Le 11 novembre 1918 - Quelques témoignages écrits
On the 11th November 1918, following fifty two months of war, an armistice agreement was concluded for a period of 36 days with the option to extend it, between Marshal Foch, Commander in Chief of the allied armies, attended by Admiral Wemyss and Secretary of State Erzberger, the Chairman of the German delegation: it was the end of the Great War. Welcomed with relief worldwide, the end of the fighting was viewed in different ways. This small number of written iconographic documents bears witness to this:
Extracts from President Clemenceau's statement to the Chamber of Deputies "Fire ceased this morning along the whole front at 11 am... ...Gentlemen, having read this in front of the Chamber of French Representatives, I am struggling to find what I might add at such a time, ,... With the reading of this armistice agreement, I personally believe that at this terrible, great and magnificent time, my duty is done. Just one word. In the name of the French people and in the name of the Government of the French Republic, I send a greeting from a single, united France to the newly regained Alsace and Lorraine. ...And also a tribute to our great dead, who have given us this victory. Because of them, we can say that before any armistice, France was liberated by the power of weapons... ...As for the survivors, to whom today we hold out our hands and who we will welcome as they walk down our streets on their way to the Arc de Triomphe, may they be saluted in advance. We are relying on them for the major task of social reconstruction. Thanks to them, France, which yesterday was a soldier of God and today is a soldier of Humanity, will always be the soldier of ideals!"
Pétain addressed the nation as follows in his press release at 9 pm "In the 52nd month of a war without precedence in history, the French army with the aid of our Allies has consummated the defeat of the enemy. Our troops, driven by the purest spirit of sacrifice, demonstrating sublime endurance and daily heroism throughout four years of uninterrupted fighting, have fulfilled the task entrusted to them by their country. Whether withstanding with tireless energy the assaults of the enemy or themselves attacking and forcing Victory, they have, following a decisive four month offensive, turned over, defeated and expelled the powerful German army from France and forced it to request peace. All the conditions demanded for the suspension of hostilities having been accepted by the enemy, the armistice came into force this morning at 11 O'clock". Philippe Pétain Closed due to the victory
Soldier Jean Safon hears the news in the Somme "On the 11th November at 8 am we were taking a break at Nesle (Somme) and the colonel was next to us when a cyclist brought him a letter saying: "The armistice has been signed." After confirmation by official despatch, the colonel made us stop and told us the main clauses in the armistice. Then he had us parade with the band and the flag, but as we passed in front of them, the crowd began to heckle, which he understood only too well: we were the winners. But we didn't even get a quarter of a litre of wine that day in the village where we were billeted."
Soldier Werner Beumelburg tells of the end of fighting from a German prospective "In the morning troops received the order to suspend hostilities along the whole front from midday. Machine gun fire still cackled here and here. Shells whistled overhead in both directions, releasing small round clouds of grey smoke. Houses were on fire. Explosions of high calibre shells rose straight up like candles from the parks and gardens. The sky was full of planes and the fine white criss-crossing lines of their bullet traces. Towards midday, the fighting visibly decreased in intensity. It slowly and falteringly got weaker. From time to time it stopped completely for a few seconds. The war was breathing its last gasps. Then there was a sudden rattling like hail stones. Perhaps it was a machine gun firing its last round into the blue sky. Another shell Two planes chased each other. The single-seater Spad nipped back towards its lines in a rapid curve. The Fokker zoomed upwards, almost vertically, turned on its tail and headed back. All of a sudden there was a deathly silence. Foot soldiers slowly emerged from their holes Opposite them, just a hundred metres away, enemy sentries were standing up, bayonets against the canons. The flat helmets of the English and round helmets of the French were clearly recognisable. We could see each other for the first time in four years, without firing on one another. The silence continued. Five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour. Companies, handfuls of men, assembled and headed towards their assigned billets. The sentries remained at the back. It was real - it wasn't a dream - it wasn't a nightmare - it was all over. The war had ended. There would be no more firing. There would be no more bullets or shells exploding. The lists of losses were closed. We were to go home. Deep within our hearts there was a dull emotion brewing, a violent hesitation between joy and terrible pain. Oh my native land! Oh my fatherland!"
