Western Front 1918: The German Offensives

11 November: Armistice

The Last Day – Armistice, 11 November 1918

At the beginning of November 1918 the German Armies on the Western Front were nearing the end of their endurance; repeatedly pushed back by relentless Allied advances few reserves existed to fill the ranks of the fallen; morale was ebbing away. On the German home front starvation and political upheavals undermined civilian commitment to continue the struggle. It was in this atmosphere of acute military, political and social crisis that, on 7 November, German delegates to the Allied Armistice Commission made a dramatic journey across the battlefront in northern France to try and secure terms as the basis for peace.

Young ladies and children celebrating news of the Armistice in Sydney on 11 Nov 1918. Australian War Memorial, A03281.Late that evening French authorities ferried the delegation by train to a railway siding at Rethondes, deep within the forest of Compiègne. Here, early in the morning of 8 November, the Germans were transferred to a nearby waiting train, the mobile headquarters of Marshal Foch, Head of the Allied Commission. Foch, with a deliberate sense of drama, had located the crucial meeting within the dense forest - away from public scrutiny and safe from enemy aircraft. His fully equipped train included a former restaurant saloon-car converted into an office; this railway carriage formed the scene for the historic gathering. Discussions began at 9am – the first in a series of uncomfortable meetings that would lead eventually to the signing of the instrument of armistice at just after 5am on 11 November 1918, when it was agreed that hostilities would formally cease six hours later.

At 11am on a dull and cold Monday, 11 November (the 1,568th day of the war), the guns at last fell silent. In the strangest of coincidences the end of the war found units of the British Army fighting close to the same ground as they had actively begun operations in August 1914, the familiar drab mining and industrial district around the Belgian town of Mons.

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