The Armistice brought an end to fighting on the Western Front at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It was not the first armistice to be signed, nor was it to be the last. Terms had been agreed by Bulgaria (September), the Ottoman Empire (October) and Austria-Hungary (early November). Fighting continued in East Africa and in the territories of the former Russian and Ottoman Empires. Sadly, it proved not to be “The War to End all Wars”.
The German delegation arriving in Marshall Foch’s secret hideout in the railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne. Standing behind the table is Marshall Foch with the First Sea Lord, Sir Rosslyn Wemyss representing the British government.
Lithograph by Maurice Pillard-Vermeuil, 1869 – 1942
The conditions of the Armistice gave Germany 14 days to evacuate from all remaining occupied territory and from German territory claimed by France and Belgium, and 28 days to withdraw its armed forces across the river Rhine.
As unrest spread across Germany it led to the proclamation of a Republic on 9th November and the removal of Kaiser Wilhelm II.
Throughout the late summer and autumn of 1918 the Allies had pushed the enemy back towards Germany in a series of costly actions. The German Army, demoralised and poorly supplied with basic food and equipment, was effectively defeated and the German people were at starvation level and utterly weary of war. As early as 29 September the commander of the German Army, Erich Ludendorff, knew an end to warfare should be sought.
Similarly, the leaders of the Allies did not want the war to extend into 1919. Their armies also faced logistical strains in October 1918 and they feared a German retirement to their borders so remaining an effective force.
The German government had already, on 5 October, sent a request for peace negotiations to President Wilson, based on 14 points outlined by Wilson in an earlier speech. In a sudden change of heart, Ludendorff suddenly demanded the war should continue but he was rapidly replaced just as Britain and France joined the Americans’ negotiations.
On 5 November the German delegation departed for France. They crossed the Front line in 5 cars and were taken to Marshall Foch’s secret hideout in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne. They were in no position to make demands but did register a protest at the harshness of Armistice terms. The suspension of hostilities had to be renewed at monthly intervals and, should the Armistice terms be breached, fighting could resume within 48 hours.
Six months of complicated peace talks followed, leading to the signing of the Versailles Treaty on 28 June 1919.
The Memorial window in Bradford Cathedral commemorates 6th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (Bradford Territorials) crossing the Rhine in Feb 1919 This panel shows the Bridge of Boats and Cologne Cathedral in the distance.
Immediately after the Armistice men of the 6th Btn West Yorkshire Regiment were engaged in the dismantling of German defences including miles of barbed wire and collecting German shells into dumps. In February 1919 they joined the occupation of the Rhineland and were stationed in Cologne until 13 November 1919.
Millions of allied troops and women war workers did not immediately return home. The demobilisation scheme in Britain gave priority to those whose peacetime occupation would be of immediate benefit on the home front, such as coal miners and skilled technicians. Many were left to wonder how they would adjust to civilian life after the years of war.
Marshall Foch and Field Marshall William Robertson DSO, Commander in Chief of the Army on the Rhine are welcomed on their arrival in Cologne, May 1919. Men from 6th Btn West Yorkshire Regiment were selected to form the guard of honour.
Once in England men moved to a Dispersal Centre in a camp or barracks and received a Protection Certificate, a Ration Book and a railway warrant or ticket home. Still in uniform, with steel helmets and great coats the men dispersed.
Ambler was awarded these 2 medals.
Image left: Demobilised men on their way to England, 23 April 1919. Image right: Demobilised VADs and other women workers leaving Boulogne 1919.