Old foes return to the scene of their great humiliations
TWICE before in the past century, French and German military chiefs had come as bitter enemies to the humble railway carriage in a forest clearing in order to end their fighting.
But yesterday the two nations’ political leaders met at the same place, in Compiegne north of Paris, in a poignant symbol of their reconciliation.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel held hands and stood with heads together after they unveiled a plaque and signed a guestbook at the highly symbolic site. It was in exactly the same location 100 years ago that Marshal Foch, who had been using the wood-panelled dining car as an office, signed the Armistice agreement with Germany that marked the end of the First World War.
The carriage was moved to a museum but Adolf Hitler insisted it be returned to Compiegne when Nazi Germany defeated France in 1940, as he took revenge for what he saw as his country’s humiliation at the end of the previous war.
He sat in Foch’s seat as the French prepared to sign the terms of their surrender, and according to one eyewitness his face was ‘afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph’.
The carriage was later destroyed but a replica has since been built at what is now a war memorial known as the Glade of the Armistice. Yesterday marked the first time a German leader had visited the site since the end of the Second World War.
UNITED IN PEACE: Merkel and Macron yesterday