|Part of painting by John Thiering|
(used with permission)
Dubbed the war to end all wars WW1 was a war that should never have happened – if indeed, any war should ever happen. The phrase came from a series of articles by H G Wells published in London newspapers soon after the war began. The articles were later compiled into a book with the title The War That Will End War.
But, as we sadly know, it didn’t end war. Nor did it end the arrogance and stubbornness of those directing that (and any) war.
When we consider Armistice Day one number comes to mind – the number Eleven. The ceasefire in WW1 took place at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
There is a further little known eleven that can be added to those elevens. On the last day of the war (11th November 2018) there were around eleven thousand casualties; dead, missing, or injured on all sides.
11,000!! On the last day!
Surely, that is the height of lunacy. Knowing that the war was ending, 11,000 soldiers still suffered, with a couple of them within just one or two minutes of the ceasefire.
How many lives could have been saved (on all sides) had the commanders not been so bullish and arrogant?
By October 1918 German commanders had realised that continuing the war was futile and that they had all but lost the war. Consequently, on 5 October the German government sent a message to President Woodrow Wilson seeking to negotiate terms based on Wilson’s Fourteen Points.1
However, the British, French, and Italian governments declined to accept this offer of truce, nor did they accept all of Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
The war continued on.
With these offers not being sufficient for the Allied Forces, Wilson then demanded that negotiations would not take place unless the Kaiser abdicated. This demand was deemed unacceptable by Erich Ludendorff (chief policy maker for the German military and government.)
The war continued on.
Finally, it was not to be the Allies or Ludendorff who opened the way towards Armistice. It was the German people themselves, and principally the sailors in the German navy.
The German command issued an order on 24 October 1918 designed to engage the British navy in an all-out climactic battle.
German sailors responded with an emphatic No! Revolts took place first in Wilhelmshaven on 29 October and spread to Kiel (opening to the Baltic Sea) on 3 November. The sailors’ example quickly extended all along the coast and to large cities such as Hanover, Frankfurt, and Munich.
The German people had had enough of the war and their Kaiser. The German Revolution had begun. Kaiser Wilhem III abdicated on 9 November.
An Armistice could now be negotiated.
At 5am on the 11th November, a time for a ceasefire was set for 11am.
But still, the war continued on.
The belligerent and obdurate minds of military commanders meant that 11,000 were killed, went missing, or were wounded in the final hours before 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month. The Americans in particular were commanded to press on right up until the 11th hour, resulting in almost one-third of those 11,000 being American personnel.2
Lest We Forget; Best We Learn
Armistice Day is sometimes referred to as Remembrance Day. We often hear the refrain Lest we forget on this day. We read it too on WW1 memorials in many parts of the world.
Knowing what happened in WW1, and in all other wars, the refrain Lest we Forget and simply remembering is insufficient. We need to supplement it with a further three-word refrain.
Best We Learn.
1. President Wilson’s Fourteen Points were 14 statements of principle to underpin peace negotiations. They included German evacuation of Russia, Belgium, France, Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, the establishment of the nation of Poland, freedom for the Austro-Hungarian people, sovereignty for Turkey, a re-adjustment of the border with Italy, a reduction of armaments, and freedom of navigation on seas outside of territorial waters.2. The commander of the American Expeditionary Forces during WW1, General John Pershing, later had to face a Congressional hearing to explain why there were so many casualties when the hour of the Armistice was known in advance.