Many are unaware that during the “War to End all Wars” there were three major armistices (cessation of fighting prior to peace negotiations).
The fighting on the Eastern front ended with an armistice in December 1917 and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Then there was the armistice in Romania which ended with the Treaty of Bucharest, but it was not until November 11th 1918 that the final armistice of WWI came about, signed in a train carriage in France, with the final terms being set out in the Treaty of Versailles.
It was a cold November morning, 37 miles north of Paris in the Forest of Compiegne when nine men, three British Naval Officers, two French generals, two German politicians, a German General and a German naval Officer signed the paper that would end the War that had raged for more than four years. The final signature was in place by 5:20am and at 11.00am all fighting would cease.
Location of the signing of the armistice
The railway carriage was that of Ferdinand Foch, one of the French Military Commanders who signed the Armistice. That carriage also played a significant part in history in 1940, when it was again the site of another agreement to end fighting. This time however it was Germany forcing France to end fighting against them, in the carriage this time was Adolf Hitler whom 22 years earlier had been a Lance Corporal in the German Army.
22 years later - The Germans in 1940 after the French surrendered in the same railroad carriage.
Adolf Hitler; Hermann Göring; Joachim von Ribbentrop; Rudolf Heß; Heinrich Himmler; Erich Raeder.
Photo courtesy of the Deutsches Bundesarchiv
You may be forgiven for thinking that the signing meant that fighting would stop. Sadly, although the Generals along the Western Front knew that the Armistice would be signed at 5am with fighting stopping six hours later, they had some doubts that the cease fire would hold and therefore continued to attack. There were reports along the front of massive artillery barrages just so the ammunition was all used up.
By 5.40am many cities had already heard the news and were celebrating, but along the Front there were a reported 11000 casualties on the morning of November 11th before 11.00am.
Records state that apparently the last man to die in WWI was an American Soldier, Private Henry Gunter who was killed at 10.59am. The Divisional record stated that:
World War I was without doubt one of the bloodiest wars in all of human history. The number of WWI causalities varies massively depending on the source you consult, but it is generally considered that there were in the region of 35 million plus wounded or killed during the War.
For me, as an ex-British soldier and Tankie, the 11th November is a day of remembrance, a day to reflect and pay my respects to those of every nation and nationality, soldier and civilian, who have lost their lives in conflicts. Not only during the “War to end all Wars”, but in every conflict since.
On a very personal note I salute my friends and comrades that have laid down their lives, one day I will see you in the green fields beyond.
Understanding the Somme 1916 - Scotland and Hayes
The First World War - John Keegan