No one called it World War I at the time—for it did not seem possible there could ever be a second. Instead, they called it the “Great War” or the “War to End All Wars.” In a little over four years of combat, more than 70 million soldiers were mobilized around the world and over 9 million were killed. Finally, German officials signed an armistice in November 1918, and on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the ceasefire began and hostilities ended.
Nearly a century has now passed since the end of WWI, and the modern world may be losing sight of how traumatized the world was in 1918. But the press certainly knew it then, as the headline from the following newspaper article flatly declares: “Curtain Rolls Down on Most Stupendous Tragedy of History.”
WWI irrevocably changed the world. It ushered in the era of modern warfare, with such innovations as tanks, chemical weapons and airplanes. It destroyed two powerful empires, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman, and the Russian Empire was torn down by revolutionary forces that eventually led to the Soviet Union. Germany was shackled, causing resentment that helped fuel the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. After the conflict ended the world’s map was redrawn, especially in Central Europe and the Middle East.
Despite the conviction of many that the “War to End All Wars” had taught humanity a lasting if distressing lesson (and the League of Nations was formed to implement this lesson), WWII began just 21 years later.
The signing of the armistice ending WWI was, of course, huge news all around the world, as shown by this front page newspaper article.
Here is a transcription of this article:
CURTAIN ROLLS DOWN ON MOST STUPENDOUS TRAGEDY OF HISTORY
War Comes to End at 3 O’clock This Morning Bellingham Time, after 1,567 Days of Horror – German Delegates Affix Signatures to Surrender Terms at Foch’s Headquarters and End War Which Has Cost at Least 10,000,000 Lives – All Teutonic Monarchs Are Dead or Fugitives and Red Revolution Is Running through Pillar Nation of Alliance.
KAISER FLEES TO HOLLAND, BUT ENGLAND MAY SEEK EXTRADITION AND TRY HIM FOR MURDER
German Navy Scattered into Units, Each Seeking Safety in Denmark or Awaiting Turn of Events – As End Approaches the Allied Armies Sweep Forward – Last Drive of War Made by Pershing’s Men in Lorraine toward Metz.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11. – President Wilson issued a formal proclamation at 10 o’clock this morning announcing that the armistice with Germany had been signed. The proclamation follows:
“My Fellow Countrymen: The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober friendly council and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.
(By the Associated Press)
The greatest war in history ended this morning at 6 o’clock, Washington time (3 o’clock, Bellingham time) after 1,567 days of horror, during which virtually the whole civilized world has been convulsed.
Announcement of the tremendous event was made at the State Department at the Capitol at 2:45 o’clock this morning and in a few seconds was flashed throughout the continent by the Associated Press.
The terse announcement of the State Department did not tell anything of the scene at Marshal Foch’s headquarters at the time the armistice was signed. It was stated, however, that at 5 o’clock Paris time the signatures of Germany’s delegates were affixed to the document which blasted forever the dreams which embroiled the world in a struggle which has cost, at the very lowest estimate, 10,000,000 lives.
Ruling Dynasties Gone.
When the war began the Teutonic alliance was headed by two of the proudest houses in history – the Hohenzollerns and the Hapsburgs. Today, William II of Germany is a fugitive in Holland, and Charles I of Austria, while he may be still in his country, has been stripped of power and has seen his empire shattered. Ferdinand of Bulgaria, another of the rulers in the Teutonic combination, has fled from his country, and Mohammed V of Turkey, who has also joined in the attempt of Germany to dominate the world, is dead, slain, it is said, by the hand of an assassin.
While the curtain was rolling down on the most stupendous tragedy in mankind’s history, events were moving with terrible swiftness in Germany, the nation about which revolved the plot and counter plot of the drama. Berlin, Leipsic, Stuttgart, Cologne, Hamburg and Frankfort are in the hands of the revolutionists who last week raised the red flag at Kiel.
Navy Is Scattered.
Germany’s navy apparently is scattered into disjointed units, each seeking sanctuary in Danish ports or waiting in German harbors for the latest turn of events.
Crowds singing the “Marseillaise” are marching through the streets of autocratic Berlin and a soldiers’ and workmen’s council has taken over the government of the empire.
Wurttemberg, Schleswig-Holstein and Hesse-Darmstadt have declared themselves independent republics, following the action taken by Bavaria last Friday. Wilhelm II of Wurttemberg is reported to have abdicated. Saxony is said to be near a like declaration and the revolutionists are said to be in control at Dresden.
The republic of Poland has served official notice on Austria that Poland has annexed the crown land of Galicia.
Yanks Make Last Drive.
As the last hours of the mighty combat drew near, French, British, Belgian and American forces were rapidly pushing the last German troops from France and Belgium. General Pershing’s men attacked yesterday over a front of seventy-one miles from the Meuse southeastward into Lorraine. This drive, probably the last to be recorded in the war, gained an average of two or three miles and approached within ten miles of the fortress of Metz.
It is suggested that William Hohenzollern is not safe from the consequences of his deed even though he has fled to Holland. After the sinking of the Lusitania and during the early days of aerial raids on London he was three times indicted for murder in England. Under international law, it is said, requisition for his extradition may be made by England under the indictments still standing against him.
Armies at Standstill.
LONDON, Nov. 11, 10:56 a.m. – Marshal Foch, according to a French wireless dispatch received here, has notified the German commander-in-chief that hostilities in the front [will cease] as from November 11 at 6 o’clock a.m., Washington time.
The allied troops will not until further orders go beyond the line reached at that date and hour.
News of the signing of the armistice soon became known to those persons in the center of the city, as flags were immediately flown to the breeze, and the issuance of evening newspapers, for which there was a great rush at 11 o’clock. The first official celebration came when the old raid signals were fired from all police and fire stations.
PARIS, Nov. 11. – Official announcement of the signing of the armistice and the termination of hostilities at 11 o’clock this morning was given to the Paris press at 11:30 o’clock. Flags speedily began to appear and preparations were begun for a demonstration.
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers. Did any of your ancestors serve in World War I? Please share your stories with us in the comments section.
Related WWI Articles: