement of people, spread of disease, and any number of social and psychological problems.  But, war can also create opportunity and change that can be evaluated as a positive outcome.

As we have discussed in previous posts, WWI created jobs, helped women become accepted in the workplace and military, and became a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.  These are clearly positive developments amidst the tragedy of war.  In this post, I want us to explore the local contribution to the war in Clark County, Ohio and some of the industries which saw an increase in demand during the Great War.

One of the most obvious contributions to the war was the increase in manufacturing of military necessities.  From tanks and planes to guns and ammunition, factories across the United States evolved their product lines to produce for the war.  In April 1918, the Springfield Daily News published this article and photo of the “First tank over here… to join forces over there.”

Photo 1 April 29 1918 pg 7 SDN - Apr 20 2018 - 10-19 AM - p1 (002)

In Springfield, this article from April 14, 1918 talks about the “Eleven Gun Boring Machines” made locally at the Springfield Machine Tool plant.

Photo 2 April 4 1918 of 14 SDN - Apr 20 2018 - 10-09 AM - p1 (002)

An industry that some may not consider when thinking about the war effort is the production of musical instruments.  The Rudolph Wurlitzer Company located at 20 S Fountain Street in Springfield prided itself on manufacturing bugles, fifes, and drums.  This ad proudly states “Our Boys in France are Using the Wurlitzer Bugle, Fife and Drum. For over 55 years our bugles have been used in the United States Army and Navy. Today our boys in France and thousands of home guards in our own country are responding to the call of the Wurlitzer bugle.”

Photo 3 April 21 1918 pg 4 SDN - Apr 20 2018 - 10-12 AM - p1 (002)

The rise of the housing market was also a huge industrial advancement because of the war.  In Springfield, there was expected to be a boom in prosperity as a result of the diverse industries and postwar prosperity.

Photo 4 May 5 1918 pg 7 SDN - Apr 20 2018 - 10-28 AM - p1 (002)

In my last post, we discussed Liberty Bonds and how each local citizen could support the war and contribute by lending a portion of their income to the Government.  This Real Estate ad from April 20, 1918 starts off by telling the reader that their first obligation is to “Stand by the Flag – Buy Liberty Bonds.”  Their second obligation is “to plant a garden and raise food for your family” when you buy a parcel of land in Northern Heights.

Photo 5 May 5 1918 pg 19 SDN - Apr 20 2018 - 10-44 AM - p1 (002)

The industries that prospered during the war did in fact create opportunity for prosperity. Although World War 1 brought about huge negative effects and loss of life, there is no denying that industry boomed and the American economy was permanently transformed as a result.

What do you think? Please share your feedback by contributing your comments, and as always let us know what you want to read about next!