Skip to main content

The Three Elevens

July 2024
1min read

Our local school students don’t know the origin of Veterans Day. They don’t know it was first called Armistice Day. They have not learned of “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”

My mother told how she knew the war was over in 1918. She was hanging her laundry on the clothesline when the local coal-mine whistles started to blow at eleven o’clock. There was no radio then. Of course, eleven o’clock in France was six hours ahead of eleven o’clock local time. The news had come to this country, and telephone switchboard operators called other operators across the country. Our local switchboard operator called the local coal mine.

Mine whistles were used for many signals. They blew at five in the morning to wake miners. They blew at six for the miners to start to the mine and at seven for them to start work. The end of the workday was signaled with the whistle too. If the mine was to work the next day, the whistle was blown at eight o’clock at night. If the wind was right, the whistle could be heard for fifteen miles, and there were more than a dozen within hearing distance. Each whistle had a different tone, and each engineer would have his own way of blowing it.

There were different whistle signals for emergencies, such as a fire or explosion in the mines, and the local people knew them all. The special blowing at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month told the community that the war was over—over there.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.