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The first Armistice Day, 1918


At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allies and Germany in World War I, then known as the "Great War". Although the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, marked the official end of the war, the public still saw November 11 as the date that marked the end of the Great War.

At 2.05 on 11 November 1918, after four years of conflict, a German delegation boarded the railway carriage of the Allied Supreme Commander Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a few hours north of Paris. Negotiations went on for three days, and the German representatives were close to accepting the terms of the armistice, a formal agreement to end the fighting.

The Germans were defeated by a brutal summer; Over the past four months, Allied and American forces had overwhelmed the last line of German defense in the Battle of the Hundred Days of Offensive. On 9 November 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II was persuaded to seek refuge in the Netherlands.

In the early hours of 11 November, the final terms were set and at 5.12 a.m. the armistice was signed. It announced a "cessation of hostilities on land and in the air six hours after signing". The terms of the agreement included: immediate German withdrawal from territories acquired during the conflict; disarmament and demilitarization of the German army; and the release of Allied prisoners. The conditions made it impossible for Germany to resume any fighting.

It was the last armistice of September–November 1918 between the warring nations, and the peace entered into force at 11 am – or "the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month", six hours after the armistice was signed. It is estimated that in the time between the signing and the Declaration of Peace, there were 11,000 more casualties in the war.

In the last century, this day has become a more gloomy day of reflection, marked with poppies and respectful silence. However, 11 November 1918 was a moment of wild celebration for many. Guy Cuthbertson for BBC History Magazine wrote, "The day the war ended was a strange and wonderful carnival rather than a day of mournful solemnity, which would become Armistice Day in later years." "The armistice brought church services and tears, but it was a day of joy, spontaneity, noise and fun."

In Cambridge, students threw books, a bull was taken to a college, and an effigy of Caesar was burnt in the market square while people danced around bonfires.

On 12 November, the Daily Mirror reported: "Conversations in the Strand were impossible due to the noise of cheers, whistles, hooters and fireworks". While the early celebrations were filled with relief and gaiety in many circles, the soldiers were still to be 'demombed' and large parts of the population were irrevocably replaced. Peter Hart, an oral historian at the Imperial War Museum's Sound Archive, wrote in 2009 about several soldiers who returned home with mental and physical injuries. "Many had assumed that he would not live to see the end of the war. Part of his mental defense was the idea that he had nothing to look forward to; that as a doomed man he had nothing to lose. There wasn't much for him if he was killed. In a jiffy, his mental landscape had changed."

A group of women happily wave the Union Jack on Armistice Day.

Crowds in London's Trafalgar Square..

Soldiers celebrating news of the ceasefire.

A group of American soldiers ride in a truck while waving American flags during an Armistice Day parade, New York City. On the hand of a soldier there is a sign written 'To Hail with the Caesar'.

Jubilant crowds celebrate Armistice Day near Buckingham Palace in London.

Crowds in Paris, France at the declaration of armistice.

London crowd celebrating the signing of the armistice.

A boisterous scene in Downing Street on Armistice Day.

US Function

The New York shipyards celebrate the news of the Armistice, New York, while cheering for the workers.

An armistice scene outside the White House in Washington, DC

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