For tens of thousands of soldiers, World War I did not end on the day of the truce

For tens of thousands of soldiers, World War I did not end on the day of the truce

ONAt the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 2018, we remember the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. However, this is at best an approximation: in the worst case, the deliberate obfuscation of a terrible truth, which states that the war did not end all at once or not at all this month. Rather, it bubbled for months and in some places for years. Worse, even when there was an end in sight, the commanders continued to send thousands of young men to their death, for reasons quite shameful of modern sentiment. To gain a few meters of ground. Avenge a defeat. To secure a medal or a promotion. Gain access to a hot bath …

The modern narrative of a neat and neat ending is a myth in addition to the neat History 101 version of the First World War. Start in August 1914. Pass before Christmas. Or not. Football in No Man's Land Unfortunate Gallipoli campaign, 1915. Unfortunate Somme attack, 1916. Asquith resigns. Russia crashes when the US joins in 1917. Ludendorff offensive 1918. Germany exhausted. End: November 1918

Sorting Something messy around the edges can be deduced into a single essay entitled "Donkey-Led Lions: Discussion".

St Symphorien Military cemetery in Mons, Belgium, where the first and last victims of the Western Front are buried (PA)

Except that it did not start all at once: The main actors spent the first three months after August 1914, figuring out who declared the war, whom – and when the war lasted, the countries fell like guests of a cocktail party. Italy waited until May 1915 before declaring war on Austria-Hungary. A few weeks later, little San Marino followed.

Honduras waited until July 1918, and it was pretty clear which way the wind was blowing. This solidarity act with the US, which had declared war a year earlier, did not end well for Honduran President Francisco Bertrand. It disturbed the large number of Germans living in the country at the time, and in 1919 they avenged themselves by joining forces with their political opponents and knocking him out of office.

The countries negotiated peace at various times and broke the war when their economies gave way. Governments fell. The old order throughout Europe has changed.

Prince Leopold of Bavaria (third from left) concludes a truce with the Russians Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918 (Getty)

Russia was the first and most significant departure. A moderate revolution in March 1917, the result of economic collapse and food rationing, has carried away centuries of Czarist tradition. And when the moderates could not deliver the promised peace, a second communist revolution in December 1917 led to a premature truce and withdrawal.

This threw out Romania, which had entered the war for the first time in August 1916 on the Allied side. But without the regional ally Russia, there was little chance of resisting Germany. In May 1918, Romania agreed to the Treaty of Bucharest, which theoretically ended its participation in the war. However, this was never ratified, was denounced by the Romanian government and Romania entered the war in October 1918 again.

Almost as he fell, the gunfire died and there was a terrible silence

The record of Henry Gunther

On September 30, 1918 Bulgaria was at the door. Turkey and Austria-Hungary concluded a cease-fire within days, on October 30 and November 3, 1918. both were exhausted and could no longer pursue the war. For both, the end of the war meant the end of the historic empire: immediately in the case of the Austrian Habsburg Empire; in the next few years for the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

The writing stood for Germany on the wall. The nightmare scenario was from the beginning the opportunity to fight on two fronts. They therefore developed the Schlieffen plan, which provided for a quick KO strike against France in the west, before he dealt with Russia in the east. It almost worked: his failure meant a stalemate on the Western Front and bloody wear for four years.

The collapse of Russia in 1917 was good news. This was offset by America's entry into the war in April this year. If the Germans could strike a knockout blow against France and the United Kingdom in front of the Americans who were used in any number, there was still hope.

The grave of George Ellison, the last British soldier killed in action (Getty)

So they tried a litter in March 1918: their "spring offensive". Again it seemed that they could succeed. But the allies stopped. In July 1918 the German advance was stopped; It was followed by the 8th of August, which was recorded as the "Black Day of the German Army", and now the end was in sight. On the other side of the front, the Allies were gaining ground, sometimes miles as the war broke out of the trenches.

US troops – known as "Doughboys" – now reached 10,000 daily in France. Their insistence on their Commander General John Pershing acting independently means they had to take more losses than they should. But nothing can change the basic narrative.

The German army, exhausted and starving, began to break apart. Back in the home brewed the revolution. German sailors in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel in masses. It was time to save what could be saved. The army must return home to prevent the break-up of their country: peace at any price was imperative.

On Thursday, November 7, some cars approached with white flags of the French front at La Capelle. This was a civil peace delegation sent by the German government and led by Matthias Erzberger. The delegation was escorted behind Allied lines to a railway track in Compiegne and the personal train of Marshal Foch, Commander in Chief of the Allied armies.

However, Foch was in no mood to compromise. France had claimed around 6 million deaths, including 1.7 million deaths. He himself had lost a son and a son-in-law. His first words to the delegation were sharp: "What do you want from me?" He made it clear that there would be no negotiations.

