At the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the Armistice to end World War I was to take effect. It ended the bloodbath which consumed Europe from 1914 until November 11, 1918. Nearly 20,000,000 people were dead including 9-11,000,000 troops and a like number of civilians. Another 20,000,000 were wounded.
The United States got involved in the fighting late in the war, in 1917, but by war’s end, had put nearly 5,000,000 men and women under arms. Americans would suffer over 300,000 casualties. Called “doughboys” because the British and French troops considered them Ill-trained and ill-equipped, they had by war’s end did a large share of the fighting that caused the Germans to seek terms.
When the Germans signed the terms of surrender in a train car in France, the had to leave all their conquered territories in Western Europe within two weeks and surrender 5,000 guns, 25,000 machine guns, and 1,700 planes.
With the news of armistice, there were huge celebrations in London to celebrate the end of the war. However, once the initial stage of euphoria wore off, the news was met with a mainly melancholy expression. The huge cost in terms of the young generation was felt by all countries. It was a Pyrrhic victory that nearly destroyed an entire era of Europe’s young.
Unfortunately, the harsh lessons of the “Great War” as it was also called weren’t paid proper heed to and just 21 years later Europe and the entire world was thrust into an even bigger and bloodier conflict.
However, in 1918, the war in Germany had not gone well. They tried to take Paris in a series of offensives in 1918 to try to force the issue, but all of their attacks were rebuffed. In October, General Erich Ludendorff told the government that he couldn’t even guarantee that the front would hold another two hours. The German General Staff believed the situation was hopeless.
Germans Revolt Against the Kaiser:
On the night of October 29-30th, German sailors revolted in the port of Wilhelmshaven quickly spread across the entire country and in just a little more than a week’s time, had led to a proclamation of a republic (Weimar Republic) on November 9.
Kaiser Wilhelm II then abdicated and fled to Holland. Friedrich Ebert, a Social Democrat became the Chancellor. A German peace delegation arrived at the front line in five cars and was escorted thru the bombed-out, devastated areas of Northern France for 10 hours. They were taken to a secret destination where they boarded General Ferdinand Foch’s personal train in the forest of Compiègne. Foch did not, however, take part in any of the negotiations. He appeared when the Germans arrived and then did not appear again until the signing of the documents.
The German negotiators heard about the Kaiser’s abdication while in the train car and were instructed by their superiors in Berlin, with the new government to sign the Armistice. They did this at 5:30 a.m. on November 11. The Germans asked for an immediate cease-fire to prevent the useless and wasteful loss of life of the common soldiers. Foch denied this request, insisting on the 11th hour, of the 11th day of the 11th month as the official cease-fire and the end of hostilities.
As a result of Foch’s insistence, there were nearly 11,000 casualties, with 2738 killed on that day during those fateful hours waiting for the Armistice to take effect.
The date, November 11th is recognized by many countries and is known as Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veterans Day and Independence Day. But rather than build grandiose memorials of glory and triumph, the 5000 or so memorials that were built in Britain, revealed the horrible sacrifice paid by the ordinary soldiers of the military. There were to remind future generations of the heavy price and burden paid by the troops.
Events Held in Europe on the Centennial:
In Britain, there are numerous events being planned. The biggest one is to be the National Service of Remembrance in Whitehall, central London, at the Cenotaph paying respect to the men and women of Britain and the Commonwealth who served in the World Wars I & II and in subsequent conflicts. The Royal Family will be in attendance.
After the ceremonies, there will be a poppy wreath-laying ceremony and the sounding of “The Last Post” by a Royal Marines bugler.
In France, both French President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will preside over a ceremony in Compiègne, at the clearing where the signing of the Armistice too place, said to be “defined by the simplicity of a moment of silent reflection and of tribute”.
President Macron will then give a speech at the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris at exactly 11 a.m. which will be attended by more than 120 foreign dignitaries representing the countries involved in the First World War.