On The Eleventh Hour

…of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, 1918, the guns of the Western Front finally fell silent. It was not the end of the Great War, not quite. Fighting would continue in the Ottoman Empire and in Russia for some time yet. But those fronts were insignificant compared to the Western Front, where 4.8 million Allied soldiers became casualties.

The fighting had continued up until the last second in some parts of the front. The British had captured Mons only an hour before. The Allied generals, especially General Pershing, unlike the politicians, felt that with the Imperial German Army in retreat the job had to be finished, and finished properly. But Europe was war weary after so much killing, and so it was not to be.

Riotous celebrations broke out in Paris, London and New York as soon as the news became public. King George V sent an excited telegram to the leaders of the Dominions congratulating them on their victory. The Allied politicians organise the conferences which will hammer out a peace treaty and so turn the armistice into Peace.

"All over the world on November 11, 1918, people were celebrating, dancing in the streets, drinking champagne, hailing the armistice that meant the end of the war. But at the front there was no celebration. Many soldiers believed the Armistice only a temporary measure and that the war would soon go on. As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front. They were trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill and no German bombing planes approaching to blast them out of existence. They talked in low tones. They were nervous.

After the long months of intense strain, of keying themselves up to the daily mortal danger, of thinking always in terms of war and the enemy, the abrupt release from it all was physical and psychological agony. Some suffered a total nervous collapse. Some, of a steadier temperament, began to hope they would someday return to home and the embrace of loved ones. Some could think only of the crude little crosses that marked the graves of their comrades. Some fell into an exhausted sleep. All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of their existence as soldiers - and through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne and Sedan.

What was to come next? They did not know - and hardly cared. Their minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past consumed their whole consciousness. The present did not exist-and the future was inconceivable."

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