...the broad masses want only peace, even if it is peace at any price.
August Isbert, German general, 30 October 1918
The end came rapidly. Germany’s army retreated, its allies disintegrated. In October, hoping for lenient terms, Germany approached President Wilson for an armistice.
When this became public, angry Germans wondered why they were still fighting. To avert revolution, the Kaiser was forced to abdicate.
On 11 November 1918 Germany signed an armistice which ended the fighting on the Western Front.
What was the Armistice? An armistice is usually just a ceasefire. But the 1918 Armistice forced the Germans to leave occupied territory and to surrender weapons, aeroplanes and warships. Beaten in battle, Germany had no bargaining power.
For Germany, the Armistice was both a defeat and a humiliation.
Instructions to cease hostilities
Instructions to cease hostilities were issued to all troops on the Western Front. The Armistice would begin at 11am on 11 November 1918. These instructions were received by the British 40th Infantry Division, which had been in France since the Battle of the Somme. In just over two years nearly 20,000 of its soldiers had been reported killed, wounded or missing in action, more than its original strength.
The Allies were determined to ensure the terms of the Armistice meant that Germany could not fight again. German territory was to be occupied, its warships interned. Defeated Germany’s leaders, faced with revolution at home, had no choice but to sign. David Lloyd George insisted that Germany now had to face ‘justice, divine justice’. This copy of the Armistice terms belonged to him.
In late October British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and the French premier Georges Clemenceau thrashed out the Armistice terms with US President Wilson’s representative, Edward House. Lloyd George drew this doodle on a blotter during one of these meetings at the Trianon Palace Hotel, Versailles. The US president had previously announced a liberal ‘Fourteen Points’ peace plan, but the terms now agreed were much harsher.
Photos of celebration
News of the Armistice prompted jubilation in Britain and the other Allied countries. These photographs show Britons reacting both at home and at the Front. Soldiers had less opportunity for merry-making, and certain units remained in action until 11am. At home, some of those celebrating were yet to receive news of loved ones killed in the final days and hours of the war.
These paper flags were sold in London on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918. Many Allied cities saw wild rejoicing. In London the unrestrained drinking, dancing and sexual abandon shown by people would have been unthinkable before the war. Duff Cooper, an officer home on leave, wrote that, ‘All London was in uproar - singing, cheering, waving flags’ while diarist Ethel Bilbrough wrote that the city, ‘went quite mad’.
At the Front, soldiers of the Irish Guards hears details of the Armistice
Jubilation in Birmingham city centre, Armistice Day 1918
After the Armistice signing – the Allied delegation
Kaiser Wilhelm II (fourth on the left) en route to exile in Holland
Communist revolutionaries in Berlin, November 1918
14.War Without End
Britain and its empire were triumphant, but much changed by four years of war.
The Great War gave rise to new ambitions, rivalries and tensions. Old empires had fallen, new nations had been born. Revolutionary ideologies like communism and fascism emerged. Wars were still being fought.
The leaders of the victorious powers met in Paris to settle the peace. They were faced with an exhausted and shattered world. People had high hopes that they would create a new, safer and better one.
Terrible as the losses were, there was no ‘Lost Generation’ of young British men. 88 per cent of those who went off to fight came home. But some towns and families paid a disproportionately high price. Many men returned damaged, physically or mentally, some irreparably. At the end of the following decade, nearly 2.5 million war veterans were still receiving a disability pension of some sort.
This is a nine minute edit of an hour-long film made in September 1919 by French pilot Jacques Trolley de Prévaux and cameraman Lucien Lesaint. It shows former battlefields in Belgium and France. Half a million homes in over 1,600 different towns and villages had been destroyed. 6,000 square miles of land which, before the war, had produced nearly all France’s iron ore and much of its steel, was a wasteland.
Wooden grave marker
Temporary wooden grave markers like this cross identified the final resting places of British and Empire dead. Under Sir Fabian Ware the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) had the enormous task of replacing the crosses with headstones. It also secured land for cemeteries and for memorials to those with no known grave. In 1923 4,000 headstones were being delivered each week to cemeteries in France.
Shell shock film
This 1918 film shows men suffering from shell-shock. It was filmed at military hospitals in Devon and Hampshire. 80,000 cases of ‘war neuroses’ had been reported by the end of the war. In 1928 men with shell shock accounted for ten per cent of all those claiming disability pensions.
Facial prosthesis and photos
Over 60,000 British soldiers suffered head or eye injuries. Some wore metal masks like these to hide disfigurements. The photographs show the sculptor Francis Derwent Wood, who first made them, and an array of other facial prostheses. The masks were produced in a hospital department in Wandsworth, London, known as the ‘tin noses shop’. Each was fitted individually and painted to match the wearer’s skin tone.
Thomas Mann photos
These photographs show Private Thomas Mann, whose nose had been torn off by a shell fragment. Over five years, he underwent plastic surgery at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Sidcup, but found the treatment so painful he gave it up. After marrying hospital cook Minnie Blows, he became a nurse at Queen Mary’s. Minnie’s soldier-fiancé had been killed and she had resolved to love a wounded soldier. Thomas and Minnie would have four children.
‘Next to the loss of life, the sacrifice of a limb is the greatest a man can make for his country,’ announced The Times in December 1920. Over 41,000 British servicemen, including Leading Seaman William Horne, made that sacrifice. He was fitted with this prosthetic arm. The foremost institution in teaching men how to cope with their artificial limbs was Queen Mary’s Hospital at Roehampton, south-west London.
Behind every statistic of loss in this area lies immeasurable pain and grief. Private William Martin and his fiancée Emily Chitticks sent each other these letters. William wrote his last letter on 24 March 1917. Three days later, he was killed by a sniper. Unaware of his death, Emily wrote to him the following day. She died in 1974, having never married, ‘as my heart and love are buried in his grave in France’.
Facial prostheses, with the spectacles which held them in place
Captain Francis Derwent Wood examining finished face plates