As they wake up on the morning of November 11, 1918, along the 400-mile-long western front of Switzerland in the south to the Belgian coast in the north, almost 10 million men on both sides of developments in recent days know that a ceasefire threatening.
They pray for a quick end of the war. What they are not yet aware of is that at 5:20 am in the Compiegne forest just north of Paris, on the private train of Marshal Foch, commander-in-chief of the allied armies, the ceasefire agreement was signed after three days of negotiations. The war starts at the last hours.
Soldiers in Nousard, France, play a piano that the Germans have left on Armistice Day on November 11, 1918
Monday, November 11, 1918
05:30: In the Belgian village of La Bascule on the outskirts of Mons, schoolboy Georges Licope and his family can not sleep. Yesterday, the Germans left after a fierce Allied bombardment. Suddenly the Licopes hear a far away sound and they run into the courtyard. The family realizes that it is the cheers of the people in the next village – the British are there!
05:40: The American 89th Division continues an attack on the Meuse that started last night. The American marines in particular suffered many victims.
Major General John Lejeune asked a sergeant why he crossed a bridge with machine gun when he knew the war would end in a few hours. He explained that their commander had told them: "Men, I am going to cross that river and I expect you to come with me."
& # 39; Of course we can not let him go alone, & # 39; said the navy. & # 39; We love him too much. & # 39;
06:00: The phone goes into 10 Downing Street. It is Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, from the Allied delegation in the forest of Compiegne, with news about the armistice for Prime Minister Lloyd George. Wemyss then calls King George V into Buckingham Palace.
06:50: A message is sent by telegraph to the British army and by messengers on horseback, motorcycle and bicycle: & # 39; The hostilities will end today at 11.00, 11 November. Troops will quickly reach the line reached at that hour, which will be reported to Advanced GHQ via wire. There will be no contact with the enemy to receive instructions. & # 39;
7 am: Marshal Ferdinand Foch leaves the forest from Compiègne to Paris with the armistice document in his pocket.
In Bergen, Canadian soldiers are cuddled by delirious locals. Corporal George Tizard is being towed to a house: "I enjoyed smoking a good cigar and had two very nice-looking girls as companions." Outside, the Belgians kick the corpses of dead Germans.
A total of 2,738 men died on the ceasefire morning – more than the Allies lost on D-Day – before being told that the agreement was signed (photo, armistice)
8 o'clock in the morning: Captain Robert Casey of the American 33rd division writes in his diary in a hut close to the front: "In three o'clock the war is over … I suppose I should be happy and cheering. Instead, I am only apathetic and incredulous. & # 39; Casey & # 39; s adjutant says: "All we have to do now is to keep alive for up to eleven hours."
8:30: The commander of the 88th Infantry Brigade, 29-year-old Brigadier General Bernard Freyberg, who won the VC in 1916 on the Somme and was injured nine times, receives orders that his cavalry must conquer the Belgian town of Lessines ten miles away and catch his river bridges before they are blown up by the Germans. Freyberg tells a squadron to saddle & # 39; and go on immediately & # 39 ;.
Now that the trench warfare is over, the fast-moving cavalry units have once again come into their own.
9:00 am: The early edition of The New York Times is taking to the streets. The headline says: & # 39; SIGNED SIGNATURE, END OF THE WAR! & # 39; Many American soldiers on the western front have not yet heard the news.
Since the early morning, much of the front in Belgium is covered with mist and fog. Captain Ernsberger of the American 89th Division is walking carefully towards the German lines. He has not heard anything about the truce.
Suddenly Ernsberger meets two German gunners who stand up with their hands in the air, waiting to be caught. Ernsberger asks a sergeant who can speak a little German to find out why they did not shoot him. The men say: & # 39; Do the Americans not know that the war will soon be over? We see no reason to sacrifice our lives, or yours. & # 39;
09:30: The war cabinet meets in Downing Street. They decide that full military celebrations should be allowed. Prime Minister Lloyd George warns his colleagues that they must "behave like a big nation and do not have to do anything that can harbor a spirit of revenge later on."
On the outskirts of Mons, George Ellison of the Royal Irish Lancers is on horseback as part of a reconnaissance patrol.
