At midnight on 7 November 1918, with white flags flying and a German bugler sounding his trumpet with regular four note blasts, the delegation approached the French line near Houdroy. At Houdroy a French trumpeter replaced the German. They drove through devastated countryside to La Capelle to where a train was waiting to take them to a secret rendezvous in the great forest of Compiègne. There, in the dim morning light of 8 November 1918, the Germans could see that they had come to a clearing in the middle of which was a railway siding with two parallel tracks. Opposite their train was another – the headquarters train of the Allied Commander–in–Chief General Ferdinand Foch. With Foch was the leading British delegate on the Allied side, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss.
At 9 am on 8 November 1918, the German delegation was ushered into Foch’s train to a specially prepared dining car in which stood a table with seats for four delegates on either side. After starting proceedings with a salute and curt bow to his enemies, Foch asked them what they wanted. When they replied that they had come to inquire into the terms of an armistice, Foch replied: "Tell the gentlemen that I have no proposals to make."
The armistice terms had been prepared between the British and French governments and it was not their intention to allow any but the most trifling discussion on details. The 34 clauses of the Armistice were now read out to the Germans who listened in horror. The fighting was to cease; within 28 days Germany was to be occupied west of the River Rhine with Allied enclaves to a depth of 30 kilometres on the east bank; all occupied territories were to be evacuated within 14 days; large numbers of locomotives and railway cars and wagons, lorries and other war equipment (artillery, aircraft, machine guns etc) was to be handed over; and all cash and gold from occupied banks instantly returned. The British naval blockade of Germany would continue. Hearing these conditions, one of the Germans wept openly. Germany was given 72 hours to accept or reject the terms but, meanwhile, the war would go on.
Eventually, after referring the terms back to Berlin, the German delegates were authorised to sign. In the interim, the Kaiser had abdicated, going into exile in Holland, and a German Republic had been declared with a new socialist government in Berlin. At 5.30 am on 11 November 1918 both delegations signed the armistice, the Germans with tears in their eyes. Erzberger, whose officer cadet son had recently died in a military hospital, spoke protesting what he saw as the harsh conditions imposed on Germany: "The German people, which held off a world of enemies for fifty months, will preserve their liberty and their unity despite every kind of violence. A nation of 70 millions of peoples suffers, but it does not die."
Foch, whose only son, Germain, had been killed in action on 23 August 1914, now declared the proceedings over with:‘Très bien’ and then waved the Germans away with these words: Eh bien, messieurs, c’est fini, allez.
(Very well, gentlemen, its over, go.)
Instructions were then sent out to all allied units to cease fire at 11 am that morning, 11 November 1918.
The Musee de l’Armistice with the position of Marshal Ferdniand Foch’s railway carriage (chained off area in the foreground) during the armistice negotiations of 8–11 November 1918, Clairière de l’Armistice.
LE 11 NOVEMBER 1918
LE CRIMINEL ORGUEIL
DE L'EMPIRE ALLEMAND
OV IL PRETENDAIT
In many parts of the world people take a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million people who died in the war, as suggested by Edward George Honey.
Dieu Le Roy,