Military history


FROM DUBLIN CASTLE, with its round stone tower topped with ramparts, John French, officially Viscount of Ypres and now Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, set out to impose order on his rebellious realm. He established a secret budget to reward informers, ordered police to close meeting halls and seize printing presses, demanded additional troops from London, and sent out a stream of orders that in effect imposed different degrees of martial law on parts of the island. He dispatched special reports to the King, who, evidently unable to read his handwriting, asked French to send them typed. On July 4, 1918, he forbade all processions and meetings throughout Ireland held without permission. But he neglected to ban games of soccer and hurling, the Irish equivalent of field hockey, which quickly became gathering points for the most militant nationalists.

"Any hesitation or avoidable delay in carrying out the conscription policy," he wrote the King, "would be fatal to the future of the country." Drafting Irishmen, French believed, would solve two problems at once, providing the beleaguered British army with sorely needed troops and bringing about "the complete removal of useless and idle youths and men between 18 and 24 or 25" from Ireland. (Desperate for new troops at the front, Haig was also pressing for Irish conscription, one of the few things on which these two bitter rivals agreed.) But when French tried to begin calling up Irishmen, the British cabinet restrained him. Lloyd George and Milner, less ham-fisted than he, understood that decreeing a draft for Ireland had temporarily satisfied the English public. Actually imposing it, however, would give Irish nationalists an inflammatory rallying point. For months, French fumed impatiently, firing off messages of complaint to London.

And then, gradually, it appeared that Irish conscripts for the Western Front might not be so urgently needed after all.

Despite the expanse of newly captured French territory that now bulged ominously toward Paris on the map, all was not going well for the Germans. "The threat of an American Army gathers like a thunder-cloud in the rear of our other enemies," a German officer wrote in his diary, and every week brought that threat closer. The brief window of opportunity for a decisive German victory was starting to close.

Furthermore, the very speed of the German advance had caused a problem commanders had not anticipated. Short of food for months, consuming a diet heavy on turnips and horsemeat, exhausted German troops kept halting, against orders, to gorge on tempting supplies of French wine, British rum, canned beef, bread, jam, and biscuits left by the retreating Allies, and to slaughter cows and chickens taken from French farmers. It was a bad blow to German morale to see how well fed the Allies were—especially after soldiers had been repeatedly told that the U-boat campaign had left the enemy starving.

A new wave of German attacks in early June 1918 stalled when they reached the natural barrier of the Marne River and encountered fierce resistance from newly arrived American troops at Château-Thierry and in the wheat fields around Belleau Wood, names that would go down in U.S. military lore. When withdrawing French soldiers urged a U.S. Marine officer to do the same, he replied, "Retreat? Hell, we just got here." The several weeks of fighting at Belleau Wood were the largest American battle since the Civil War. By the time it was over, in late June, some three-quarters of a million U.S. troops were in Europe, with shiploads more arriving almost daily. The balance of forces on the Western Front was now changed for good.

In addition to confronting Americans eager for battle, the German high command found danger in another quarter. The impact of the Russian Revolution was beginning to ripple through the German army. As its divisions of Eastern Front troops were transported to France and Belgium, the generals discovered that revolutionary ideas had come with them. Having read German-language newspapers distributed by the Bolsheviks or fraternized with soldiers from the fast-dissolving Russian army, many had lost all ardor for combat.

"Our victorious army on the Eastern Front became rotten with Bolshevism," a senior German general told an American newspaper after the war. "We got to the point where we did not dare transfer certain of our eastern divisions to the West." Soldiers shipped to the Western Front turned rowdy, firing shots from train windows, and from one troop train in May 1918 carrying 631 men, 83 deserted along the way. Cynical troops chalked "Cattle for Flanders" on the sides of the railway cars taking them west, and in half a dozen German cities underground networks sprang up to aid deserters. Leftist sympathizers—the Wheeldon family's German counterparts—provided men with shelter, money, forged papers and ration cards, and instructions on the best spots to slip across the border into neutral Holland.

