...THAT THE ARMISTICE ENDING WORLD WAR ONE WAS NOT SIGNED AT 11aM (and was written only in French)
Every year on the 11th November at 11am, silence falls across many parts of the world as the people of the present remember the sacrifices made in the line of duty by people of the past. Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day in the US) emerged out of an Armistice Day tradition begun by King George V in 1919 while hosting the President of France, Émile Loubet, at Buckingham Palace. The Armistice that King George was celebrating was that which was signed the previous year on the 11th November, 1918 and which signalled the end to hostilities on the Western Front.
What is well known is this: we choose to signal the start of remembrance and reflection at 11am every year on the 11th November. There are different traditions and norms, but usually the signal is followed immediately by a minute or more of silence. What is slightly less known is that the timing of 11am should, technically, be observed by the French clock. What is, perhaps, even less well known is that the 11am ‘signal’ for remembrance was chosen not because the Armistice was signed at 11am on 11th November, 1918 - it was no such thing - but because that is when the Armistice came into ‘effect’. The Armistice that helped draw fighting on the Western Front to a close was signed nearly six hours earlier, in a railway carriage deep in the Forest of Compiègne`, approximately 60km north of Paris.
In his 1996 book, Armistice 1918, the rather appropriately named Bullitt Lowry explained how on the 6th November 1918, members of the German High Command sent a late night radio message asking for permission from the Allies to send a delegation through the front lines to sue for peace. The man to whom this message was directed was Frenchman, Marshal Ferdinand Foch - the Supreme Allied Commander on the Western Front. According to Lowry, a delegation from Germany crossed No-Man’s Land in three cars, as one German soldier waved a white flag and another sounded a bugle - both indicating a temporary truce that would allow for their unmolested transit. Once they were safely across, the delegation switched cars - to ones of French heritage - and then boarded a train. The train would take them through the night to the Forest of Compiègne - where they would arrive on the morning of November 8th. Awaiting them in a railway siding was the carriage of Foch. It was in this carriage that, over the next four days, the fate of Europe would be decided.
Foch is second from the right. He stands next to his carriage - the carriage in which the Armistice was signed.
Regardless of the nature and contents of the Armistice that was eventually agreed to by this German delegation, it was, ultimately, signed at just after 5am (some put it as late as 5.45am) on the 11th November. At 6.01am on that same morning, a directive from Marshall Foch was broadcast on Official Radio from Paris which stipulated the following:
The last page of the Armistice document (Emeric84 [CC0])
Henry Nicholas John Gunther was, according to most accounts, the last soldier killed during World War One. An American soldier desperately looking to regain a rank he had recently lost*, Gunther ran headfirst into a hail of German machine-gun fire at 10.59am. Even the German soldiers at which Gunther was running and firing, cognisant of the fact that the war had only one minute left to run, tried to wave the American soldier away.
The last soldier to be killed: Henry Nicholas John Gunther.
(User:Concord [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)])
And so, when we commemorate the fallen at 11am, remember that the Armistice was signed as the sun rose above a beautiful forest in northern France, but also that the soldiers on the front lines who had to fight on that final morning, knew full well that the war was over for them - provided that they could avoid death until the clocks of Paris struck 11am.
Elliott L. Watson
*A letter that Gunther sent home to the US contained criticisms of the conditions on the front. It was intercepted and he was demoted from Sergeant to Private.
Trade between Great Britain and America is currently an important political and economic issue. When President Trump visited the UK in June 2019, preliminary discussions about a potential 'Post-Brexit' trade deal between the two nations was headline news. However, looking back, trade between Britain and America has always been important. The trade in tea, for instance, was at the epicentre of the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when American Patriots threw tea on which they would have to pay British taxes into Boston Harbour in defiance. Move forward 138 years and by 1914, Britain had more money invested in the USA than it did in Australia and Canada - two of its own Dominions - combined. It may come as something of a surprise to learn that the trade in hats between Britain and America was particularly important in the 18th century. So, did hats really help to cause the American Revolution? Well, just maybe. Here's how ...
