Monday, November 11, 1918, is a date that forever changed the world. It’s Armistice Day — the date World War I ended. Four years of slaughter were over. In addition, countless lives also were saved. The Allies had been planning an invasion of Germany for 1919, and military officials believed the war also would extend well into 1920.
Unlike the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed in an opulent palace in 1919, the armistice was signed inauspiciously in a train car in the forest of Compiègne, France.
After some negotiation, the armistice was signed at 5 a.m. Paris time. It went into effect 11 a.m. that day.
The Germans were forced to agree to 35 terms:
- Cessation of conflict six hours after armistice was signed.
- Immediate evacuation of all invaded countries.
- Reparations to begin in 15 days.
- Abandonment of all weapons.
- Evacuation from the left bank of the Rhine.
- No harm shall come to the inhabitants of areas under evacuation.
- Communication networks are to be left intact.
- The location of all landmines is to be revealed.
- Allied troops may requisition supplies. The German government will pay for the upkeep of the Allied army occupying force.
- Repatriation of all prisoners of war.
- Care of all sick and wounded who cannot be evacuated.
- Withdrawal to the German boundary line that existed before August 1, 1914.
- Immediate evacuation from Russia.
- Cessation of the acquiring of supplies for military use.
- Renunciation of the treaties of Bucharest and Brest-Litovsk.
- Granting free access to the Allies in all territories evacuated by the Germans.
- Evacuation from East Africa.
- Repatriation of civilians.
- Financial reparations to Belgium, Russia and Romania.
- Cessation of hostilities at sea.
- Return of all naval prisoners of war.
- Surrender of all submarines.
- Disarmament of surface war ships.
- Allies have the right to remove all marine mines laid by Germany.
- Free access to be given to the Baltic.
- The Allies will keep their blockades in place.
- Immobilization of all naval aircraft.
- Evacuation of the Belgian coast.
- Evacuation of all Black Sea ports.
- All Allied vessels seized during the war must be returned.
- Destruction of ships and materials prohibited.
- Notify all neutral nations that any restrictions placed on trade with the Allies are cancelled.
- German merchant ships are not to be transferred to a neutral flag.
- Armistice is to last 30 days, at which point it can be renewed.
- The German government has 72 hours to accept or reject armistice.
Ferdinand Foch, the Allied supreme leader, is the most famous person to sign the agreement, but representatives from Britain and Germany also signed it.
A Time of Celebration
In Allied nations, bells rang, guns fired to mark the time, and celebrations were held in the streets.
Other people, mourning loved ones or unable to believe peace had come, spent the day in silent reflection.
In Germany and the other defeated nations, the day marked an injustice with many feeling their military leaders had betrayed them.
A Time for Remembrance
Victory, of course, was bittersweet. Men continued to die right up until armistice. That morning, the Allies had 11,000 casualties. The final two men to die in the war were a Canadian and an American. George Price and Henry Gunther both died less than two minutes before 11 a.m.
The war’s end left people with a new reality. How was life to continue with so many dead, and with nations destroyed and governments in turmoil?
British nurse Vera Brittain put it best when she said:
“The war was over; a new age was beginning, but the dead were dead and would never return.”
Sadly, the train carriage where armistice was signed was destroyed in 1945 when the German SS set it on fire. A surrogate carriage now sits on the armistice site.
Today, Armistice Day is still celebrated, although it’s now commonly known as Remembrance Day or Veterans Day.
To learn more about Armistice Day, read my book A Tale of Two Nations: Canada, U.S. and WW1.
Updated: 19 October 2020