Ludendorff, the German commander in the west, was not yet done, however; he ordered more attacks in July. His grasp on reality slipping, he also ordered his collapsing Turkish allies to undertake operations in Mesopotamia that would supposedly be a first step toward threatening British control of India. He was not the only German holding out hope for a last-minute miracle. Even as the tide was turning against his men, Kaiser Wilhelm II again came to the Western Front to watch a battle unfold from a tall wooden observation tower, "eyes glued to telescopes that show nothing but distant fumes and blurs and smudges," as Churchill put it later, "while his throne totters."

The Germans suffered half a million casualties in the five months following the launch of their 1918 offensive, with their highly trained storm troopers taking the brunt of the toll. There were few reinforcements left except the overage and the very young, and so the retreat began. Allied troop morale rose with the flood of Americans: every month more than 200,000 in their broad-brimmed hats poured into France. Although many required additional training, to war-weary British and French eyes they seemed astoundingly well fed, almost Olympian. "They looked larger than ordinary men," remembered the writer Vera Brittain, nursing British wounded in France. "Their tall, straight figures were in vivid contrast to the under-sized armies of pale recruits to which we had grown accustomed." The Americans were so impatient to fight that the U.S. Army's rear-area support units suffered an epidemic of men "deserting to the front." More than 3,000 of those combat-hungry "deserters" were killed.

The very speed of the German army's advances now left it vulnerable, for it had had no time to construct the concrete and steel machine-gun bunkers, wide fields of barbed wire, and other fortifications that had cost so many Allied lives in more than three years of trench warfare. In mid-July the French and Americans attacked together, pushing the Germans back in a series of battles. During one, Corporal Adolf Hitler got into a fistfight with a newly arrived soldier who insisted it was foolish to keep fighti ng. According to a man in his unit, Hitler "became furious and shouted in a terrible voice that pacifists and shirkers were losing the war."

On August 8, 1918, the British and French launched a powerful new offensive, which caught the Germans off guard because there was no preceding artillery bombardment. Equally surprised was Lloyd George: Haig, flaunting his control of all things military, did not bother to tell his prime minister in advance of the attack. This assault, the Battle of Amiens, offered a foretaste of twentieth-century wars to come: the Allies at last made effective use of tanks, deploying more than 500 of them, newer varieties less prone to break down. (Milner had just been to tank headquarters in France to ride in the latest models.) In the years ahead the speed and armor of the tank would allow it to supplant the cavalry in the age-old quest to transcend the limitations of the earth-bound foot soldier. Tank regiments in some armies would outrage traditionalists by usurping the crossed-swords insignia of the cavalry.

The British had finally learned how to integrate the various new technologies of war: the tanks, to crush barbed wire so the infantry could get through; triangulation spotting of German artillery fire by recorded sound waves, so as to lay down counterfire and knock out enemy guns; manufactured radio traffic, to fool the Germans into thinking large numbers of troops were being moved elsewhere; camouflage, to mislead observation planes; flights by massive fleets of aircraft, to mask the noise of troops moving into position for an attack. Planes were even used to air-drop ammunition to advancing infantry, overcoming the vexing problem of transporting supplies forward across four years' worth of craters, rusted barbed wire, and old trenches. Haig and those around him had at last come to understand that war was now a complex industrial process. Grudgingly, without acknowledging it, he was leaving the era of the horseman behind; the five cavalry divisions once under his command had been quietly reduced to three.

More important than the territory gained in the new offensive was that suddenly the Germans, legendary fighters in this war, were surrendering, often throwing down their rifles and raising their hands when confronted by smaller numbers of Allied troops. It was this, and not lost ground, that began to convince a dismayed General Ludendorff that Germany had lost the war. The day the latest Allied offensive began, August 8, he wrote in his memoirs, "was the black day of the German Army." Two days later, he offered his resignation to the Kaiser, who rejected it. The war continued, but rumors of pessimism at the top began to seep out. Several hundred thousand soldiers well behind the lines either deserted or else remained in uniform but evaded orders to go to the front. In the minds of the German high command was a rising fear that, if army discipline and morale collapsed, something even worse than an Allied victory could occur: revolution at home.

