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France 1918: Armistice
Forêt de Compiègne, La Clairière de l'Armistice
Mons – the little old trench
- 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’.
On 10 November 1918, Charles Bean, Australia’s official historian and war correspondent, was near the town of Mons on the France–Belgium border. It was here that the BEF (British Expeditionary Force) had, on 23 August 1914, fought its first battle of the war with the German Imperial Army. In those days it had been a small army, referred to as that ‘contemptible little army’ by the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II. At Mons, the BEF had momentarily halted the Germans in their sweep through Belgium and Bean stood on the old battlefield west of the town gazing at:
… a narrow little curving piece of trench, all grassed over … I could have taken my hat off to the little old trench; it must have been one of those left flank posts of the British army in the retreat from Mons.
Bean, quoted in Dudley McCarthy, Gallipoli to the Somme, the story of CEW Bean, Sydney, 1983, p.359
Bean was standing near where the first and last British Empire and Commonwealth servicemen to die in the ‘Great War’ would lie buried in the St Symphorien Cemetery, Mons.
The last death occurred on the morning of 11 November 1918. The Canadian 28th Battalion were fighting at Havre village near Mons when at 10.58 am Private George Price was shot dead by a German sniper. Two minutes later an armistice came into effect, agreed to just hours before between the Allies and the new German Republic in a forest glade near the town of Compiègne 90 kilometres north–east of Paris.
- Armistice with Germany, 11 November 1918
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The road to the famous Armistice of 11 am on 11 November 1918 began once the leaders of the Imperial German Army felt that Germany could not win the war. In late October 1918, the politicians in Berlin were virtually instructed to sue for peace and the Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II, left the capital for the town of Spa in Belgium to be with his armies. As the German military situation on the Western Front deteriorated rapidly, at home revolution was in the air after years of privation and loss. On 30 October, German sailors of the High Seas Fleet at Kiel mutinied, refusing to take their warships to sea in a last ditch effort against the Royal Navy, and it was learnt that the Allies were planning another major offensive to start on 14 November. In this crisis for Germany, on Thursday 7 November 1918, a delegation led by liberal Catholic politician Matthias Erzberger and Major General Detlev von Winterfeldt set out in a convoy of cars for the front line in France.
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010