The last hours of one war, the first hints of the next.
I've a little wet home in a trench And the rainstorms continually drench There's the sky overhead, clay or mud for a bed And stone we use as a bench Bully beef and hard biscuits we chew It seems years since we tasted a stew Shells crackle and scare, yet no place can compare With my little wet home in the trenchAnon: My Little dry Home in the West BY mid-summer 1918 the German spring offensives had finally run completely out of steam. Now it was Haig's turn.
General Ludendorff would describe August 8 as the 'Black Day' of the German Army. The British, finally fighting an all arms co-ordinated battle, punched through at Amiens. There was no rout, never a sign of collapse, but the writing was very much on the wall. From now on, during the 'Hundred Days' every step the Kaiser's men took would be backwards.
It was also towards the end of September that 4th Army crashed through the Hindenburg Line, the seemingly inexpugnable bastion of German hopes. There were no more storm-troopers left. Ludendorff's offensives had cost his nation another million men. This was warfare on a scale never before attempted, nor even imagined. The ruin of the Hindenburg Line convinced the ever more pessimistic Ludendorff, of whose resilience the impossible burdens of high command had taken a fearful toll, that this was the end for Germany.
He was quite right. October brought nothing but endless fresh defeats and costly withdrawals. The Allies, scent of victory now in their nostrils, bore on relentlessly, though at a continuing dreadful cost to both sides. By the start of November the British were back at Mons where, for the BEF, it had all begun over four years previously.
In that time the world had shifted. All the old certainties had gone and, of those great empires which had confidently raised their banners in 1914, most lay in the dust. Neither the French nor British would have fully recovered within a generation. Those who marched wearily to war in 1939 presented a very different image to their fathers.
At 10.58 on the morning of 11th November one Private Price, a Canadian, became the last Allied soldier to die in battle, a mere two minutes before it was all over, one of history's unenviable footnotes.
And then, finally, it was over.
Officially, the Allies had won but their victory was entirely pyrrhic. Germany would be bludgeoned into taking the blame and the very harshness of the peace would ensure it could not endure. A fresh generation of Germans, raised in anger, shame and humiliation then forged in the ideology of intolerance, would seek to set the record straight. There was no 'war to end all wars' nor was there any 'land fit for heroes' to be found. From the wreckage of the old empires, new and darker titans would emerge.
War correspondent Philip Gibbs reported in his bulletin to the North Mail on November 12: "Our troops knew early this morning that the armistice had been signed. I stopped on my way to Mons outside a Brigade HQ, and an officer said 'hostilities will cease at eleven o'clock.' Then he added as all men add in their hearts 'thank God for that.' "All the way to Mons there were columns of troops on the march and their bands played ahead of them and almost every man had a flag on his rifle. There were flowers in their caps and in their tunics, red and white chrysanthemums given by crowds of people who cheered them on their way, people who, in many of these villages had been only one day liberated from the German yoke. Our men marched singing with a smiling light in their eyes. They had done their job and it was finished - with the greatest victory in the world."
We must never forget that unparalleled sacrifice.
| John Sadler is a Northumberland-based military historian.
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|Publication:||The Journal (Newcastle, England)|
|Date:||Nov 10, 2018|
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