WHEN THE GUNS FINALLY FELL SILENT
HOW THE ARMISTICE BROUGHT THE NIGHTMARE TO AN END
THE Armistice was the moment the guns fell silent on the Western Front. A cessation of fighting had been sought by Germany, whose armies were defeated and citizens were beginning to rebel, while its allies were starting to drop out of the war.
Fighting continued up to the moment of the Armistice, at 11am on November 11, 1918, with some soldiers killed just minutes or hours before hostilities officially ended.
The Armistice was preceded by the hundred days offensive, beginning with the Battle of Amiens on August 8, 1918, which had seen the French, British and US armies push the German Army back to the battlefields of 1914.
The Allies had taken control of the skies with many more aircraft than the Germans, and by the end of August 1918 there were more than 1.4 million American troops in France, helping the Allies to keep fighting.
On September 29, 1918, the Allies breached one of the strongest sections of the Hindenburg Line – which formed the German defences – and by early October had completely broken through.
The Germans had hoped for a “peace without victory” when they sought an Armistice with the US, after it became clear they could not win the war. But the Allies imposed stern terms to make sure they did not restart fighting, with clauses demanding they leave Belgium, France and Alsace-loraine, abandon military equipment and trains, allow the occupation of certain German cities by the Allies and return all prisoners of war.
Some soldiers on the Western Front were formally told the news the Armistice had been signed by senior officers, others heard the rumours or picked up the broadcasts from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Many felt a sense of anti-climax at the end of fighting, or even a sense of disbelief – while others went out and got drunk.
But the Armistice was not the end of the war: it took six months to negotiate the peace treaty that ended the war and it many months for soldiers to be demobbed and brought home to the UK. There were efforts to build a land “fit for heroes” for the returning servicemen, but for many the war left them with lifelong physical and mental scars.
Armistice Day celebrations, in Trafalgar Square, London