Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918

The Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium

You are here:
Print this page Reduce font size Increase font size

Fourth Australian Division Memorial – Bellenglise, France

Of interest: The Forest Clearing of the Armistice, Forêt de Compiègne

Location: Compiègne, Picardie, Département de l'Oise. La Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice) can be found by taking the N31 out of Compiègne until that road takes a right turn at a roundabout. Here go straight ahead onto the D546. After about two kilometres on a straight road there will be another roundabout. There are now signs for the ‘Rond Point de l’Armistice’.

Latitude: 49.420982 (49° 25' 38" N)
Longitude: 2.829945 (02° 54' 23" E)

La Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice)

The path to the Forest Clearing of the Armistice

The path to the Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice), Compiègne. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: path to the forest clearing

Historic photo: French soldier guarding the approach to the forest clearing 1918

A French soldier guards the approach to the forest clearing at Compiègne where the carriages with the German and Allied delegations were drawn up for armistice discussions between 8 and 11 November 1918. H W Wilson, The Great War: the standard history of the all–Europe conflict, London, 1914–1917 ... Enlarge photo: guarding the forest clearing 1918

Near midnight, with white flags flying and a bugler sounding his trumpet with regular four note blasts, the delegation approached the French line near Houdroy. From Houdroy, with a French trumpeter replacing the German, they drove on through devastated countryside to La Capelle to where a train was waiting to take them to a secret rendezvous in the great forest of Compiègne. There, in the dim morning light of 8 November 1918, the Germans could see that they had come to a clearing in the middle of which was a railway siding with two parallel tracks. Opposite their train was another – the headquarters train of the Allied Commander–in–Chief General Ferdinand Foch. With Foch was the leading British delegate on the Allied side, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss. Wemyss was well known to Australians as the base commander at the island of Mudros, Greece, from which the AIF had set out for Gallipoli on 24 April 1915.

Musee de l’Armistice

The Musee de l’Armistice with the position of Marshal Ferdniand Foch’s railway carriage (chained off area in the foreground) during the armistice negotiations of 8–11 November 1918, Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice), Compiègne. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: Musee de l’Armistice

Portrait of Marshal Ferdinand Foch

Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the chief Allied delegate at the armistice negotiations in the Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice) at Compiègne between 8 and 11 November 1918. H W Wilson, The Great War: the standard history of the all–Europe conflict, London, 1914–1917 ... Enlarge portrait

At 9 am on 8 November 1918, the German delegation was ushered into Foch’s train to a specially prepared dining car in which stood a table with seats for four delegates on either side. After starting proceedings with a salute and curt bow to his enemies, Foch asked them what they wanted. When they replied that they had come to inquire into the terms of an armistice, Foch replied:

Tell the gentlemen that I have no proposals to make.

Position of Marshal Foch's carriage during armistice negotiations

Position of the carriage of Marshal Ferdinand Foch during the armistice negotiations of 8–11 November 1918, Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice), Compiègne. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: position of Foch’s carriage, 11 Nov 1918

Position of the German delegation's carriage during armistice negotiations

Position of the carriage of the German delegation during the armistice negotiations of 8–11 November 1918, Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice), Compiègne. [DVA] ... Enlarge photo: position of German delegation's carriage, 11 Nov 1918

Gallery: Statue of Marshal Ferdinand Foch
– click images to enlarge

Enlarge gallery image 1: statue of Marshal Foch Enlarge gallery image 2: statue of Marshal Foch

Enlarge gallery image 3: inscription 'FOCH' on statue of Marshal Foch Enlarge gallery image 4: Detail, statue of Marshal Foch

Statue of Marshal Ferdinand Foch, chief Allied delegate at the armistice negotiations of 8–11 November 1918, Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice), Compiègne. [DVA]

Quite simply, armistice terms had been prepared between the British and French governments and it was not their intention to allow any but the most trifling discussion on details. The 34 clauses of the Armistice were now read out to the Germans who listened in horror. The fighting was to cease; within 28 days Germany was to be occupied west of the River Rhine with Allied enclaves to a depth of 30 kilometres on the east bank; all occupied territories were to be evacuated within 14 days; large numbers of locomotives and railway cars and wagons, lorries and other war equipment (artillery, aircraft, machine guns etc) was to be handed over; and all cash and gold from occupied banks instantly returned. The British naval blockade of Germany would continue. Hearing these conditions, one of the Germans wept openly. Germany was given 72 hours to accept or reject the terms but, meanwhile, the war would go on.

