Anniversary of First World War’s final days

World WarA young girl who is a member of the RAF cadets walks between gravestones at Tyne Cot World War One cemetery in Zonnebeke, Belgium. Tyne Cot is now the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world in terms of burials. There are 11,956 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in the cemetery, 8,369 of those burials are unidentified. Other special memorials commemorate 20 casualties whose graves were destroyed by shell fire and there are 4 German burials, 3 being unidentified. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

At 11 o’clock on the 11th month, 1918, World War One was finally over.

 

The World War had been raging for more than four years when the ceasefire was signed on November 11, 1918. Europe was in ruins and about 18 million died.

The final phase started in August that year.The Allies then launched their final offensive. German forces were forced to retreat on the western front and pulled out during the autumn from Flanders and most of France.

The Germans acknowledged that the war could not be won. Negotiations were the only option.

Peace Talks

On October 3, Emperor Vilhelm II appointed Prince Max of Baden to Chancellor.

The Prince had long supported negotiations with Britain, France and the United States.

Already by the next day, the new chancellor contacted US President Woodrow Wilson to ask for talks.

The Allies demanded that Germany surrender without conditions and that the emperor abdicate.

On November 3, Austria-Hungary, one of the so-called central powers that Germany had allied, capitulated.

Unrest in Germany

At the same time, the spark of revolution was ignited in Germany. Sailors rebelled in Kiel, and the unrest spread from city to city.

French officers were ordered at this time to secure free rent for Germany’s top diplomats.

On the 7th of November at 08.30 a ceasefire came into force at La Capelle in northern France, near the border with Belgium. The ceasefire allowed a German delegation,led by Mattias Erzberger, to enter allied territory.

The German diplomats traveled by train to a remote forest area at Compiègne in northern France to meet General Ferdinand Foch, leader of the Allied forces.

Negotiations in a train carriage

Foch met the German delegation at 9 o’clock on the morning of the 8th of November on board a train carriage parked on a siding in the woods.

He asked if they were ready to enter into a ceasefire. A staff member read a list of conditions that the Allies had agreed on in Versailles four days in advance.

A messenger was sent to General Felt Marshal Paul von Hinderburg, who led the German forces,to request a mandate to enter into the ceasefire agreement.

The messenger reached the German leader in Belgium the following day. By this time,Emperor Vilhelm II had already abdicated, and the revolutionary activity in Germany was in full swing.

The ceasefire was concluded

The messenger returned in the darkness of night on November 10th. He had received the mandate. The negotiations were resumed, and a draft ceasefire was reviewed by article.

The discussions lasted three hours. Then a final version was posted at 05.20 on the morning of November 11th.

The ceasefire agreement came into force at 11 o’clock the same day, accompanied by trumpets along the several hundred kilometers of front lines.

Celebrations in the streets

In the trenches, the news was received partly with disbelief, partly with relief. Spontaneous celebrations broke out in cities like Paris, London, and New York. The church bells chimed for peace.People danced in the streets.

A final peace agreement was signed in Versailles in June 1919.

But in Germany, there was also a sense of anger and humiliation over the outcome. The rivalry between the great powers continued apace.

 

© NTB scanpix / #Norway Today

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