Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice facts

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An armistice is a formal agreement of warring parties to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, it may simply be a cessation of hostilities whilst peace is negotiated It is derived from the Latin arma, meaning weapons and statium, meaning a stopping.

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Armistice Day is commemorated on 11 November each year to mark the armistice signed between the Allies of World War 1 and Germany at Compiegne, France. The armistice signified the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front and went into effect at 11.00am Paris time on 11 November 1918. 

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The Compiegne armistice marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although it was technically not a surrender by Germany. The terms, largely written by French Marshal Ferdinand Foch, included the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of German troops to behind their own borders, the preservation of infrastructure, the exchange of prisoners, a promise of reparations, the disposition of German warships and submarines, and conditions for prolonging or terminating the armistice. Although the armistice ended the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles.

Painting depicting the signing of the armistice, Marshall Ferdinand Foch standing behind the table.

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The armistice was signed in a carriage of Foch's private train. The carriage was later put back into regular service but after a short period it was withdrawn to be attached to the French presidential train. From April 1921 to April 1927, it was on exhibition in Paris and then was ceremonially returned to the forest in the exact spot where the armistice had been signed. Marshal Foch, General Weygand and many others watched it being placed in a specially constructed building.

The allied representatives at the signing of the armistice. Ferdinand Foch is second from the right, pictured outside the railway carriage in which it was signed in the forest at Compiegne.

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Although Armistice Day is regarded as the date of the end of World War 1, hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and parts of the old Ottoman Empire.

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The first celebration of Armistice Day took place on 11 November 1919 in the grounds of Buckingham Palace, thereby establishing that day as one of observance and remembrance.

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On 22 June 1940 France surrendered to Germany after German blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) and occupation, which began on 10 May 1940. 

Hitler demanded that the signing of the surrender take place in the same railway carriage as had been used for the signing of the 1918 armistice, a carriage that had for 22 years been a monument to the defeat of Germany. The signing was attended, for Germany, by Hitler, Hermann Goring, Wilhelm Keitel, Joachim von Ribbentrop and others.

Hitler sat in the same chair that had been occupied by Marshall Foch in 1918, listened to the preamble of the armsitice read out and then disdainfully walked out of the carriage, leaving it to subordinates to accept the surrender. The last sentence of the preamble read “Germany does not have the intention to use the armistice conditions and armistice negotiations as a form of humiliation against such a valiant opponent."

Hitler (hand on side) staring at the statute of Marshal Ferdinand Foch at Compiegne before signing the armistice in the carriage at right.

Joachim von Ribbentrop, Walther von Brauchitsch, Hermann Goring, Rudolf Hess and Adolf Hitler in front of the Armistice carriage.

Another view of the German representatives outside the carriage.

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The commonly held belief that Hitler danced a jig following the signing, shown on film taken at the time, was actually a propaganda hoax.

Following are stills from that film:

From the Museum of Hoaxes:

Following the war, it was revealed that John Grierson, director of the Canadian information and propaganda departments, had manufactured the clip after noticing that Hitler raised his leg rather high up while stepping backwards. He realized that this moment could be looped repeatedly to create the appearance that Hitler was jumping with joy. The film clip served the purpose of provoking popular outrage against Hitler. 

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The solemn observance of Armistice Day from 1919 was accompanied by 2 minutes silence, following a proposal to that effect by Australian journalist Edward Honey, who was working in Fleet Street. The first minute of that silence was for remembrance for those who died in the war, the second minute for the living who had been affected by war.

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Following World War 2, many countries (including Britain and Australia) changed the name of the day to Remembrance Day as a remembrance of all war dead.

Australia recognises the significance of Remembrance Day but it appears to me, at least, that involvement and the period of silence are decreasing. Correspondingly involvement in, recognition of and attendance at Anzac Day ceremonies are increasing, that being the day which in Australia and New Zealand is a sacred day to remember the fallen and to honour those who served.

The US equivalent of Anzac Day, Veterans Day, is celebrated on Remembrance Day. 

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Take 2 minutes out at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month today to remember all those from all countries who have died, and those who continue dying, in wars. Not just young men, soldiers, but also women, children, the elderly, military and civilian.

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The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have long vanished under the plow;
There's no gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard it is still No Man's Land.
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they sound the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fire o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sing Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And I can't help but wonder, now, Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you the Cause?
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
For the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame,
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

         - The Green Fields of France, Eric Bogle

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