The specter of revolution frightened rulers in Britain too. One hundred thousand workers protesting food shortages had marched to Manchester's town hall in January. British trade union membership was rising, and 1918 saw more than 5.8 million workdays lost to industrial disputes, by far the highest total during the war years. In July a rash of strikes by munitions workers were quelled by a combination of patriotic appeals, threats, and deception. Basil Thomson sent a Scotland Yard agent to an affected area, who would settle into a pub frequented by striking workers and, after a few drinks, in strict confidence, drop the information that he worked for the national conscription authorities and had come to town to arrange for call-up notices. How, men asked him, could they avoid being drafted? Simple, he said: immediately go back to work. Once this rumor was planted, it worked wonders—or so Thomson claimed.

Nonetheless, work stoppages spread. London's Paddington station briefly shut down, as did some rail lines. Military units were put on alert, and an entire brigade moved to Newport, a center of strike activity, while a company of Scots Guards was dispatched to East London as a show of force against picketing rail workers. The Times advocated a military takeover of the railways for the duration of the war.

Particularly unnerving for ruling circles was something Britain had never seen before, a police strike. As was true for most British workers, their pay had not kept up with the soaring cost of living. On August 30, 1918, 12,000 London bobbies, the majority of the force, walked off the job. Even some Scotland Yard detectives—who normally spied on would-be strikers—joined them. The government rushed in soldiers to guard public buildings, and then, after Lloyd George convened an emergency meeting, promised to raise police pay and pensions. The bobbies were back on the job in two days, but the prime minister later said he felt Britain had never come "nearer to Bolshevism."

Although there was a sometimes desperate demand for troops on the Western Front in the first half of 1918, Brock Millman, a careful scholar of Britain's internal security measures, makes a convincing case that the government held back men and arms for fear of revolution at home. Four Royal Navy battleships, for example, were stationed in the Thames estuary, to no visible military purpose. Still more revealing, at the beginning of 1918 there were roughly 1.5 million soldiers in Britain itself. After taking into account troops in Ireland, in training, recovering from wounds, underage for overseas service, or serving in antiaircraft units, Millman calculates that this still left 175,000 fully trained extra troops on army bases at home.

Contingency deployment plans showed them being sent, if need be, to districts adjacent to, but not actually within, areas of trade union militancy, such as Scotland's River Clyde. Millman suggests that this would have put soldiers close enough to be rushed in for strikebreaking duties, but not so close that, when off duty, they could mingle at local pubs or soccer fields with the very people whose strikes they were breaking, who might remind them of the old socialist saying that a bayonet was a weapon with a worker at each end. In July 1918, a month of many strikes, the boundaries of British military command districts were redrawn to coincide with those of national police districts. The authorities secretly drew up lists of people who, when the order was given, were to be jailed in preventive detention.

The French government also feared revolution. Unlike Haig, Clemenceau knew that cavalry was of little use at the front. Having had experience battling strikes as minister of the interior, however, he was well aware of how frightening armed men on horseback could be to a crowd. In March 1918, the very month the great German offensive started, he moved four cavalry divisions from the front to other parts of the country, to be on hand for use against strikers.

Few people worried more about revolution than Milner, but his thoughts on containing it were not bounded by Great Britain. Writing to Lloyd George in a letter marked "Very Confidential," he declared that the British sphere of influence "really extends from the Mediterranean shore of Palestine to the frontier of India.... We alone have got to keep Southern Asia." And he spoke in a similarly far-reaching way with others: "Much talk with Milner about our future action in Europe, in Russia, in Siberia," wrote General Wilson in his diary at a point when the Germans were safely in retreat. "From the left bank of the Don to India is our interest and our preserve." He agreed with Milner that "our real danger now is not the Boches but Bolshevism."

