In the early hours of 11th November 1918, an Armistice Agreement was signed between Germany and the Allies.
This meant that at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month there would be a truce and an end to the fighting – but peace would be a little way off.
In 1918 the British people, like many others across Europe were struggling to survive. Naval blockades had prevented ships carrying supplies from reaching land, and with the men away at war farms and factories could not keep up with demand.
It was even worse for the German population who were so hungry that they threatened to revolt. Germany had no choice but to seek peace. On the 8th November they began to discuss a “cease fire” – also called an “armistice”, and by the 11th November had signed the papers in a railway carriage in France.
The guns fell silent at 11am. What followed was perhaps the greatest celebration of all time.
There was rejoicing, shouting and dancing in the street as word spread across Europe.
Church bells rang and bonfires were lit in Trafalgar Square. In Paris, celebrations continued through the night and into the morning. Many schools closed for the day to commemorate the end to the fighting.
Armistice means the end of fighting, to cease firing – so that’s why we use the term “cease fire”, but it doesn’t actually mean peace. Soldiers would have to remain in their positions and so couldn’t come home and some battles continued regardless.
Tragically because of the time taken for the news to travel, 11,000 troops were killed on the day of the 11th November.
Countries needed to get together to agree a peace treaty, to decide how everything could be put right.
A peace conference met in Paris in 1919, which was attended by our Prime Minister of the Time, David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister George Clemenceau, and US President Woodrow Wilson amongst many others.
Each country wanted different things to happen. France wanted to make Germany pay for the trouble they had caused.
America suggested countries should work together to create a new League of Nations. Lloyd George thought the Germans needed to accept that they were guilty of starting the war.
After many discussions and debates the German government was shown the treaty, and had two choices. Sign it, or return to war. The Germans signed.
Peace had finally been achieved.
In Britain the official Peace Day celebrations were held on Saturday, 19th July 1919.
There were parades and street parties and fireworks to celebrate this final end to war.
Celebrations were organised all over the country with parades, concerts and street parties and in the evening bonfire and firework displays. A temporary monument named the Cenotaph was unveiled on Peace Day. It was made of wood, but in time would be remade in Portland stone, as a permanent memorial.
Some people did not feel like celebrating, when there had been so much loss. Soldiers still abroad, in the trenches and on the battlefield may have felt disbelief.
After so many years of conflict, it must have seemed impossible that the fighting could end so abruptly. News may have taken time to travel and so there would have been all sorts of rumours about the truth of the matter.
It is important to remember that even with the celebrations and rejoicing, things would take a long time to return to some sort of normality. Thousands of troops were still in their positions abroad and there weren’t enough trains to carry all home quickly.
Some would be waiting an agonisingly long time for their turn, especially those soldiers from countries a very long way from the battlefield, such as Australia. Soldiers, desperate to return home sometimes threatened mutiny – mutiny means ignoring their orders.
When soldiers did begin to return home, it could be hard to adjust to civilian life and everyday jobs.
Many had been very badly injured, and the damage to their mental health was enormous, something doctors at that time just didn’t know how to treat.
And day to day, the shortages wouldn’t magically disappear, life would continue to be hard for those at home and things would take a long time to return to the way they had been before the war.
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