Category: 1918

Peace is celebrated even at the most remote corners of the earth. The Pribilof Islands are far above the Arctic circle in the Bering Sea. When they learned of the armistice, the island’s inhabitants fired off a 21-gun salute.

The armistice is celebrated in the front lines and on the home front, November 11, 1918.

The armistice ends fighting on the Western Front, but the war continues for some days in East Africa, where German General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck has been waging a guerrilla struggle since 1914. His small army of 150 Europeans and 1,000 African askaris only surrendered on November 25 after capturing a British despatch rider who told him the war had ended. One of his askaris sketched this picture of the surrender. Lettow-Vorbeck was undoubtedly a gifted tactician but the war also took an immense toll on East African society because of famine, disease, and the forcible conscription of the local population as soldiers and porters.

American and German soldiers greet each other in No Man’s Land after the armistice on November 11, 1918.


Headlines from November 1918. They show a world relieved and hopeful for the future.

11 AM, 11 November, 1918 – The Great War Ends

Pictured – Eleventh month, eleventh day, eleventh hour.

German delegates signed the armistice at five in the morning, with fighting to cease at eleven. The war continued up til then. General Bernard Freyburg received orders to attack a bridge at 9:30. He reached it just before eleven and charged across on horseback, getting in return a bullet in his saddle, 100 prisoners, and a bar to his Distinguished Service Order. Nearby a Canadian named George Price was killed by a sniper at 10:58. Harry Truman’s artillerymen fired off their last round at 10:45. In many batteries, all the gunners pulled the lanyard, so that everyone could say they had fired the last shot of the war.

Across from a South African brigade, a German Maxim-gunner rattled off his last belt of ammunition. When he finished, he was “seen to stand up beside his weapon, take off his helmet, bow, and then walk slowly to to the rear.”

Then, at 11 A.M., the guns stopped firing. 

“There came a second of expectant silence,” wrote Scottish soldier John Buchan, “and then a curious rippling sound, which observers far behind the front likened to the noise of a light wind. It was the sound of men cheering from the Vosges to the sea.”

A wave of emotion descended on the Western Front, even if not everyone felt the same. In Eddie Rickenbacker’s aerodrome, fighter pilots partied. “I’ve lived through the war!” shouted one. “We won’t be shot at any more!” In the trenches a British sergeant was heard to tell his company that “It’s all over, an armistice has been signed.” “What’s an armistice mate?” asked one man. “Time to bury the dead,” replied another. Leading a column of soldiers into the town of Mons, Lieutenant J.W. Muirhead saw three dead British soldiers who had been killed that morning, “each wearing the medal ribbon of the 1914 Mons Star.” In town they found many more dead Germans, “also killed that day… Boys were kicking them in the gutter.”


Americans celebrate the armistice.

News spread rapidly throughout the world. Londoners filled Trafalgar Square, Parisians the Champs-Élysées. Factories let out their workers and the pubs stayed open all night, usually with the entire crowd singing “God Save the King,” “La Marseillaise,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” no matter what country they were in. Yet even victory day had sombre touch to it. “These hours were brief,” recollected Winston Churchill, “their memory fleeting; they passed as suddenly as they had began. Too much blood had been split.” Robert Graves spent the day “walking alone along the dykes above the marshes of Rhuddlan… cursing and sobbing and thinking of the dead.” In Rochester, a mother named Lucy Storrs thanked God that each of her four sons had survived the war. Then the phone rang. It was a friend calling to say that her second son Francis had died the previous evening.


Allied soldiers, sailors, and civilians cheer the news in Paris.

Everyone who participated in the war hoped that, in some form, their sacrifices would lead to a better world. The final tragedy of the War to End All Wars was that it completely failed to do so. The cannons ceased on the Western Front on November 11, but they opened up elsewhere. In northern Russia, Allied troops were in action against the Red Army that day. Europe’s new states squabbled as soon as they were born; Romania declared war on Hungary on November 12. The Great War had unleashed hatreds onto the earth which could not be easily reburied. In human terms it had killed maybe as many as ten million people. It damaged millions more in body and soul.

Perhaps it is not surprise then that the Treaty of Versailles could not set the world aright. In May 1919, the Daily Herald published a cartoon by Australian illustrator Will Dyson, depicting the peacemakers leaving the palace of Versailles. France’s Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, Le Tigre, is looking around and speaking to the others: “Curious! I seem to hear a child weeping!” Unseen by them is a child in tears. Above the sobbing boy’s head is a caption, identifying him as the Class of 1940.


Sergeant Henry Gunther, the Last Casualty of World War I

Pictured – Gunther’s grave in east Baltimore. On November 12, General Pershing’s order of the day restored him to the rank of sergeant.

Eleven thousand men were killed, wounded, or missing in action on November 11, 1918. Allied generals wanted to take as much ground as possible before the cease-fire went into effect, or make sure their combat record remained spotless until the final minute. Therefore men continued to die.

Private Henry N. Gunther was the
last man to fall. His brigade attacked a ridge near the town of
VIlle-devant-Chaumount that morning, the general in charge ordering
there be “absolutely no let-up” until the armistice. German
machine-gunners watched wide-eyed in disbelief as the Doughboys
advanced. Some even beckoned for them to turn back. Although the rest of
his platoon dropped for cover, Private Gunther continued forward, his bayonet
fixed. He had lost his sergeant’s stripes for writing a letter home
against the war, and perhaps his doomed charge was an attempt to
eradicate that stain on his honor. A burst of machine-gun fire hit him
in the left temple, killing him instantly. The time was 10:59 A.M.


Henry Gunther, pointed out by the arrow on the bottom right.

Combat is taking place up to the minute of the armistice. Losses on all sides that day totaled 11,000 dead, wounded, and missing, a bloodier toll than on D-Day on June 6, 1944. “The men who died or were maimed in those last few hours suffered needlessly,” writes one historian, and the US Congress began an investigation after the war which accused generals of sacrificing troops without putting themselves at risk.

Emperor Charles I renounced his leadership of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on November 11, 1918. The next day Austria is declared a republic. Unwilling to formally abdicate his throne, Charles went into exile in Switzerland, then Madeira, where he died in 1922. The Habsburg monarchy has ended.

Recovering American soldiers go sight-seeing in London, November 1918.