Russia was especially on the minds of men like Milner because a civil war had broken out there. The revolutionaries' Red Army was fighting on several fronts against various anti-Bolshevik forces. All sides shot prisoners and civilian hostages, as deaths, many from war-related famine, soared into the millions and bitter combat raged over the vast country. Among the early victims were the imprisoned Tsar Nicholas II and his family, all of them executed by the Bolsheviks—something that shocked the royalty-minded British public. As the war on the Western Front continued at full pitch, Milner became a key architect of the Allied campaign to support right-wing anti-Bolshevik forces in Russia with arms, training, supplies, and eventually troops, in an attempt to strangle the new ideology before it could spread to Western Europe.

Milner's love for Violet Cecil endured and they met often, although he always referred to her in his diary as "Lady Edward," as if someone might be looking over his shoulder. The new Allied successes made travel to France for civilians—at least well-connected ones—more possible, and on one occasion she was able to meet him in Paris. Clemenceau arranged permission for her to enter a military zone to visit the grave of her son, which the recent fighting had again washed over. "The cemetery has been shelled," she wrote, "though his grave was not touched. I stayed awhile both in the wood and at his grave side."

Her neighbors the Kiplings still did not know where their son's body lay, despite endless efforts. Kipling's output—poems, short stories, articles, pamphlets, speeches—remained prodigious, although his deep sorrow pulsed through it all. Working from official documents, countless interviews, and officers' diaries sometimes spotted with mud or blood from the trenches, he threw himself into a project of more than 600 pages that would take him five and a half years to complete, The Irish Guards in the Great War,a two-volume history of young John's regiment. Sober and restrained, quite unlike his other writing, the book painstakingly recounted battle upon battle, skirmish upon skirmish, losses, reinforcements, promotions, medals won, generals' messages of congratulation, and an endless list of officers and men killed, all written in the methodical manner of histories destined to be read mainly by those mentioned in them.

In explanation of his book's emotionally sparse style, Kipling wrote of the dead: "They ... lived the span of a Second Lieutenant's life and were spent. Their intimates might preserve, perhaps, memories of a promise cut short, recollections of a phrase that stuck, a chance-seen act of bravery or of kindness.... In most instances, the compiler has let the mere fact suffice; since, to his mind, it did not seem fit to heap words on the doom." The book's detailed maps used the traditional emblem of little crossed swords to mark the sites of battles fought with more modern and deadly weapons, one such pair marking the engagement where John Kipling died. His father referred to him in just a few sentences, ending, "Here 2nd Lieutenant Clifford was shot and wounded or killed—the body was found later—and 2nd Lieutenant Kipling was wounded and missing."

Kipling's most striking comment about four years of bloodshed was this enigmatic couplet from his "Epitaphs of the War":

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Did he mean, as he had often said, that prewar politicians lied in claiming that Britain was adequately prepared for a major conflict? Or was he speaking of a lie that went deeper? Perhaps the writer himself did not know.

Ludendorff was right: August 8, 1918, was indeed the black day of his army, and from then on, things only got worse. By September the combined Allied forces on the Western Front had grown to some six million men, nearly one-third of them American. On the home front, the war of attrition was taking its toll and German morale was crumbling. With nervous sweat visible on his face, the Kaiser spoke to sullen munitions workers at the giant Krupp factory in Essen, railing against rumormongers and antiwar agitators and urging a fight to the end. "To every single one of us his task is given," he said, "to you your hammer, to you at your lathe, to me upon my throne!" Embarrassingly, he was received with scattered laughs and silence.

In a matter of days, British and Belgian troops recaptured the ground that had taken Britain months and hundreds of thousands of casualties to win in the Battle of Passchendaele. With the front in motion, Haig began to spend more of his time in a railway car command post moving between his various advancing armies.

