Rutgers in the First World War: Voices of the Armistice—”Such Letters Will Be Invaluable in Later Years”


November 11, 2018 is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. To commemorate this centennial, What Exit?  will be featuring letters from Special Collections and University Archives’ Records of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. This collection features letters from Rutgers students and alumni who served in the First World War, describing their experiences serving in the United States and overseas. Each day between November 1 and 11, Voices of the Armistice posts will share what these Rutgers students from 100 years ago had to say about the moment when peace was declared.

Photo of Earl Reed Silvers

Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913) was the director of the Rutgers College War Service Bureau. During the First World War, the bureau worked to keep Rutgers men in service in touch with the college and with each other. To achieve this, the bureau sent biweekly letters to the men in service, telling them about what was happening at Rutgers and asking the men to share their experiences of the war. The letters featured in the Voices of the Armistice series are the result of Silvers’s and the Bureau’s efforts.

Silvers’s first letter to the men after the Armistice opened with an expression of gratitude that the war was over:

“Since our last letter, on November 6, the blessing of peace has come to a war-weary world. And in a short time, thank God, there will be no more casualty lists, no more Rutgers boys among those who have made the last supreme sacrifice.”

Silvers went on to describe what changes had happened since the Armistice at Rutgers, which had been transformed into a war college, along with news about Rutgers’ wins and losses at football. Before closing the letter, he made several requests of the men receiving the letter.

. . . Why not all of you in the United States write to the Bureau on December 1st and all of you in Europe on December 30. We’ll make them College Letter Days. Let’s mark them on the calendar now. Write us about the peace celebrations in the places you found yourself when the armistice was signed, about what happened in the trenches on that memorable day; and if any of you are in occupied German territory, write a long letter about it. Such letters will be invaluable in later years.”

paragraph from typed letter on letterhead
Opening paragraph of the War Service Bureau’s first letter after peace was declared.

After the war, Silvers remained at Rutgers and authored a series of novels about Dick Arnold of Raritan College. He died in 1948.

The Rutgers War Service Bureau was formed in 1917 as a way to keep Rutgers men serving in the war in touch with Rutgers and each other. It was headed by Earl Reed Silvers (class of 1913), who was assistant to Rutgers president William Henry Steele Demarest. Thanks to a grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the letters are now available online.

Be sure to visit What Exit? between November 1 and 11 for new stories and follow highlights on Special Collections and University Archives’ Facebook and Twitter.

(With assistance from Tara Maharjan. Silvers letter photo from the Earl Reed Silvers Collection (R-MC 044).)