The Armistice and its effect
At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the guns fell silent across the Western Front. Although my grandfathers were both there the one question about the war that I never asked them as a boy or a teenager was how they felt when this happened. Both had seen and done things that nobody should ever see or do. They just went home and got on with their lives in a world that was to change forever, not only in a physical sense but also in a societal and political sense as well. What did the Armistice really mean and how do we as a company put across its ramifications to students on tour?
I always try and do this at Langemarck, the dark and foreboding German cemetery just outside of Ypres. I talk about the last 100 days of the war, Germany’s last great throw of the dice in March 1918 to win the war had failed – the line bent but it never broke! Trench warfare is now over and the German Army is being defeated militarily in the field. I talk of the reluctance of the British military to accept an Armistice when it was offered following the establishment of the Weimar Republic in Germany. As a former soldier I can understand the necessity and desire to have driven the German Army back across the Rhine and forcing a surrender – a different event to an armistice. However with over 9 million men dead Europe had had enough. German soldiers were told they had been defeated and yet still remained on French and Belgian soil. Many returned home with their banners, weapons and bands – some to welcome home parades. It would have been hard to consider yourself defeated in these circumstances. The Treaty of Versailles punished Germany still further and led to the myth of the “Stab in the back” or Dolchstoßlegende in German.
It is now the time to introduce the almost lone angry voice in Munich – Germany needed someone to blame for what had happened and the National Socialists provided scape goats for them. Despite a failed Putsch and a short spell in prison the voice continued to increase in volume. Even a temporary recovery in Germany’s finances mainly due to inflationary borrowing from US banks didn’t quell it totally. When the great crash came the voice started to be listened to outside of Munich, the Nazis began their march to power and their ensuing reign of terror. It is no surprise to me then that Hitler chose Langemarck in 1940 to make a newsreel broadcast to the world to say that Belgium had fallen. This is why we choose this very spot to introduce the link to the rise of the Nazis.
As my Scottish grandfather once told me – World War 1 started in August 1914 and ended in April 1945. There was just a breather in between. I suspect he had a point.