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AT THE FRONT

No event involving millions of people, let alone the end of four years of brutal war, can be easily summed up. Here are a few.


George Grosz
I thought the war would never end. And perhaps it never did, either. Peace was declared, but not all of us were drunk with joy or stricken blind. Very little changed fundamentally, except that the proud German soldier had turned into a defeated bundle of misery and the great German army had disintegrated.
   I was disappointed, not because we had lost the war but because our people had allowed it to go on for so many years, instead of heeding the few voices of protest against all that mass insanity and slaughter.

Marine Hubert Trotman, Royal Marine Light Infantry
We were still fighting hard and losing men. We knew nothing of the proposed Armistice, we didn't know until a quarter to ten on that day. As we advanced on the village of Guiry a runner came up and told us that the Armistice would be signed at 11 o'clock that day, the 11th of November. That was the first we knew of it.

We were lined up on a railway bank nearby, the same railway bank that the Manchesters had lined up on in 1914. They had fought at the battle of Mons in August that year. Some of us went down to a wood in a little valley and found the skeletons of some of the Manchesters still lying there. Lying there with their boots on, very still, no helmets, no rusty rifles or equipment, just their boots.

Major Keith, Officer Australian Corps
At 11 o'clock on the 11th of November I was sitting in a room, in the Brewer's House at Le Cateau which had been Sir John French's headquarters at the time of the battle of Mons. I was sitting at a table with a major in the Scots Greys who had a large, old-fashioned hunting watch which he put on the table and watched the minutes going round. When 11 o'clock came, he shut his watch up and said, 'I wonder what we are all going to do next!' That was very much the feeling of everyone. What was one going to do next? To some of us it was the end of four years, to others three years, to some less. For many of us it was practically the only life we had known. We had started so young.

Nearby there was a German machine-gun unit giving our troops a lot of trouble. They kept on firing until practically 11 o'clock. At precisely 11 o'clock an officer stepped out of their position, stood up, lifted his helmet and bowed to the British troops. He then fell in all his men in the front of the trench and marched them off. I always thought that this was a wonderful display of confidence in British chivalry, because the temptation to fire on them must have been very great.

Trooper Alexander Jamieson, 11th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers
As we advanced we saw the terrible state of the Ypres salient. There were wrecked tanks from 1917 all over the place. I was used to dead horses and mules but not in the numbers that we saw up there. Of course it was just shell-holes everywhere. By the end of the first day we were clear of Ypres and on a ridge where we could look ahead and see trees and a landscape that had not been affected by war. It was just unbelievable. We knew then that things were going well.

We came back out of the line at a place called Vichte and had gone to bed in a hay loft. Our sergeant came in shouting that the war was over. Everybody got up and went down into this wee village. The estaminet owner opened his pub and issued free drinks and then went back to bed. We were paraded at the usual time. We were made to do slope arms by numbers till 11 o'clock. Then we were disbanded. That was the Armistice.

Corporal Reginald Leonard Haine, 1st Battalion, Honourable Artillery Company
It wasn't like London, where they all got drunk of course. No, it wasn't like that, it was all very quiet. You were so dazed you just didn't realise that you could stand up straight and not be shot.

Corporal Clifford Lane, 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment
As far as the Armistice itself was concerned, it was a kind of anticlimax. We were too far gone, too exhausted really, to enjoy it. All we wanted to do was go back to our billets, there was no cheering, no singing.

That day we had no alcohol at all. We simply celebrated the Armistice in silence and thankfulness that it was all over. And I believe that happened quite a lot in France. It was such a sense of anticlimax. We were drained of all emotion. That's what it amounted to.

Sergeant-Major Richard Tobin Hood Battalion, Royal Naval Division
The Armistice came, the day we had dreamed of. The guns stopped, the fighting stopped. Four years of noise and bangs ended in silence. The killings had stopped.

We were stunned. I had been out since 1914. I should have been happy. I was sad. I thought of the slaughter, the hardships, the waste and the friends I had lost.