Captain Stern gives his own response "That's it! The Armistice has been signed. We first learned of it from the Bosch for goodness sakes, via their radio. It was about 9.30 this morning. As for the official notices, they only arrived at 2 pm. I hope they were quicker telling the front and stopping the killing even before the official time of 11 am! As for the DSA (the Department of Armistice Services) they only got hold of me because at Troyes we supposedly stopped work at 3 pm! ... I had my doubts about the stupidity of the minds of these little dictators, so I haven't done anything here, due to lack of orders. Tomorrow we'll work as usual. I've done my best to motivate my men to work, despite the agitation. I've succeeded and I'm very pleased about it. This evening we put on a cinema performance and concert at the theatre - my goodness, it wasn't too bad. In short, at least I now think we can talk about peace and going home, that the time is really coming when we can return to our nearest and dearest - and that at last there will be no more killing - the end of all the flying aces and heroes; there have been many awards and accolades and glory has really returned to "our France!" Long live France, Long live our dear squaddies! What joy there must be on the front line and how I miss my 207th where it must be party time - yes indeed! My dear little wife, the war is over - soon we will be able to find our love again, one day at a time. With our Lili between us and all three of us happy, really happy. God has protected us, let's hope that in peace time he can now allow us to enjoy the modest tranquillity of our own home, first of all with our health and then a good job so that I can be a good husband and father! We will find our prisoners; Géo, Georges, everyone will be there one day soon when the nightmare of this terrible war will be erased! Thank you God! And how happy my dear father must be up there, holding out our dear little ones taken from our care too soon, I see him and my old mother, her sister, my loved ones, my brother, all those who we love so much - I see him framed by two poor little frail heads - saying to us: it is because of all the tears that you have shed and all your sincere, inconsolable heartache that God did not want to touch you any more - and you will have more happiness for a long time to come. The war is over, may Peace last forever and long live me and mine!"
An anonymous person wrote "Monday 11th November. Dear mother, Early this morning, the American and French cars filing past on the road 100 metres from our installation were flying flags. And at 11 O'clock we heard about the signing of the armistice, the flight of the old bandit and the revolution in Boschland. And all the bells in the neighbouring villages were ringing out with joyful chimes while the cannons stopped thundering and the sun (also invited to the party) shone in celebration of Saint Martin's Summer and the end of the war. It is impossible to express our joy at all that. My first thought was for those I love, for you, my dear old mother, who will find her country has become French again. I looked out over the Vosges rising up in front of us; the two mountainsides are French now and will be forever!!!"
A columnist for Le Miroir describes the end of the fighting "Monday 11th November: the armistice has been signed. On the last day, our troops, masters of Mézières, had crossed the Sermonne, taken the village of the same name and reached the Hirson to Mézières road, to the south of Remwez. On our right, we continue to breach the Meuse between Lunes and Donchery. In its hurried withdrawal, the enemy has abandoned a considerable amount of equipment everywhere. We have seized, mainly between Anor and Momignies, canons, several vehicles of every kind and whole railway rolling stock. The English, after having passed through Maubeuge, were getting closer to Mons, despite resistance from the enemy rear guard. Their advance parties were pushing on ahead to the south east of Mons and arriving at the canal line to the west and north west of the town. To the north of the Mons-Condé canal, they had taken Leuze and were approaching Ath. They had advanced 7 kilometres to the east of Renaix. The Americans had made considerable headway on many points along the whole of the line, between Meuse and Moselle. With the cooperation of French units, troops from the first army had reached the southern outskirts of Stenay and were occupying the woods at Chenon, to the south of Baalon. Beyond the eastern slopes of the hills of the Meuse, the villages of Gibercy, Abancourt and Grimaucourt had been occupied. In Woëvre, the 2nd army had penetrated the lines of the enemy and chased them from many strong positions. The villages of Marcheville and Saint-Hilaire had been taken. The Belgians had reached the Nederzwaun-Hermelghem-Boucle-Saint-Denis-Zegemzen front. American units to their left had crossed the Escaut to the east of Heuvel. 15 kilometres of ground had been made in the south and 7 in the centre."