9 November 2018
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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section
The Parliamentary Library’s paper Remembrance
Day 2018—the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I provides
an overview of the end of the First World War from an Australian perspective
and the background to and nature of Remembrance Day. This quick guide is a
supplement to the Remembrance Day paper to highlight further resources about
the end of the First World War.
The end of the war and the Armistice
end of the Great War: Australian soldiers and the Armistice of November 1918’,
Ashley Ekins describes the reaction of Australian troops to the end of the war,
and the massive task of demobilisation (Wartime, 4, Summer 1998).
For a history of how Armistice Day became Remembrance Day,
see: J Amess, ‘A
day of remembrance: 11 November’, Sabretache, 24, April–June 1983,
The Flanders poppy
(a bright red poppy) has been part of Armistice or Remembrance Day since the
early 1920s. Wearing a red poppy is a sign of remembrance for the servicemen
and women who died in war.
E Percy, ‘The Great War centenary: The Journal of the Royal United Services
Institute: the League of Nations’ and S Reimer, ‘The Great War centenary: a commentary on Lord Eustace Percy’s “the
League of Nations”’, (RUSI Journal, June 2018)—this first article reprints the
first speech given to the Royal United Services Institute after a lengthy
period of closure during the First World War. Percy sets out the case for the
League of Nations and cooperative multilateralism while some of the rejoinders made
by members of the Institute are opposed to his views. The debate has similar echoes
in contemporary international relations.
In ‘War’s destructive legacy’ (Wartime,
Spring 2018) Joan Beaumont looks at the effect of the war on
Australia. The article takes in the impact of the loss of so many young men,
the tremendous burden on the health system of so many others who returned with
injuries and illness, the inadequacy of treatment for mental health issues, and
J Beaumont, ‘The damage inflicted on the Australian home front by the Great War’, The
Strategist, blog, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 3 November 2018.
A Ekins, ‘The Armistice of 11 November 1918’ (Wartime, Spring 2018)—describes the process by which the
Armistice was signed, conditions at the front and the state of the Australian
M Hampton, ‘Australian victories in France’ (Wartime, Spring 2018)—seeks
to place the Australian efforts during the closing months of the war within the
broader context of all the British and French advances.
H Jones, ‘The Great War: how 1914–18 changed the relationship between war and
civilians’ (RUSI Journal, 1 September 2014)—explores the effect of the
war on civilian life, the forms of violence perpetrated against civilians
during the conflict, and the longer term impact of the war on perceptions of
soldiers in society.
S Tudor, Armistice of November 1918: Centenary Debate on 5 November 2018 (House of Lords Library Briefing, 5 November 2018)—covers the
closing campaigns of 1918, the process by which the Armistice was signed and current
commemorative activities in the UK.
C Mick, ‘Endgame’, in J Winter, ed., The Cambridge history
of the First World War: volume 1 global war, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
(UK), 2014, pp. 133–171—describes the final campaigns of the war, the rapid changes
in the government of Germany and negotiating the Armistice that ended the
The Australian War Memorial website contains information
Armistice of 1918’ and the 2018 ‘Centenary of Armistice’ commemorative activities run by the Memorial.
The National Archives of Australia’s ‘Shell-shocked: Australia after Armistice’ contains some information about the Armistice and also images of
documents contained in their collection, such as the cablegram from the
Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Prime Minister of Australia
informing him of the signing of the Armistice.
R Nelsson, ‘The war is over! How the Guardian reported the signing of the armistice—November,
1918’, The Guardian, 2 November 2018—The Guardian’s 1918 editorial
The war is over, and in a million households
fathers and mothers, wives and sisters, will breathe freely, relieved at length
of all dread of that curt message which has shattered the hope and joy of so
many. The war is over. The drama is played out.
The old order in Europe has perished. The new
is hardly born, and no one knows what its lineaments will be. Tomorrow we shall
be brought up against the hard immediate problems of re-establishment.
There were, in fact, a number of armistices signed towards
the end of the First World War.
The Armistice of
Salonica was signed between Bulgaria and the Allies on 29 September 1918, the
with Turkey was signed on 30 October 1918 and the Armistice
with Austria-Hungary was signed on 3 November 1918.
with Germany was signed on 11 November 1918, but was renewed three times
before the Treaty of Versailles was signed on 28 June 1919.
Last man killed
The Armistice was signed at 5 am in a railway carriage in
the forests of Compiègne, but was to
take effect from 11 am Paris time. The last known man
to have been killed in the First World War died at 10.59 am. Sergeant Henry
Gunther of the United States Army died when charging a German machine gun position
on the road to a small town called Chaumont-devant-Damvillers.
It is not known why Gunther charged the position and the German soldiers
attempted to wave him back (although he was of German descent and there was some
suggestion he was proving his loyalty by making a last minute charge). While
Gunther was indeed the last known man to die during the war he was, of course,
far from the last to die as a result of the war.
For further information, see: JE Persico, 11th month, 11th
day, 11th hour: Armistice Day 1918: World War I and its violent climax,
Random House, New York, 2004.