The forty year old Ellison is one of the most experienced soldiers in the Lancers. A former mineworker from Leeds, married to a young son, he has fought on the western front for the last four years and is one of the few survivors of the original British expeditionary force.
Ellison knows that peace is only one and a half hours away and he will be able to return home soon. There is a shot and he falls off his horse. He is the last British soldier to die in the First World War. Ellison will be buried at a few feet from Private John Parr, the first British soldier to be killed.
10:00: American gun batteries have attached ropes to the lanyards firing the pistols long enough for hundreds of men to pull and claim to have fired the last shot of the war.
In the Golden Hill Fort on the Isle of Wight, Private Harry Patch, destined to be the last survivor of the First World War, eagerly awaits news about the armistice. Harry was injured during the Battle of Passchendaele in September 1917 and is now considered fit to return to his regiment – but he knows that going back can be a death sentence.
Harry and a unit of other soldiers have been told that when news about the ceasefire comes, a rocket will be fired from the fort.
10:37: In the American 33rd Division captain Robert Casey writes more in his diary. A German grenade has just exploded in the neighborhood and soldiers have been hit. & # 39; Twenty men killed & # 39 ;, he writes. & Thirty-three injured. The war lasts 23 minutes. & # 39;
Then even more bad news comes – a German shell has just landed on their field kitchen. Casey writes: & # 39; Fourteen deaths. Four wounded. We will have peace in 22 minutes. & # 39;
10:40: Ferdinand Foch arrives in Paris at the Ministry of War and hands over the ceasefire document to Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and says: & # 39; My work is complete. Yours starts. & # 39;
Captain Lebreton of the 415th regiment of the French army wants a horn blower to mark the ceasefire, but the only man he can find is the tune forgotten. Lebreton whistles the melody to help him.
10:45: A cavalry squadron of nine dragoons led by Brig. Gen. Bernard Freyberg rushes into the waving town of Lessines.
German machine guns open the fire and a bullet sleeps in the saddle of Freyberg, but he continues at full gallop to the bridge they have to take before the Germans blow it up. After a short battle, the British take control and more than 100 Germans are captured.
The citizens of Lessines would like to attack the Germans for revenge for their treatment. The history of the regiment mentions: & # 39; Considerable difficulty was to protect the prisoners from the anger of the people. & # 39;
Close to the River Meuse, the 40-year-old soldier Augustin Trebuchon of the 415th Regiment d & # 39; Infantry is sending a message to his comrades when he is shot by a sniper. He is the last French soldier of the war to be killed. The message he carries with him is: & # 39; Collect at 11.30 for food. & # 39;
Crowd waits outside Buckingham Palace in 1918 to hear the official notice of the ceasefire being read by King George V.
10:50: Half an hour ago, Downing Street had left, but rumors about a truce have spread like wildfire, and now a large crowd is calling the Prime Minister. A cheer rises as Lloyd George steps out of number 10, his white hair swings in the wind.
He calls: & # 39; At eleven o'clock this morning the war is over. We have achieved a big victory. & # 39; The crowd roars his approval. & # 39; You have the right to rejoice. You have all had a share in it! & # 39;
Lloyd George is secretly furious. He had wanted to announce the news of the truce itself in the House of Commons. But Admiral Wemyss of the allied peace delegation had phoned King George V from France with the news and the king told the royal family. When Wemyss arrives at Downing Street tomorrow, he will be met by black looks and an icy welcome & # 39; from the prime minister.
In the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, near Verdun, soldier Henry Gunther of the American 79th division is on his way to a German roadblock consisting of two machine gun nests.
Gunther's grandparents are German, so he had been reluctant to sign up, but was summoned in September 1917. The following July he wrote a friend that the & wretched conditions & # 39; in France described and advised him not to take part in the war. The letter was intercepted by the censor and Gunther was relegated from sergeant to private.
He has since been determined to prove that he is not a German sympathizer.
On the outskirts of Bergen, a unit of the 2nd Canadian division slowly rises through the streets. Occasionally a group of Germans shoots at them and then withdraws.
The Canadians have heard rumors that a cease-fire may be imminent, but they continue to fight. The twenty-five-year-old soldier George Price asks his friend, private Arthur Goodmurphy, to help him see a number of houses down the road. & # 39; They look like a beautiful place to stick out a machine gun, & # 39; says Price.
