The End of The War to End all Wars

Stapleford History Society         08.10.19

Speaker : Dr Sean Lang

Subject : The End of the War to End all Wars

Dr Lang’s third lecture to the Society launched the sequence of events to commemorate ‘The True Sons of Stapleford’ being held throughout November. He cast a very interesting light on several aspects of WW1 with many new slants and surprises for the non-historians among us.

Although the war is conventionally dated 1914-1918, we learnt that the Armistice itself did not mark the real end of fighting which, in fact, continued for another week in Africa, where the very first shots had been fired. The formal end was not until 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

We all know about the effect of war on the combatants so Dr Lang spent some time describing the effects on civilians. What was happening at home was indicated by slides of the front pages of the Cambridge Chronicle. Films on show were ‘On to Berlin’, ‘The Heart of a Lion’ and ‘Sylvia of the Secret Service’. A firm called Hallack and Bond also used the front page to deny rumours of food shortages and fines having been paid for hoarding. The lack of regular food supplies was most apparent by early 1918 owing to the success of the German U boats in sinking supply ships. However, because of the successful blockade of German ports by the British Navy, food supplies in Germany were even worse. This led to an increase in the demands to end the war. Spanish flu – which actually began in the USA – also affected the civilian population and more people died in that epidemic than in the war itself.

The role of the USA in the war was described. The USA was not a very militaristic state at that time and it was April 1917 before they agreed to fight and Spring 1918 before American soldiers got to Europe.The first big American attack, supported by troops from the British Colonies,  took place only in September 1918.  The Americans were not in fact ‘Allies’ but were technically ‘Associated’.

The lack of trust between members of both Allied and German High Commands was commented on. General Haig was not trusted by Lloyd George and kept short of soldiers. LLoyd George and Clemenceau were kept in the dark and were suspicious of US manoeuvering. The Kaiser himself was not kept informed about the true state of affairs by his own generals.

 On  8th August 1918 the Battle of Amiens took place, the first set piece battle of the war with a clear winner. Many German soldiers deserted or surrendered and there was revolution in the air in Germany. Many wanted rid of the Kaiser and to set up a Russian-style government as had happened after the 1917  Revolution and eradication of the Romanovs. Prince Max of Baden, the new Chancellor of Germany, sent a note to Woodrow Wilson asking for an armistice/ceasefire and accepting the ‘Fourteen Points’ proposed by the USA. These aimed at getting rid of the causes of war , most importantly,  ‘Open Diplomacy’ and ‘An Association of Nations’.

Negotiations to end the war took place in the railway carriage used by Marshall Foch, the French general and military theorist who served as the Supreme Allied Commander. Harsh terms were imposed on Germany and we learnt, during the Q&A session, that reparations were being paid up until 1988.

Dr Lang ended his talk with two slides. The first showed Hitler, who served as a corporal in WW1, together with General Ludendorf, one of the toughest adversaries of the Allies. The second showed the 1945 Peace Treaty being signed in the same railway carriage.

Jane Steadman