As the Canadians battled their way through Belgium in the dying days of
the war, leaders on both sides prepared for the end. German forces were exhausted – mutiny
and desertion were common, though some retreating German forces put up stiff
resistance to Allied troops. Cities teetered on the edge of chaos, with riots
breaking out and revolution a real possibility. Similarly, the French army was
depleted and the Americans, though more than one million strong, were under-equipped
and by most accounts had made little impact on the war.
Still, on October 4, Germany and Austria-Hungary approached American President
Woodrow Wilson and requested armistice negotiations. Peace talks began on November
8 when Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the supreme commander on the Western Front, agreed
to meet a German delegation in his private train car parked on a siding in the
forest of Compiegne. But there would be no negotiation. Foch rejected the idea
of a ceasefire and
troops were instructed to continue pounding German forces until
their leaders had surrendered.
The armistice was signed at 5:10 a.m. on the morning of November 11. Its terms
were harsh. It was made clear that the Allies would demand that Germany pay for
waging war in the terms of the peace treaty to come. In the meantime, Germany
had to evacuate all occupied territory and hand over thousands of guns, ships,
fighter planes, locomotives, trucks and wagons. The war was over, but the battle
over building a new world in its wake was just beginning.