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Armistice signed

Illustration by Fortunino Matania in The Sphere, 23 November 1918

Armistice Week Rejoicings in the West End, by Fortunino Matania

The signing of the Armistice between Germany and the Allied Nations marked the end of conflict in Europe and the beginning of long peace negotiations. By October the German army was in a fighting retreat, as Allied forces began pushing them back to the banks of the Rhine. In early October, Germany contacted the American President, Woodrow Wilson, to begin discussing an armistice agreement. As negotiations progressed, Germany found its position weakening. Its principal ally, Austria Hungary, was in political turmoil and the Austro-Hungarian Empire began to disintegrate. Germany was increasingly isolated: its ally Turkey signed an armistice with the Allies on 30 October, and Austria-Hungary did likewise on 3 November. Meanwhile, discontent boiled over on the German home front after chronic food shortages and inflation. Germany descended into revolution, as a series of mutinies, rebellions and seizures of power created a highly unstable political situation. The Kaiser was forced to abdicate on the 9th November, and a new democracy was proclaimed on the same day.

As this was building to a head, German delegates arrived at Compiègne on 8 November, to meet the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, Marshal Ferdinand Foch. After days of negotiation, an armistice was signed in Foch’s railway carriage on the morning of 11 November, coming into effect at 11am that day. The terms of the armistice were deliberately severe, and reflected Germany’s distressed political and military situation. They included the surrender of the German naval fleet, and the immediate withdrawal of Germany from occupied territory. The Illustrated London News reported the words of British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, on this occasion:

What will Germany do? … It is either immediate acceptance, or a worse fate. That is her choice, and she has no other […] There must be terms that will discourage ambition and arrogance from repeating this atrocity against humanity.

As Lloyd George indicated, Germany had a weak negotiating position and was under severe pressure to secure an armistice.

As The Illustrated London News and the other Great Eight publications show, the response to the Armistice in Britain was predictably jubilant. Images of London’s celebrating crowds appeared in a special German Armistice edition of the ILN, with striking artwork by Fortunino Matania. Other reports focused on the dramatic final days of the war, and on key military and political figures, with full portraits of German and Allied leaders. As these leaders shifted their focus onto the Paris Peace Conference and negotiations for a detailed peace treaty, populations began the difficult reconstruction of a peaceful Europe. Glimpses of this can be seen in articles stressing the importance of peacetime commerce and industry, or an advertisement promising “the alleviation of human pain” with a wicker wheelchair for the war wounded.

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