The origins of the American Revolution 1775-1783 are often traced back to the end of the Seven-Years' War in 1763. Britain had defeated France and Spain, but in the process incurred a significant national debt which would need to be serviced by extracting taxation from her American colonies. There is truth in this. The mantra of the patriot group ‘Sons of Liberty’ was ‘No taxation without representation’, which alludes to the causal centrality of the issue of taxation implemented by the British Parliament without American colonists being returned to Westminster as MPs. In addition, the 'King George Proclamation' of 1763 forbade British settlement west of the Appalachian Mountain range on the American continent, in an attempt to minimise the prospect of further costly wars involving the British Army. This served to limit the Colonists' thirst for territorial expansion, the physical barrier to which was now the British Redcoats supposedly there to protect them, rather than the French or Native Americans.
Others have traced the roots of the American Revolution back to the very nature of the British settlers themselves. The early colonists took with them the concept of the ‘Freeborn Englishman’, imbued with the inviolable rights handed down from Magna Carta 1215 and the Bill of Rights 1689, which protected them from absolute tyranny and despotism. To this end, historian Piers Brendon has argued: “The Empire carried within it from birth an ideological bacillus that would prove fatal. This was Edmund Burke’s paternalistic doctrine that colonial government was a trust. It was to be so exercised for the benefit of subject people that they would eventually attain their birthright - freedom.” Clearly, this interpretation indicates that the concept of the ‘Freeborn Englishman’ was an underlying causal factor in precipitating revolution, as the British settlers were inherently resistant to ongoing interference from a British Monarch 3000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.
There were, however, events that occurred between the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 and the end of the Seven-Years War in 1763 that served to undermine the relationship between the British colonists in America and the Mother Country. One such event was the passage of the little-known ‘Hat Act’ through Parliament in 1732. In essence, this forbade the colonists in America from exporting hats. Instead, they were obliged to import them from Britain. Moreover, it limited the number of apprentices that could be employed by hatmakers in the colonies, thus starving the colonial hat manufacturers of inductees into the profession. In an era where one’s social status was symbolised by apparel, this left the colonists with little choice but to pay the increased prices charged by British milliners for tri-corner hats and mobcaps. Indeed, some colonists suspected that British tailors were exploiting their monopoly position and deliberately sending antiquated garments and ‘seconds’ to the colonies. Whatever the truth, Thomas Jefferson made clear his objection to the Hat Act on the eve of the American Revolution in 1774:
By an act passed in the 5th Year of the reign of his late Majesty King George II, an American subject is forbidden to make a hat for himself of the fur which he has taken perhaps on his own soil; an instance of despotism to which no parallel can be produced in the most arbitrary ages of British history.
Perhaps Jefferson’s grievance against the Hat Act was genuine. Perhaps it was merely harnessed to help to fan the flames of anti-British sentiment amongst the Colonials on the eve of the Revolution. Perhaps both. Whatever the truth, the 1732 Hat Act demonstrates that the legislative origins of the American Revolution pre-date 1763 and the end of the Seven Years' War.
Co-Editor of Versus History
On 29 May 1999 - nearly 20 years ago to the day - something pretty exciting happened in the world of music. In short, there was a new UK Number 1 Hit Single. There was nothing particularly revolutionary about that. However, the genre of music from which the new Number 1 was spawned would go on to help dictate mainstream dance music tastes and trends. The genre was UK Garage. That's the exciting bit!
The three previous UK Number 1 hit singles had something in common ... they were all boybands. Here is the list in chronological order:
Westlife secured the top spot on 1 May 1999 with 'Swear It Again'. They were superseded by the Backstreet Boys on 15 May 1999 with the sing-along classic 'I Want It That Way'. Surprisingly, that karaoke classic only survived for one week, before being budged by Boyzone's 'You Needed Me' on 22 May 1999.
The new UK Garage Number One Hit Single was - similarly - also by an all-male cohort called 'Shanks and Bigfoot'. The title was 'Sweet Like Chocolate'. More UK Garage Number One singles would follow, from the likes of the So Solid Crew, Oxide and Neutrino and Pied Piper and the Masters of Ceremonies. In truth, the nightclub banger 'Sweet Like Chocolate' had peaked on the UK Garage underground circuit towards the end of 1998 and early 1999. As a result, the tune had long since stopped being a key feature of DJ sets on the UK Garage underground circuit by the time it achieved mainstream success. Indeed, it had almost become toxic by association with its chart success. However, this Number One started something - it brought UK Garage to the attention of the mainstream audiences up and down the country. For that fact alone, it deserves recognition.