10:55: In the German trenches, Feldwebel Georg Bucher and his unit hear that the American rifles are silent. Could it be a trap, they wonder? They put on their helmets, grab guns, guns and grenades and stand waiting. Shell smoke floats over no man's land. Bucher stares at his watch.
10:58: On the outskirts of Bergen the Canadian soldiers George Price and Arthur Goodmurphy are attacked by a German machine gun. Bullets knock bricks above their heads from the wall. Price mumbles & # 39; How we will come back in peace. . . ? & # 39; then there is a gunshot and a bullet hits him and pricks his heart.
10:59: In the village of Chaumont-devant-Damvillers near Verdun, a German machine gun opens fire on the private Henry Gunther platoon.
Gunther, who wants to prove himself, starts running the machine gun with his bayonet fixated. He shoots the Germans and they turn the weapon on him. A short burst will cut him off.
Henry Gunther is the last man to die in the First World War. He will be posthumously restored to the rank of sergeant.
Captain Lebreton kicks his hornblower, who is lying down to prevent a German barrage. He stands up carefully and lays the instrument to his lips.
It is estimated that on the last morning of the war, 2,738 men were killed on the western front and 8,206 wounded. This was more than the daily average during the war and greater losses than on D-Day according to a respected historian, although the estimates vary.
11:00: Suddenly there is silence along a large part of the front. The American soldier Frank Groves later said that you could feel the silence: "There was no singing, no shouting, no laughter; we just stood around and watched and listened. & # 39;
Near Bergen, a German machine gun unit that ensured that British troops were stuck all morning, stopped shooting. The British troops watch with amazement as a German officer stands up, raises his helmet and bows. Then he orders his men to fall in and they all move away.
In London, Big Ben hits the hour for the first time in two years. In 1916 it was silenced and the dials were no longer illuminated, so it could not serve as a guide for Zeppelins who bombed the city.
Maroons, or fireworks, used as warnings for air strikes, are fired from the roofs of police and fire stations. Some people think it is an air raid and run for cover.
Florence Younghusband, whose husband George is a major general in the army, is on the upper deck of a London bus. In front of her are two soldiers, one of whom has a horribly drawn face.
He does not respond to the sound of the maroons, but keeps staring straight ahead. His companion suddenly begins to cry.
The bus-conductor sits next to Florence and to her surprise puts her head on her shoulder and starts to cry too. & # 39; I lost my husband two months ago, & # 39; she says through her tears. & # 39; I can not be happy today. & # 39;
Service men, women and citizens who celebrate ceasefire after the end of the First World War
Winston Churchill, the Minister of Ammunition, looks out the window near Trafalgar Square, listening to the chimes of Big Ben. In the building around him he can hear doors pounding and the sound of feet running through corridors; people walk out onto the street outside. Everywhere Whitehall windows are flung open and sheets of paper, official forms and even toilet paper are thrown out.
Just a few blocks away, in a section of the Queen Alexandra hospital, a 24-year-old nurse named Vera Brittain, who later became the celebrated author of the Testament of Youth, is cleaning up dressing bowls. She hears the sounds of the party but continues her task. A nurse rushes into the room. & Brittain! Have you heard the Maroons? It's over – it's over! & # 39;
It's too late for me, Brittain thinks. Her brother Edward and her fiancée Roland were both killed.
11:02: At the Golden Hill Fort on the Isle of Wight a rocket is shot into the air that signals the armistice. Soldier Harry Patch and the other soldiers stand at the shooting range and cheer wildly. The responsible officer tells the men to use their spare ammunition.
The man next to Harry bends his gun over him and shoots at a small hut on the hill, unaware that it is the men who guard the targets. The men in the hut dive to the ground while bullets tear through the sides. Harry later said: "They were centimeters away from the first victims of peace."
11:05: In Belgium, the American Air Force, Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, flies his double-decker over the American lines. He wants to see what happens on the ground. He watches how khaki-colored figures appear from holes and trenches and slowly move to gray figures on the other side. Soldiers shake hands over the battlefields of Europe.
11:15: Outside of Buckingham Palace, despite heavy drizzle, a large crowd of fluttering hats and flags is crying & # 39; We want King George! & # 39; The king and the queen go to the balcony of the palace.