The headquarters of his German counterpart were in the thermal-springs resort town of Spa, in the hills of eastern Belgium. Although Field Marshal von Hindenburg was nominally the supreme commander and the Kaiser the head of state, the real decisions on the German side were made by General Ludendorff. And now, for the first time in the war that so many dissenters considered mad, one of the key players himself began to show symptoms of madness. By late September, Ludendorff was going through violent mood swings and panic attacks. He fell to the floor and, according to some witnesses, foamed at the mouth. A psychologist, hurriedly called in, urged him to calm himself by singing folk songs when he woke up in the morning. Instead, he exploded in fits of rage at his staff, defeatists in Germany, socialist agitators who were infecting his troops, weak-willed allies, even the Kaiser. Yet no one dared remove him from power.

At the beginning of October, Germany appealed for peace negotiations to President Woodrow Wilson, hoping to deal with him rather than the British and French and their four years' accumulation of anger. But Wilson rebuffed the offer. Tragically, though the outcome was by now clearly preordained, the combat would continue at a murderous intensity; both sides together suffered another half a million dead and wounded just during the war's final five weeks. The Allied forces rolled forward relentlessly, but to those who had already been fighting for years, the advances were without joy. "My senses are charred," Wilfred Owen wrote home. When it came to sorting mail for his men, the poet added, "I don't take the cigarette out of my mouth when I write Deceased over their letters."

Other members of the Central Powers began to plead for peace: Bulgaria asked for a ceasefire at the end of September; a month later, so did Ottoman Turkey and fast-dissolving Austria-Hungary. The latter's army, in any case, was draining away in mass desertions, and in a feverish explosion of centrifugal nationalism, one after another of the empire's ethnic groups proclaimed independence. The crest of the ruling Hapsburg dynasty bore some resemblance to that of its fallen relatives, the Romanovs of Russia, and so for the second time in two years crowds rampaged through an empire's streets, tearing down flags, signs, and plaques bearing a double-headed eagle.

The battered German army was eroding from its rear; the police chief of Berlin estimated that more than 40,000 deserters were hiding in his city. As exhausted soldiers were relieved from their front-line positions, they sometimes shouted out "Strikebreakers!" at replacement troops heading forward. Ludendorff urgently ordered his commanders to "save us from the grave danger resulting from a constantly increasing lack of discipline." Another crop failure had reduced the already meager Central Powers food supply. Strikes and peace demonstrations broke out. When the high command of the navy ordered the fleet to sea for a last, suicidal battle to the death with the British, thousands of sailors defied orders, stokers putting out the fires in their ships' boilers. At the port of Kiel, 3,000 civilians demonstrated in their support. Mutinous sailors took over their ships and raised the red flag, broke into armories and seized rifles, several thousand of them traveling to Berlin and other cities to spread their demand for a revolution.

The Kaiser wanted to send army troops to retake Kiel, but his generals talked him out of it; his brother, the commander of the Baltic Fleet, had to flee the city disguised as a truck driver. In other German cities, dukes and princes fled their palaces, and workers and soldiers formed soviets. One hundred thousand workers and other leftists filled a field in Munich and, joined by soldiers from a nearby barracks, cheered the proclamation of an independent revolutionary republic of Bavaria. Similar revolts seized factories and city halls elsewhere. This was a case—to use a more modern term—of blowback, and on a huge scale. The revolution the German high command had helped ignite by sending Lenin to Russia in the sealed train had spread to Germany itself.

Trying to stave off collapse, the Kaiser declared an amnesty for political prisoners, only to see 20,000 Berliners turn out to welcome the train that brought the socialist Karl Liebknecht back to the city. When Ludendorff and von Hindenburg telegraphed officers under them rejecting proposed peace terms and ordering a "fight to the finish," a socialist wireless operator in the army leaked the news to parliamentary deputies from his party and it was quickly published. The two commanders had, for several years, in effect run a military dictatorship. But knowing they had lost the war, they shrewdly maneuvered a new civilian government into power—headed by a chancellor responsible for the first time to the legislature, not to the Kaiser—so that the blame for what was certain to be a painful peace settlement would fall on civilians.

