From the shores of Gallipoli to the Middle East and the Western Front, many aspects of Australia's involvement in the First World War have become common knowledge – but not all! Now 100 years after the end of the war, we answer some of the questions we're most commonly asked about the conflict's final days.
1. When did World War 1 end?
After four years of gruesome conflict, the First World War officially came to an end on the 11th of November, 1918. It ended in an armistice, which came into effect at 11am that day: the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
2. What was it like on the front lines?
With the end of war, you might expect an outpouring of cheering and jubilation. And in major cities across the world – Paris, Philadelphia, Sydney – this was definitely the case. For those on the front lines, however, the reactions were mixed.
Some soldiers met the news of the end of WW1 with stunned silence. Many couldn't believe that it was over. And suddenly, there was time to think – about the horrors they'd seen, the hardships they'd endured. The mates they'd lost. For many, it was a challenging time.
Some had received warning of the impending end to fighting, and had carried out their mornings with caution, desperate to avoid being one of the last casualties of the conflict. Others had felt the need to put in a final, courageous effort before the clock struck 11:00. In some cases, news didn't reach the front lines soon enough. Cruelly, a number of soldiers were killed after the armistice should have come into effect.
3. So what brought about the end of World War 1?
At the beginning of 1918, many felt that the end of WWI was just a pipedream. But there were a number of factors that began to tip this grim stalemate in favour of the Allies.
Extra help was one of these. Despite supplying the Allied powers with weapons and machinery, the United States had remained neutral during the first few years of WWI. But tensions against the US and Germany began to simmer, fuelled by – among many things – the US' support of Britain.
Germany was desperate to seize the upper hand in what had become a war of attrition. It announced in 1917 that it would resume unrestricted warfare in war-zone waters. This was the last straw for the US. America officially joined the war – with fresh troops and supplies.
But this wasn't the only reason the war was in its final months. Several decisive Allied victories – like those at Le Hamel, Villers-Bretonneaux and Amiens – also played huge roles. Lead by Australian tactical visionaries, like General Sir John Monash and Major General Harold "Pompey" Elliott, these victories would prove instrumental in turning the tide of the war.
The war of attrition had been cruel to all involved – but the Central Powers were feeling the pressure more than ever. Bulgaria was forced to surrender following defeat at the Balkans, and the Ottoman Empire soon followed suit. Conditions at the home front for Austro-Hungary and Germany were dire, with stringent rationing, malnutrition and exhaustion forcing a burgeoning political crisis. It was just a matter of time before Germany was abandoned – and forced to enter negotiations.
4. Where was the Armistice signed?
The fates of millions across the globe were sealed in a train carriage, deep in the forest of Compiegne, France, under the cover of pre-dawn darkness.
The carriage belonged to the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshall Ferdinand Foch. The moment of signing had been preceded by several days' deliberation – the terms presented by the Allies were strict and punitive. Germany had 72 hours to reach a conclusion, but in reality its delegates had little choice.
The Armistice was signed at 5:12 and 5:20AM, on the 11th of November, 1918.
5. Wait – what is an 'armistice'?
We can best define 'armistice' as an agreement to pause fighting – usually temporarily. It does not always mean the end of a war, and is not the same as a peace treaty. In fact, while the war ended in November, 1918, it wasn't until the following year that a formal treaty was signed in Versailles, France.
6. Why do we wear poppies on Remembrance Day?
As most people know, poppies are the traditional flower of Remembrance, often worn on Remembrance Day when we pause to reflect on the end of WW1. To those who served on the Western Front, however, they would hold particular significance.
Constant fighting in the fields of Northern France and Belgium caused devastation to troops, but also to the fields themselves. They soon became filled with mud, with nothing able to grow.
The first flowers to appear in the fields after combat were poppies – vivid, red and iconic. Brave men had perished where they now grew, and some soldiers even felt that the red of the poppies represented the blood of the fallen. The flowers quickly became synonymous with the idea of Remembrance – reflecting on those lost, and the sacrifices made. The Remembrance Day poppy was quickly adopted in Australia as a mark of respect.
Image: Irish troops in a trench during the Battle of the Somme, 1916.
From the collections of the Imperial War Museums, collection number 1900-02.