It is thought that the last Australians to be killed in
action died on 4 November 1918. Corporal Albert Davey, a 34-year-old ex-miner
from Ballarat, was one of six Australians to die that day. Davey died with
fellow sappers Arthur Johnson and Charles Barrett while assisting with an attack
across the Sambre-Oise canal in France. The remaining three men were Captain
Thomas Baker and Lieutenants Parker Symons and Arthur Palliser of the
Australian Flying Corp. Of course, Australians continued to die from injury and
illness up to and well beyond 11 November 1918. See: J Lees, ‘The
last Aussies to die’, Sunday Telegraph,
4 November 2018; and P Burness, ‘The
last to fall’, Wartime, January
Paris Peace Conference
As with many other aspects of the First World
War the Paris Peace Conference of 1919–20 is complex
and not easily summarised. It commenced on 18 January 1919 and although the
most important issues were decided during the first six months, negotiations did
not end until 21 January 1920, some days after the founding of the League
of Nations and the entry into force of the Treaty of
Versailles (its two most important outcomes).
The US, Great Britain and France had each
formed committees before the end of the war to consider what they hoped to
achieve out of the peace process. The results of these processes each fed into
the Paris conference, albeit with varying degrees of success. US President
Woodrow Wilson established an American inquiry (known as The Inquiry) during
1917, the result of which led to a set of principles which he hoped would
underpin the peace settlement—these became known as the
Fourteen Points. The Fourteen Points were delivered to a joint session of Congress on 8
January 1918. The first of the Points was:
Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at,
after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind
but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
In reality, Wilson’s more idealistic vision
was to run afoul of the European desire for territory and revenge as well as opposition
within the US Senate to aspects of the League of Nations charter. Although
there were delegates from 29 countries, in practice, the direction of the
conference was controlled by the ‘Big Four’—President Wilson, British Prime
Minister David Lloyd George, France’s Georges Clemenceau and Vittorio Orlando
from Italy. The Four formed the core of what was called The Supreme Council,
which comprised the foreign ministers of each of their countries plus two
representatives from Japan. This proved to be an unwieldy number, with major
discussions taking many sessions to complete. In an effort to move issues along
more swiftly, the number was reduced to the Four, with the foreign ministers
meeting separately from March 1919 and Japan intervening only on matters of
direct importance to it.
Invitations were sent out to every country that
had fought with the Allies, with the exception of Russia.
Originally, the British had intended that the
Dominions would fall into line behind them but this was unacceptable to the
countries involved. A diplomatic process allowed Australia, Canada, South
Africa and India to send two delegates to Paris, with New Zealand being allowed
one. Australia was represented by Prime
Minister Billy Hughes and Deputy Prime Minister Joseph
Cook. Hughes took a forceful approach to the negotiations (Woodrow Wilson
called him a ‘pestiferous varmint’). He strongly supported Germany paying
substantial reparation, argued against a racial equality clause in the Charter
of the League of Nations, and advocated that Australia be granted a mandate
over the former German colonies in New Guinea.
In addition to the headline issues, the Conference dealt with a range of topics.
These included prisoners of war, undersea cables, international aviation and a
variety of territorial disputes, each of importance to their protagonists:
Additional complications arose from the
fighting and the vacuum of power caused by the collapse of four empires.
Delegations and individuals seeking redress for oppression and years of alien
rule converged on Paris in the hope that Wilson, in particular, would produce
miraculous answers to their plight. It was an impossible task, as the President
ruefully admitted: ‘What is expected of me only God could perform’. As he had
feared, en route to Europe in December 1918, the outcome was, in many cases, ‘a
tragedy of disappointment’. Wilson’s sense of powerlessness paralleled the
wider frustrations of the Four, whose ability to enforce their decisions
diminished in direct proportion to the distance of the problem from Paris.
The defeated powers
were excluded from the negotiations and the outcome of the conference was experienced
as particularly harsh and humiliating by Germany. The Conference resulted in
the creation of the League of Nations and the signing of five treaties, the
most important being the Treaty
of Versailles between the Allies and Germany. It is
often considered that the punitive nature of this contributed to the rise of
Nazi Germany and the Second World War:
According to French and British wishes, Germany
was subjected to strict punitive measures under the terms of the Treaty of
Versailles. The new German government was required to surrender approximately
10 percent of its prewar territory in Europe and all of its overseas
possessions. The harbor city of Danzig (now Gdansk) and the coal-rich Saarland
were placed under the administration of the League of Nations, and France was
allowed to exploit the economic resources of the Saarland until 1935. The
German Army and Navy were limited in size. Kaiser Wilhelm II and a number of
other high-ranking German officials were to be tried as war criminals. Under
the terms of Article 231 of the treaty, the Germans accepted responsibility for
the war and, as such, were liable to pay financial reparations to the Allies,
though the actual amount would be determined by an Inter-Allied Commission that
would present its findings in 1921 (the amount they determined was 132 billion
gold Reichmarks, or $32 billion, which came on top of an initial $5
billion payment demanded by the treaty). Germans would grow to resent these
harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
For further information, see:
- The Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles, Office of the Historian, US Department of State
M MacMillan, Paris 1919: six months that changed the world,
Random House, New York, 2001 and
J Ewers, ‘Versailles revisited’, US News & World Report, 2 December 2002, pp. 44–45—reviews the
book by Margaret MacMillan above and argues that the high level of reparations
imposed upon Germany was not the principal cause of Germany’s economic failure
in the 1920s.
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