Armistice: An End to War
Australia and World War I

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The last shots to be fired before the signing of the Armistice, 11 November 1918.


1917 was a year of horrific conditions and huge casualties. In early 1918 soldiers had little reason to think that the war was in its final year.

Following Russian surrender in late 1917, Germany transferred more divisions to the Western Front. In anticipation of the arrival of US troops to fight on the Allied side, Germany launched a Spring Offensive in the Somme. After initial success, the war-weary and poorly supplied forces, facing sustained and well-coordinated Allied defence, failed to achieve a breakthrough.

On 8 August 1918, British, Canadian and Australian soldiers launched a massive offensive resulting in what German General Erich Ludendorff called Der schwarze tag — the 'black day' of the German army. Over the next '100 days', Allied forces relentlessly attacked German forces and by early October had broken through the entire depth of the
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An artists depiction of the signing of the Armistice

defence system the Germans called the Hindenburg Line. The German army was in retreat and the morale of its soldiers’ was low.

In November 1918, amid the defeat on the front and revolution and starvation at home, the German High Command asked the German Government to obtain an armistice to end the fighting.

The armistice was signed in the railway car of the French commander Marshal Foch in the forest of Compiègne near Paris at dawn on 11 November 1918, to come into effect at 11 am. At that time, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent. The war was over.

The Armistice was prolonged three times before peace was finally ratified on 10 January 1920.

Australia at that time was a nation of just on five million people, and the Great War for Civilisation, as it was then
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called, had a massive impact on the lives of the people and the future development of the nation. Over 416 000 men had enlisted for service, all of them volunteers. When the fighting ended, 333 000 men had served overseas, 60 000 had been killed and 150 000 had been wounded. The horror of it all became apparent only much later. In proportion to the number of troops in the field, Australia suffered a casualty rate (killed, wounded or captured) of 65 per cent, the highest casualty rate of any Allied force in the war.

The Treaty of Versailles


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Sydney, August 1918, Women and Children celebrating the end of the war

The Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, was the peace treaty between Germany and the Allied Powers that officially ended World War I. It was formulated at the Paris Peace Conference in early 1919.

One of the most important and controversial provisions of the treaty required Germany to accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage of the war. This article, Article 231, later became known as the War Guilt clause.

The major sanctions imposed by the treaty included the disarmament of Germany and payment of very large reparations to the allies. The treaty also involved the surrender of territory which had been part of Germany prior to the First World War, including Alsace-Lorraine to France and substantial areas to Poland. Germany reluctantly signed the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919.

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German troops leaving the city after the signing of the Armistice, Spa, Belgium, 14 November 1918.

Australia’s representatives at the Paris Peace Conference were the Prime Minister Billy Hughes, the Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook, and Lieutenant Commander J.G. Latham, Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

The conditions in the treaty were so punitive upon Germany, however, that many believe the Versailles Treaty laid the groundwork for the eventual rise of Nazis in Germany and the eruption of World War II.

League of Nations

Also founded in 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference was the League of Nations.
It was the first international organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. Since World War II it has been known as the United Nations.

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