After years of war, how the Armistice finally heralded peace

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Andrew Link

‘I feel like I have been through hell on the streets...’

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There are many moments that could be given the accolade of ‘the beginning of the end’ of the Great War.

You could point to British shipping convoys defeating the threat of U-boats in the Atlantic; the various Allied victories across the Middle East and Africa; the arrival of US troops in 1917; fading morale in the German army; the last great Allied Offensives of August 1918.

Perhaps you would argue for the gradual surrender of the other Central Powers - Bulgaria on September 30, Turkey on October 30 and Austria-Hungary, November 3.

But there is one moment – an amalgamation of them all – that is written in stone: the Armistice of 11am, November 11, 1918.

This Armistice between the Allies and Germany had actually been signed six hours earlier, at 5am in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiegne, northern France.

The seed of it had been sown long before then. The Germans first offered out the hand of peace on September 29, 1918, while US President Woodrow Wilson had suggested his ‘14 points’ – an outline for an early peace without a fight for final victory - back in January.

But for reasons of pride, strategy and perhaps simple fate, the war was set to last four years, three months and seven days.

Initially, the guns only fell silent - an hour before midday that cold autumn morning - as part of a 36-hour truce. The lasting peace would come later, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919.

But for the British, from the exhausted soldiers on the fronts to the grieving, weary citizens back home, a temporary peace was enough.

Families were reunited. Men paraded through towns and villages with shining medals, Street lights were turned on for the first time in four years, now that the threat of aerial bombardment was over.

Of course, it wasn’t all jubilation. Yes, Britain had won the war, but it had come at an almost uncountable cost.

On a financial level, Britain had poured over £3 billion into the war effort. On a human level, almost a million men from Britain and The Commonwealth were dead, and hundreds of thousands were – physically and mentally - injured beyond recognition.

Even those who emerged relatively unscathed still returned to a changed country.

Soldiers from all walks of life had fought and died together, destroying class barriers; women working on the home front had smashed away opposition to their suffrage; and the greater state controls prompted by war had set the tone of involved government we still have today.

The citizens of Britain fought to keep the country they knew, but they would need to learn about the country they won.

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