German prisoners arrive at a prisoner-of-war camp near Amiens in August 1918: The Battle of the City was an Allied victory that helped end the war

For the next day a meeting was agreed. After that, the Germans had 72 hours to agree on conditions that were extremely tough. Erzberger's proposal for an immediate ceasefire was rejected. Foch did not give much; however, his government was so desperate that Erzberger was ordered to accept terms.

For modern sentiments, this refusal to support the truce with talks seems cruel. On 3 November, the Austrians agreed to a truce, which should come into force the next day. The Austro-Hungarian High Command ordered all armed forces to stop fighting on the same day.

2,250

Number of troops dying on the Western Front per day

2,250 soldiers died on the western front on average every day. On November 9, under the command of General Arthur Curry, the Canadian forces launched an attack on Mons, which lasted until November 11, until the arrest of the city. The losses were low: only 280 were killed and injured. However, it is still suspected that this action was less motivated by strategic considerations than by the fact that Mons was one of the first great defeats of the Allies at war.

Curry was not alone. Many, including US General Charles Summerall, who commanded his men across the Meuse against machine guns at midnight on November 11, were determined to continue the fight until the last moment.

If such wanton disregard of human life is difficult to understand, what followed in the hours after the Armistice was signed can do nothing but indignation. The truce document was signed on 11 November at 5 o'clock in the morning (or at 5 o'clock or 5 o'clock, depending on the source) and is due to enter into force at 11 o'clock.

This was to give the news time to penetrate across the front, and notify people at home. At 5:40, the celebrations had begun in the capitals of the world. In London, Big Ben was rung for the first time since the beginning of the war: gas lamps were lit in Paris; and in New York people came to the streets to beat and celebrate pots and pans.

But for tens of thousands of soldiers on the Western Front, it was still a few hours as usual. The local commanders were informed that the fight would end at 11 o'clock. However, it was up to them to decide what to do next. Some decided not to risk a life for the territory they would go to tomorrow. Others continued until the last second.

Crowds Celebrating the Signing of the Armistice on November 11: The News Was Not Yet in Parts of the Western Front (Getty)

According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), 863 Commonwealth soldiers died on November 11, 1918. Like all of the numbers listed here, these are also those who died that day from wounds suffered in previous actions – but not those who died later died result of actions on that day. The CWGC lists the last British soldier who died in the First World War as Private George Edwin Ellison of the Fifth Royal Irish Lancers. He was murdered at nine-thirty in Mons, just 90 minutes before the truce.

The last French soldier to die was Augustin Trebuchon of the 415th Infantry Regiment. He was a runner killed by a single shot at 10:50 am when he told the soldiers about the truce. At least 75 French soldiers died on 11 November, although their graves, for unknown reasons – perhaps to save the scandal of politicians – on 10 November.

The last Canadian and last Commonwealth soldier to die in World War I was the private George Lawrence Price of the Canadian Infantry, who was killed in Mons at 10:58.

The American casualties on the last day of the war were particularly high: at least 3,000, which exceeded the total US losses on D-Day 1944. This is due both to their recent arrival and to their fighting spirit, which has not yet been dulled by the horror of war. In addition to the much publicized opinion of its commander, General John Pershing, only a severe military defeat of the Germans would "teach them a lesson."

Pershing saw the terms of the truce as soft on the Germans. Therefore, he supported the commanders who wanted to attack German positions – even after the ceasefire had been signed.

The decision of General Summerall to command his troops across the Meuse meant that the US Marines claimed more than 1,100 lives when they were able to pass unhindered and without casualties a few hours later. After the fight was over, it was recorded, Summerall visited the sight of the fight to be photographed, and then promptly left.

General Charles Summerall (left) led his men over the Maas at midnight on November 11, resulting in 10,000 unnecessary casual workers (US National Archives)

A worrying episode was the engagement in the final hours of the US war. It was a unit of black conscripts, mostly led by white officers. Only a bad decision? Maybe: Apart from the fact that racism was legendary in the US Army. Black units were rarely used when white units were available. This reflects the feelings of General Robert Bullard, who wrote in his memoirs in 1925: "Poor Negroes! They are hopelessly inferior. "

Whatever the motives, the 92nd did well and made 190 (unnecessary) sacrifices in the last hours of the war. Out of sheer fearlessness, nothing touches on General Wright's decision to order the 89th attacker to take Stenay on the morning of November 11th. He said he heard there are bathing establishments in the city and he wanted his men to have access to hot water.