The king speaks to them as hard as he can: & # 39; With you I rejoice and thank God for the victories that the Allied armies have achieved and the hostilities have brought to an end and peace in sight. & # 39;
11:30: First lieutenant Groover of the American 79th division watches how German soldiers leave their trenches near Montfaucon in the east of France.
People walk slowly to the American lines and tell Groover with tears in his eyes that his brother was killed the day before and he would like to find his body. Groover agrees to let him search for his brother and bury him.
In Lessines, Belgium, the local population expels German soldiers who hide in their homes and cellars by pelting them with stones and sticks. For the safety of the soldiers, the British agree to drive them out of the city and return to the German lines. The people of Lessines are so hungry that the British cavalrymen have allowed them to have peeled and eaten one of the horses that were shot during the operation to liberate the city.
11:45: Three hundred feet above Parliament Square, men of Dent and Company, the guards of Big Ben, adjust the mechanism so that it can strike every hour.
Elsewhere in London, on the corner of Chancery Lane, a policeman dances with a group of girls. Foreigners kiss each other on the street. A middle-aged colonel rides on top of a car and hits a dinner gong.
The 9th East Surreys received news from the Armistice on the Western Front on November 11, 1918
In the Strand the van of a grocer is claimed by the crowd and passers-by are pelted with sprouts. An officer who gets into a taxi is touched by a herring in his face.
afternoon: In Shrewsbury the church bells sound like a letter is delivered to Tom and Susan Owen. It contains form B.104-82a stating that their son, Wilfred, has fallen into action on November 4th.
In his last letter to his mother, written from the basement of his overcrowded club, the 25-year-old poet wrote: & # 39; There is no danger here – or, if it is already there, it will be good before you get these rules is reading. . . you could not be visited by a group of friends who are as half as good as me surround here. & # 39;
Near the Meuse in France, the American navy John Ausland wakes up in a ditch that he dug the night before in the shadow of a farm. Much to the disappointment of Ausland, he was so exhausted that he slept through the armistice, which according to him is the biggest moment in the world since that first Easter morning & # 39; used to be.
half past twelve: The bells of Notre Dame are ringing in Paris and the streets are filled with civilians and soldiers from all the allied countries. The Place de la Concorde is full of imprisoned tanks and guns; here and there are large stacks of German helmets. Soldiers are showered with flowers. A newspaper said: & # 39; To remain unchallenged, an allied soldier had to descend to a cellar and hide himself! & # 39;
1 o'clock in the afternoon: Captain Harry S. Truman, the commander of a cannon battery near Verdun and a future president of the United States, celebrates the armistice with his men. A lot of wine and cognac are consumed.
Looking at their spot of a spotter balloon above, lieutenant Broaddus who ruled the firearm battery fire in the final hours of the war. Truman has forgotten everything about him, so Broaddus can only view the celebrations from above.
2:00: In a PoW camp in Munster in north-west Germany, the commander convened all British prisoners.
For months he only insulted them, but now he begins his speech by saying: "Gentlemen." . . & # 39; On this the PW & # 39; s burst out in cheers. They now know that Germany has surrendered.
02:45: Prime Minister David Lloyd George is run by Downing Street by the cheering crowd and to the House of Commons.
03:20: Kaiser Wilhelm – who has been granted asylum in neutral Holland – arrives by royal train. He is awaited by the Dutch aristocrat count Godard Bentinck who has reluctantly agreed to let the emperor stay in his castle.
While the Kaiser limousine drives away from station Maarn to begin his journey to the home of Count Bentinck, Lady Susan Townley, the wife of the ambassador in Holland, who has driven there with the intention of the Kaiser & # 39 ; s ears to box & # 39 ;, to the bonnet of the car, and must be towed away.
Prime Minister Lloyd George read the armistice conditions for the House of Commons and is now finalizing his speech: "At 11 o'clock this morning, the worst and most terrible war ever slaughtered by mankind came to an end. I hope we can say that on this fateful morning an end has come to all wars. & # 39;
In Paddington in north-west London, eight-year-old Doris Davies comes home from school. Two years ago, her father Charlie was killed on the western front and since then her mother has never spoken about her husband.
Doris walks into the pantry to hear her mother crying. Doris asks why she is upset. Well, I do not have anyone to come home and love me, & # 39; her mother replies.
