11th November 1918: The Guns Fall Silent as the Armistice is Signed

poppy-2Armistice paintingHaving been given 72 hours to agree to the Allied demands which amounted to a complete German demilitarisation, the German delegation headed by Matthias Erzberger agreed and at 5.20am the Armistice was signed aboard Marshal Foch’s private train parked in a railway siding in Compiegne Forest. To allow time to get the message to the troops in the front line it was decided that the Armistice would come into effect at eleven a.m. on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, a moment in time when the guns fell silent, bringing to an end the four year war that had cost over 11 million military and 8 million civilian lives, including more than 62,000 Australians (62,272 CWGC records).

On the 3rd October 1918 a communique was sent from Berlin to Washington, by-passing London and Paris: The German government requests that the President of the United States of America take the initiative in bringing about peace, that he inform all the belligerent states of this request, and that he invite them to send plenipotentiaries for purposes of beginning negotiations. The German government accepts as the basis for peace negotiations the program stated by the President of the United States in his speech to Congress of January 8, 1918, [14 point plan] and in his subsequent pronouncements, particularly in his speech of September 27. In order to avoid further bloodshed, the German government requests the immediate conclusion of an armistice on land, at sea, and in the air. Signed: Max, Prince of Baden, Chancellor. 

In response, three weeks later President Wilson demanded as a precondition for negotiations, the retreat of Germany from all occupied territories, the cessation of submarine activities and the Kaiser’s abdication. “If the Government of the United States must deal with the military masters and the monarchical autocrats of Germany now, or if it is likely to have to deal with them later in regard to the international obligations of the German Empire, it must demand not peace negotiations but surrender”.

St-Symphorien-cemeteryOn the 30th October 1918 Turkey agreed the terms of a separate armistice signed on board HMS Agamemnon in Mudros Harbour on the Greek Island of Lemnos, with hostilities to cease at noon on the following day. The armistice was followed by the occupation of Constantinople (Istanbul) and the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. On the 3rd November 1918 and following the fall of Trieste, Austria-Hungary signed the terms of a separate Armistice with Italy in the Villa Giusti, northern Italy, which took effect 24 hours later. The following day the Allies agreed to start negotiations for a truce with Germany, but now also demanding reparation payments. As part of the terms German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated and went into exile in Amerongen, The Netherlands, bringing to an end 400 years of rule by the House of Hohenzollern.

On the very day of the Armistice, which in itself saw 10,000 casualties on all sides, Canadian forces re-captured the Belgian town of Mons, the very place where the British Expeditionary Force first engaged the German Army in August 1914. The last British soldier to die in the Great War was Pte George Ellison of the 5th Lancers, killed on the 11th November 1918. He, along with Pte George Price of the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry – the last Commonwealth soldier to be killed, two minutes before 11am – are buried to the east of Mons in the St Symphorien cemetery. Pte Ellison lies just feet away (photograph above left) from the first British soldier to die in the ‘war to end all wars’, Pte John Parr of the 4th Bn Middlesex Regiment killed on cycle patrol on 21st August 1914.

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