Sir Rosslyn Wemyss

The British delegate to the armistice negotiations in the Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice) at Compiègne between 8 and 11 November 1918, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss. Wemyss was well known to Australians as the base commander at the island of Mudros, Greece, from which the AIF had set out for Gallipoli on 24 April 1915. H W Wilson, The Great War: the standard history of the all–Europe conflict, London, 1914–1917 ... Enlarge photo: Sir Rosslyn Wemyss

Eventually, after referring the terms back to Berlin, the German delegates were authorised to sign. In the interim, the Kaiser had abdicated, going into exile in Holland, and a German Republic had been declared with a new socialist government in Berlin. At 5.30 am on 11 November 1918 both delegations signed the armistice, the Germans with tears in their eyes. Erzberger, whose officer cadet son had recently died in a military hospital, spoke protesting what he saw as the harsh conditions imposed on Germany:

The German people, which held off a world of enemies for fifty months, will preserve their liberty and their unity despite every kind of violence. A nation of 70 millions of peoples suffers, but it does not die.

Erzberger, quoted in Stanley Weintraub, A Stillness Heard Round The World: The End of the Great War, November 1918, New York, 1985, p.157  

Foch, whose only son, Germain, had been killed in action on 23 August 1914, now declared the proceedings over with a ‘Très bien’ and then waved the Germans away with these words:

Eh bien, messieurs, c’est fini, allez.
(Very well, gentlemen, its over, go.)

Instructions were then sent out to all allied units to cease fire at 11 am that morning, 11 November 1918.

Gallery: The Armistice, 1918 – click images to enlarge

Enlarge gallery image 1: Canadian infantry battalion 1918 Enlarge gallery image 2: Australian soldiers with newspaper 11 November 1918

Enlarge gallery image 3: group photo of No 3 Casualty Clearing Station, AIF Enlarge gallery image 4: German artillery with the allies

Enlarge gallery image 5: French villagers in front of ruined house Enlarge gallery image 6: French villager raises French flag on his ruined wall

The Armistice, 1918

Image 1: A Canadian infantry battalion crossing the River Rhine as part of the Allied Army of Occupation, late 1918. [AWM H06908]

Image 2: Australian soldiers read of the Armistice in the Paris edition of the British Daily Mail, 11 November 1918. [AWM E03678]

Image 3: Members of No 3 Casualty Clearing Station, AIF, who entered Germany with the Army of Occupation, Germany, March 1919. The Armistice signed on 11 November 1918 provided for an occupation of Germany up to the left bank of the River Rhine. [AWM H01933]

Image 4: German artillery handed over to the allies after the Armistice of 11 November 1918, December 1918. [AWM P00826.143]

Image 5: Three days after the Armistice of 11 November 1918 French villagers returned to their homes and hoisted the  French flag, Lamotte–Warfusée, France, 14 November 1918. [AWM E03679]

Image 6: A French villager hoists his country's flag over the ruins of his home, Lamotte–Warfusée, France, 14 November 1918. [AWM  E03683]

Painting of HMAS Australia at the surrender of the German fleet

HMAS Australia at the surrender of the German fleet in the Firth of Forth, Arthur Burgess. Under the provisions of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, the Germans were obliged to hand over to the Allies seventy–four named warships. These warships sailed into the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland on 21 November 1918 where they were met by a grand Allied fleet. The Royal Australian Navy’s battlecruiser HMAS Australia was given the honour of leading the capital ships of the Royal Navy’s port line. [oil on linen, AWM ART00192] ... Enlarge painting

Inscription on the stone in the middle of the Clairière de l’Armistice

Inscription on the stone in the middle of the Clairière de l’Armistice (The Forest Clearing of the Armistice), Compiègne. It reads, in French, 
ICI
LE 11 NOVEMBER 1918
SUCCOMBA
LE CRIMINEL ORGUEIL
DE L'EMPIRE ALLEMAND
VAINCU
PAR LES
PEUPLES LIBRES
OV IL PRETENDAIT
ASSERVIR

A loose English translation is: ‘Here, on 11 November 1918, the criminal pride of the German Empire was brought low, vanquished by the free peoples it sought to enslave’. [DVA] ... Enlarge inscription