Desperate, the Kaiser now went to the German army's Western Front headquarters at Spa. Still believing that he could somehow retain his throne, he told his generals, "I shall remain at Spa until an armistice has been signed, and then lead my troops back to Germany." But he was shocked when, one after another, they told him that he could no longer count on his soldiers' loyalty. From the military commandant of Berlin a telegram arrived: "All troops deserted. Completely out of hand."

Worse followed: revolutionaries seized the Kaiser's own Berlin palace, and from the very corner window where the monarch had addressed crowds, Karl Liebknecht proclaimed a soviet republic. The city sprouted red flags and street barricades; young men pulled an elderly general out of a taxicab, broke his sword, and tore off his medals. Even here at Spa, enlisted men were organizing a soviet and had stopped saluting their officers, while reports came in that rear-area soldiers ordered to the front were cutting telegraph wires and sabotaging railway cars. Ludendorff resigned, and soon afterward donned a false beard and blue spectacles to flee to refuge in Denmark and then Sweden. The Kaiser was stunned by a phone call from Berlin that told him that his abdication had been announced there. "Treason, gentlemen!" the shocked monarch said to his entourage at Spa. "Barefaced, outrageous treason!" His world in tatters, he left for exile in Holland, and a socialist government headed by a trade unionist and former saddlemaker took over in Berlin—just in time to sign a humiliating peace.

The negotiations had already begun. Spa headquarters arranged by radio with the Allies a local ceasefire at a point where a passable road crossed the front, and the German peace delegation traveled in three cars, with the lead vehicle flyi ng a white flag and a young officer on the running board blowing blasts on a trumpet. When they crossed the front line, a French bugler replaced him. French soldiers they passed asked, "Is the war over?" Soon the delegates were in the midst of a crowd of Allied reporters and photographers. "To Paris!" someone called out, in a mocking reminder of the signs chalked on the sides of German troop trains in 1914. The delegates transferred to French autos for the remainder of the trip, to the headquarters of Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France in a railway car in the forest of Compiègne. British officers were present, but yielded to their ally—some of its territory still occupied—the satisfaction of dictating the Allied terms to the German envoys.

Although the agreement signed several days later, over the protests of the shaken German delegates, was called the Armistice, in reality it was a German surrender. It was a most unprecedented one, however, for the surrendering army, despite being severely bloodied, remained well armed, several million strong—and almost entirely on the territory of its enemies. But with a near-starving Germany in turmoil behind it, and rear-area troops deserting, it could not fight on, even though only a few months earlier, almost at the gates of Paris, it had seemed poised to win the war. Triumphal German government propaganda had continued to the last minute—newsreels never showed troops retreating or surrendering—leaving many civilians thinking that, whatever their sufferings, the country's soldiers were on the verge of victory.

That illusion persisted long after the fighti ng stopped, because front-line army units returned home to march in orderly columns into German cities full of cheering crowds and banners of welcome. Politicians gave speeches praising them as heroes undefeated on the battlefield—which was, in a sense, true. All of this, of course, was the raw material out of which the Nazis within a few short years would build their deceptive but powerful legend of Germany's noble soldiers stabbed in the back and robbed of glorious victory by communists, pacifists, and Jews. And when, in 1940, they would overrun France in a new war to avenge this loss, Hitler would order that the French surrender be signed in the very same railway car.

In laying down the Armistice's terms on behalf of the Allies, Marshal Foch was representing a country that had suffered a staggering toll: 1,390,000 men killed. The marshal demanded that the German army withdraw from France, Belgium, the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine that had been captured from France in 1870, from Russia, and from parts of Germany itself, particularly all land on the west side of the Rhine. Germany was also to pay the cost of stationing Allied troops there, and more. And all this preceded a more detailed and far more onerous peace treaty that would be forced on the Germans at Versailles months later.

Many people, even at this early moment, foresaw the dangers of such harsh terms. The retired Admiral of the Fleet John Fisher, the former First Sea Lord, was asked how long it would be until the next war. "Twenty years time," he replied. Surprisingly, someone similarly worried was a man who, whatever his limitations, had always had a shrewd sense of politics, Douglas Haig. Shortly before the fighti ng stopped, but when the shape of the Allied demands had become clear, the field marshal wrote to his wife, "It is important that our Statesmen should ... not attempt to so humiliate Germany as to produce the desire for revenge in years to come."