It is a shame that we can not go in and ravage Germany and cut off some of the German children's hands, feet and scalp, and some of their old men

Harry S Truman, in a letter to his fiancé

Stenay was the last city conquered on the Western Front costing over 300 dead. Then there was the fate of the '81. A regimental commander ordered his men to cover up in the last few hours. His orders were counter-challenged and 40 minutes before the war they were ordered to "push forward". Result: 461 dead, including 66 killed.

Official figures indicate 10,944 deaths on the last morning of the war, including 2,738 deaths. The horror – and the pity – of these hours is not only in the headlines, but also in the importance of individual stories.

The last American soldier killed was Private Henry Gunther of the USA 313. 16 minutes before the end his unit had ordered to take a German machine-gun post. The commander was of the opinion that there should be no lessening until 11 o'clock in the morning. Gunther followed the instructions. The machine guns waved him back. But Gunther went on. The machine-gunners fired: Gunther died at 10:59. According to his record report: "Almost as he fell, the shots died and there was a terrible silence."

A commemorative plaque commemorating Henry Gunther, the last American soldier killed (Concord)

A last entry of a German private person in his diary expresses astonishment that after 50 months at the front he would come home unprotected. He did not survive the attack by US troops that attacked a few minutes later. Another, an American infantryman, wrote home that he would be married on his return. He never did.

The last victim of the war was probably a German who approached a group of Americans shortly after eleven o'clock to tell them that his troops could retire and have the house he and his men evacuated. But no one had told them that the war was over. So they shot Tomas as he walked towards her. People have inevitably asked why.

The reasons were mixed. In part, the desire for further battles reflected the strategic stance of some commanders. According to a calculation, a truce on 8 November would have saved 6,624 human lives and 14,895 mutilated, burnt, disfigured victims. However, there was a widespread belief that Germany not only lost, but must be considered lost or another war could follow.

He said at the time, "If only they had given us ten more days." The same feeling is expressed more vividly by an artillery captain, a certain Harry S. Truman, who wrote home to his fiancee: "It is a pity that we can not go in and destroy Germany, and a few of the German children's hands and feet and cut off their heads, some of their old men. "

As unpleasant as it may sound, Pershing's point of view did justice. Immediately after the end of the war, the myth "stabbing in the back" spread and formed an important basis for the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Irish Guardsmen Leave at Maubeuge (Getty) Five Minutes Before the Armistice

There were reasons to continue the fight until a ceasefire was completed. The idea that the Allies could have marched to Berlin, however, was rejected by General Sir Frederick Maurice after the war in the final stages of the war. The last four months, published in 1919.

Yes, he states: There was a will to keep going. However, he also argues that the Allies' supply networks have been overdeveloped and that, in connection with the fact that almost all the transport infrastructure between the front lines and Berlin had been destroyed or sabotaged by the Germans, significant progress was no longer possible.

Pershing's failure to give the generals a direct order to stop the fight is another matter. There was no advantage in having six hours more fighting, and thousands paid with their lives for it.

Beyond the strategic, there was a broader curiosity, indifference and damnation, summed up by the words of a British commander in relation to the Somme two years ago: "The men are far too interested in saving their own skin. They have to be taught that they are out here to do their job. Whether they survive or not is completely indifferent. "

In the US, public opinion demanded an explanation. There was a Congressional investigation into why so many died after peace agreements: despite Pershing's claim that he only followed Foch's instructions, the first conclusion was that there had been an unnecessary carnage and that decisions had been made by men who were her own life had never been put in danger. But then the politicians condemned the report as unpatriotic: He got into party politics and in March 1920 any reference to an unnecessary loss was removed.

And after all, the war did not end on November 11th. On the western front, the fighting stopped. And under the conditions of the ceasefire, it was very unlikely that they would ever be resumed. In the following months, however, truce was repeated several times. Moreover, the war (with Germany) only ended officially with the Treaty of Versaille, the official end of the First World War, signed on June 28, 1919.

The official record for the First World War, when this conflict finally became known, consisted of 40 million dead in military and civilian life. That's 20 million dead and 21 million injured. But that only tells a part of the story.

Elsewhere, World War I was fought in further wars, especially in Eastern Europe, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and injured. The widespread destruction of the infrastructure made the entire population vulnerable to further natural disease and hunger. The year 1918 was also marked by the outbreak of "Spanish flu", which eventually killed over 50 million people worldwide. Although the exact contribution of the war to this result remains immeasurable, it undoubtedly played a role.

For the injured on the last day – and before – there would be weeks and months of suffering. Many would wear the scars for life as a permanent disfigurement or disability. Matthias Erzberger, who signed the truce and helped end so much suffering, was denounced as a traitor and in August 1921, when he was walking in the Black Forest, he was murdered by two former naval officers.

If you want to know more about the events of the last day of the First World War, read: Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918 World War, and its violent climax, in the Paperback by Joseph E. Persico

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