First Turkey surrendered unconditionally on October 30, and then Austria bowed out on November 3, 1918. It was at this stage of the Great War that Canadians came to realize that an armistice ending hosilities was possible after four years of bloodshed.
Turkey had lost its empire in the Middle East, while Austria, termed the “last of Germany’s props,” witnessed the collapse of its Austro-Hungarian Empire.
“Deserted by her last ally, Germany fights alone a battle which means ultimate defeat or abject surrender,” read a November 3, Associated Press dispatch.
On November 7, downtown Washington, D.C., was a mass of cheering and flag-waving after a United Press report circulated that an armistice with Germany had been signed. While UP reported the signing of the armistice, Washington said “no official notification” of the signing had been received.
The first official recognition of an armistice came in the early morning hours of November 11. The signing of the armistice, ending the “war to end all wars,” as it as termed at the time, brought a cessation of the fighting on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918.
Days earlier, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated the German throne and fled to Holland and the nation he abandoned deteriorated into chaos and the threat of civil war. Fredrick Ebert, the new chancellor, appealed to the German people to avert civil war by supporting the “people’s government.”
But while the situation was chaotic in Germany, the citizens of the allied nations rejoiced.
On November 12, the Manitoba Free Press reported on the celebrations held the day before to mark the end of the “most stupendous war in the world’s history.
“That war was, in the providence of God, brought to a victorious issue yesterday; and as it was a struggle for freedom and rights of the common man, it was fitting that the common man of all the free nations should duly celebrate the long-looked for day ...
“From early this morning till late at night yesterday Winnipeg was en fete, and the citizens seemed to live in the streets. Parades of all kinds, military and civil, were under way all the time, the procession of automobiles, floats, and crowded lorries was unending, and the sidewalks carried a moving mass of people.”
Commenting on the momentous occasion, Rev. Dr. Silcox, whose son had served three years overseas with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, or CEF, said: “This is a great day to have lived to see. The end of the greatest war that has ever touched this planet. In all the days to come Canadians must never forget what they owe to the men who saved the country from German domination. This land ought to be dearer to us than ever because it was saved by the blood of her very best young manhood.”
The Great War Veterans’ Association sponsored a parade at 2 o’clock attended by 1,500 of its members and led by its band that marched by way of Main Street and Broadway Avenue to the university campus, where they were met by the First Depot Battalion commanded by Col. Osler, the Fort Garry Horse, the artillery, the Army Service and the Army Medical Corps, swelling their ranks in order to continue the parade through Winnipeg’s streets.
The veterans were said to be “exuberant” that “the ideals for which they had fought and bled” had been realized.
In the evening fireworks were set off from the roof of the Free Press Building on Carlton Street, where “a densely packed concourse of people” waved flags and cheered the bulletins read using a megaphone.
“It is a privilege to stand before such a happy and joyous gathering,” said J.W. Dafoe, the managing editor of the Free Press. “We have a just right to rejoice. We have patiently waited and hoped for the day for four years that we could celebrate the victory of right over might, achieved by the valor and courage of the allied forces on the battle fields of Europe.”
In Brandon, residents of the city and from the surrounding countryside gathered to celebrate the armistice. It was said to be the largest crowd of people ever to be seen in the community.
A half-day holiday was declared in Glenboro and a parade was organized through the town’s major thoroughfare, after which a “monster bonfire” was lit.
What the same newspaper reported was what should have been a dire warning for the future. Armistice Terms are Most Humiliating, read a headline above an Associated Press dispatch.
“It is not now possible to assess the consequences of this great consummation (armistice),” President Woodrow Wilson told the U.S. Congress. “We know only that the tragic war, whose consuming flame swept from one nation to another until all the world was on fire, is at an end ...”
Wilson had good reason to wonder about what would confront the world after the terms of the surrender were enshrined in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.
Among the German troops returning home was a corporal who would use the “humiliating” terms to his political advantage. Of course, that corporal was Adolf Hitler, who would again plunge the world into war just 21 years after the armistice was signed. Any hope of a lasting peace was effectively killed when the allies, especially France, determined that Germany should be severely punished. The resulting reparations payments demanded were so crushing that, coupled with the Great Depression, it threw the German economic and political system into a deep crisis that was effectively exploited by Hitler.
Canadian General Arthur Currie, the commander of the CEF, said that “peace, when it comes, must last for many, many years. We do not want to have to do this thing all over again in another 15 or 20 years.” Currie wanted to crush the Germans militarily to avoid the prospect of another war. Arthur
McNaughton, another Canadian general, thought the armistice to be ill-timed. “What bloody fools!” he exclaimed. “We had them on the run. Now we shall have to do it all over again in 25 years.”
During the Nazis’ rise to power, Hitler would claim that Germany had not lost the war, but due to a “stab in the back” on the home front, those fighting on the Western Front were betrayed by the “November Criminals” — the Weimer Republic — which formed the government and signed the armistice. It was a myth, although it played well among those who wanted to believe that Germany had been “humiliated” and not defeated militarily.