The Armistice was signed in Foch's railway car at 5 A.M. on November 11, 1918, to go into effect six hours later. Senselessly, to no military or political purpose, Allied infantry and artillery attacks continued full steam through the morning. On this final half day of the war, after the peace was signed, 2,738 men from both sides were killed and more than 8,000 wounded. The first and last British soldiers to die in the war—16-year-old John Parr of Finchley, North London, a golf caddy who lied about his age to get into the army, and George Ellison, a 40-year-old miner from Leeds who survived all but the last 90 minutes of fighting—were killed within a few miles of each other near Mons, Belgium. It was recently discovered that, by coincidence, they are buried beneath pine trees and rosebushes in the same cemetery, Saint-Symphorien, seven yards apart.


In the newspapers secretly supplied him by his Irish fellow inmates, Fenner Brockway read of socialists rising to power in Germany. He was in his prison cell, still on a punishment diet, when he heard the news that the Armistice was to take effect at 11 A.M. on November 11. Allowed no watch, he had learned to tell time by the position of a sunbeam on the wall.

I remember sitting on the shelf-table in the denuded cell, my feet on the stool, watching the sun creep along the wall towards eleven o'clock. I cannot reproduce the chaos and intensity of my thoughts.

Was the slaughter of four years to end?...Was I to see my family and children?...Was I to see the fields and woods and hills and sea?

The line of the sun on the wall approached eleven.

When horns began to blare all over the city, Brockway wept.

In a prison at Ipswich, another resister, Corder Catchpool, recorded an event that afternoon when he and other COs were in the exercise yard: "An airman suddenly swooped down from 3,000 feet and skimmed over our heads, waving a black arm and oily rag. I was deeply touched by this little incident. I took it as peace overtures from the Army to us—a message of goodwill for the future, by-gones by-gones, all recrimination and misunderstanding, all heart-burnings over, wiped out by that kind, dirty bit of cloth."

Bertrand Russell, recently released from prison, walked up Tottenham Court Road and watched Londoners pour out of shops and offices into the street to cheer. The public jubilation made him think of the similar mood he had witnessed when war was declared more than four years earlier. "The crowd was frivolous still, and had learned nothing during the period of horror.... I felt strangely solitary amid the rejoicings, like a ghost dropped by accident from some other planet."

Alfred Milner was woken that morning by a message that the Armistice had been signed. At 11 A.M. fireworks were shot off, bugles sounded, church bells rang, and Big Ben began striking again after more than four years of silence. Later in the day, Milner and other War Office officials were received by the King and Queen. They emerged from Buckingham Palace to join a huge crowd wildly cheering the appearance of the royal family on the palace balcony while bands played. Another crowd started a celebratory bonfire in Trafalgar Square, ripping signs off the sides of London buses to feed the flames. That evening, "Lady Edward dined with me," Milner noted in his diary. Then, like the consummate bureaucrat he was, he recorded escorting her to her lodgings "through crowded streets of rejoicing people—very orderly. Walked home again and sat up working till 2 A.M."

As church bells rang triumphantly throughout Britain, Carrie Kipling wrote in her diary, "A world to be remade without a son."

John Buchan toured the Department of Information, shaking hands with members of his staff. Above all, he felt exhausted: "I never realised how tired I was till the war stopped." The war had cost the lives of his brother and half of his closest friends. At the end of the year he wrote, "There are far more dead than living now."

At only 25, Wilfred Owen had never published a book but had in his notebooks the finest body of poetry about the experience of war written in the twentieth century. At noon on November 11, an hour into the celebrations, Owen's mother received the black-bordered War Office telegram telling her that, a week earlier, her son had been killed in action.

In verses about this day, another poet, Thomas Hardy, wrote:

Calm fell. From heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: "It had to be!"
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, "Why?"

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