4:00: Men of the Royal Marine Light Infantry walk in some woods near Bergen. Lying under the trees they find the skeletons of men of the Manchester Regiment who died there in August 1914. The bodies have no helmets, no equipment, no guns, only their boots.
05:00: In New York, Wall Street is full of cascading ticker tapes and Times Square is full of party-celebrating people. A judge releases 30 young men who have been convicted of minor crimes and says: & # 39; It's a time when all people have to start their lives again. & # 39;
On the western front, most German soldiers retreated to the east as quickly as possible, although some have remained to show allied soldiers where the roads have been mined.
Kaiser Wilhelm arrives at the castle of Count Bentinck. As he walks in, he says to the count: "Now give me a cup of warm, good, real English tea." The count has been told that the emperor will stay for three days. He leaves in two years.
05:30: On the Isle of Wight, a group of soldiers from the Golden Hill Fort pursues a sergeant along the wooden pier at Yarmouth. The sergeant has told the men that they have to return to the camp and frustrated because they can not celebrate the truce, they throw him into the freezing sea.
06:00: In a hospital in the British army at Boulogne, nurse Peggy Marten sees two parents being escorted to the mortuary. They must have been called to their injured son's bed and have arrived too late. She thinks, here we are at the end of the war – but we are not at the end of the grief.
8:00 am: In Buckingham Palace the king answers hundreds of congratulatory telegrams from around the world.
In the prison of Canterbury, Walter Griffin has been detained for the past two years because he is a conscientious objector. From his cell he can see fireworks and the sound of joy. He suspects that the war is over, but no one will make the effort to tell him until the new year.
9 o'clock in the evening: On the western front, the allied and German armies also create an impressive firework as flares, missiles and explosives are fired. Men instinctively enter into fear coverage.
There are now about 250,000 people in the streets of London. Vera Brittain is walking through the West End with a few fellow nurses. Enthusiastic cheers greet the uniforms of the Red Cross and strangers shake Vera by the hand.
She feels free from this "airy and forgetful world". and thinks of her brother and fiancée. "A new era began, but the dead were dead and would never return", she wrote later.
An American soldier threw his hat into the air in the trenches of the western front as he celebrated the armistice
Winston Churchill and Prime Minister Lloyd George dine together in Downing Street and discuss the future – the upcoming general election, how to feed the starving German population and whether the Kaiser should be shot. They can hear the crowds on the streets by celebrating the peace; for Churchill they sound like & # 39; the surf on the coast & # 39 ;.
10:00: At the Munster station in north-west Germany, newly liberated allied pawns are enraged to discover hundreds of packages of the Red Cross that were intended for them. They arrange that they are distributed among the poorest people in the area. The British PoW Private Jack Rogers said: "We knew that they had little food and a difficult time, so would not it be a big gesture before we went? & # 39;
11:00: On the western front most of the spontaneous fireworks shows are over and soldiers are sitting in campfires. For the first time in the war, cigarette butts glow in the dark, no longer an invitation to snipers.
An exhausted Brigadier General James Jack of the British 9th Division writes his diary in bed, unable to sleep. Incidents flash through memory: the terrible winters in swampy trenches, cold and miserable; loss of friends, exhaustion and wounds; the overwhelming victories of the last few months. Thank God! The end of a frightening four years. & # 39;
11:30: In a hospital in Pasewalk 80 miles north of Berlin, a 29-year-old corporal, Adolf Hitler, is recovering from a mustard gas attack that has temporarily blinded him. Tomorrow the chaplain of the hospital will tell him about the armistice. Distraughtly he throws himself on his bed and weeps with anger. From that moment on, Hitler curses the & # 39; November criminals & # 39; who signed the armistice.
22 years later, in June 1940, when France surrendered to German troops, Hitler allowed the generals of France to sign a capitulation in Marshal Foch's railway wagon. He sits in Foch's chair while a general reads a statement in which he declares that "the greatest shame of all times & # 39; canceled.
11:45: In his apartment in Paris, Marshal Foch sits in a rocking chair with a robe over his knees, smokes a cigarette and is lost in thought. He suspects that the cease-fire is twenty years' armistice & # 39; will be. And so it turned out.
Jonathan Mayo is the author of D-Day: Minute By Minute (Short Books, £ 8.99).