“On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, an armistice was signed, ending “The War to End All Wars”. With the military morale in its ebb and revolution brewing at home, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated two days before on 9 November. The German government had decided to negotiate an armistice with the Allies starting 7th November, when the German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg exchanged a series of telegrams with the Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch.
In the forest of Compiègne, In the railcar given to Foch for military use by the manufacturer, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the armistice was signed. The photograph was taken after reaching an agreement. The diplomatic situation was terse: The German signatory, Matthias Erzberger made a short speech, protesting the harshness of the terms, and concluded by saying that “a nation of seventy millions can suffer, but it cannot die”. Foch then refused to shake Erzberger’s hand and said, “Très bien“.)
Although it was signed at 5 am, the terms of the agreement didn’t come into effect until six hours later at 11 am. The hour was chosen by Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, First Sea Lord and Britain’s official delegate to oversee the Armistice. He was explicitly ordered by his Prime Minister David Lloyd George to delay the terms until 3 pm to coincide with parliment sitting so that PM could get the credit of announcing it officially to the house on the hour. Weymss thought the delay would cause unnecessary killing and decided that the eleventh hour would add to the poignancy of the date. Lloyd George was furious. Erzberger, too, was not kindly received back–he was assassinated later by a right-wing extremist group, Organisation Consul for signing the Armistice. Foch on the other hand was elected to the Académie des Sciences on the very day of the Armistice [and ten days later, to the Académie française].
In the above picture, front row from left to right: Rear-Admiral George P.W. Hope, Wemyss’s deputy; General Maxime Weygrand, Foch’s righthand man and one who read out the armistice conditions; Wemyss; Foch and Royal Navy captain JPR Marriott, attache to two admirals. On the train, clockwise from top right: Interpreter Laperche, Captain le Mierry, Commander Riedinger, and General Desticker, Foch’s ADC. The German delegation was notably absent. The photo was taken at 7:30 am as Foch was about to return to Paris with the signed documents in his briefcase.
Although Germany had insisted that it would only enter into negotiations on the understanding that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s so-called ‘Fourteen Points’ would form the basis for a settlement, the armistice terms were nevertheless punitive. The Allies agreed to an armistice only on the basis that Germany effectively disarm herself; the cause preventing the latter from renewing hostilities backfired spectacularly: her ignominious “reparations” agreement sowed the seeds for the rise of a nationalist movement and subsequently the Second World War.