Hundred days Offensive
On the 1st November 1918, with the Germans in full retreat, the Battle of Valenciennes was an offensive carried out by the British Third Army to advance to the French-Belgian border and the city of Valenciennes. The city was captured by Canadian troops on the 2nd November 1918. On the 4th November 1918, the Battle of Sambre was a continuation of the Allied advance of Field Marshall Haig’s Army coming from the direction of Valenciennes. The Allied troops advanced from the Condé Canal on a 30 mile (48 km) front towards Maubeuge-Mons. The offensive included the Second Battle of Guise from 4th to 5th November1918.
As part of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the American and French armies began their final pursuit to Sedan on the 1st November 1918. After clearing the Argonne Forest on the 31st October 1918, they reached the River Aisne. American troops captured German defences at Buzancy, allowing the French to cross the River Aisne, whereby they rapidly advanced capturing Le Chesne on the 1st November 1918. In the final days the French took Sedan and its railway hub during the Advance to the Meuse the 6th November 1918. From the 6th to 11th November 1918 the Americans captured all the surrounding hills.
FOOTNOTE. The Americans had arrived and their vast numbers of troops began their offensives. It was a massive morale booster to all the war weary Allied forces. They took the pressure off the Allies by their involvement at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. However, there was a cost to pay. At over 26,000 deaths the Americans suffered during their involvement in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive they were mainly caused through the inexperience of many of their troops. Also the tactics used during the early phase of the operation were similar to the tactics used by the British and French forces earlier in the war which had been discarded.
On the Italian Front, the Armistice of Villa Giusti ended the war between Italy and Austro-Hungary when the armistice was signed on the 3rd November 1918 outside Padua in northern Italy. In the final stages of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto the Austro–Hungarian troops were defeated and began a chaotic withdrawal. The Austro-Hungarians sought to negotiate a truce but hesitated to sign an armistice, but then the Italians reached Trieste. On the 3rd November 1918 the Italians threatened to break off negotiations and the Austro-Hungarians accepted the terms. The cease fire was scheduled to start at 3.00 pm on the 4th November 1918 but an order from the Austro-Hungarian high command demanded the fighting stop on the 3rd November 1918.
On the Western Front, Wilfred Edward Salter Owen MC was killed in action on the 4th November 1918 during the crossing of the Sambre-Oise Canal, one week before the signing of the Armistice. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death. With church bells ringing out in celebration on Armistice Day, his mother received the telegram informing her of his death. Owen was born in March 1893 and became one of the leading poets of the Great War. He discovered his poetic vocation during a holiday in Cheshire. In 1904 he took employment as a private tutor in English and French. In October 1915 he enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles, Officers’ Training Corps. and in June 1916 he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. When posted to the front line he fell into a shell hole and suffered concussion. He was also blown up by a trench mortar and spent several days unconscious on an embankment. He was diagnosed with shellshock and sent to Craiglochhart War Hospital for treatment and finally discharged to return to active service in July 1918. At the end of August 1918 he returned to the front line. On the 1st October 1918 he led units of Second Manchester’s to storm a number of enemy strong points, for which he was awarded the Military Cross.
On the 9th November 1918, Germany’s Chancellor Prince Max of Baden announced the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. When the civilian uprising in Berlin and the Imperial Navy mutinied Wilhelm accepted he must abdicate, especially after the leaders of the army told him he had lost their support also. The abdication ended the German Imperial State, where the Kaiser was all powerful, and a Republic power took its place. On the 10th November 1918, the former Kaiser took a train across the border into the Netherlands. He remained in exile at Doorn in the Netherlands until his death on 4th June 1941, at the age of 82.
At two minutes past midnight on the 11th November 1918, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander, summoned Admiral Sir Rosslyn Weymyss and French General Maxime Weygand, Permanent Military Representative, to attend a meeting with German delegates to finalise discussions for an armistice. The meeting was held in a railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne. The Germans made one last desperate effort to modify the negotiated agreement, stating that there was revolution in Germany, the navy had mutinied and the Kaiser had abdicated. When the arguments were exhausted, Foch’s reply, through his interpreter, was to remind the German gentlemen of Bismarck’s words at the end of the Franco-Prussian War that – “Krieg ist Krieg – War is War! I now say the same words to them, La guerre est la guerre” At 5.30 am in the morning the Germans signed the Armistice of Compiègne, which was distributed at 6.00 am. Weymyss signed on behalf of Great Britain, then Weygand signed, Foch last of all. Foch pointed to the door saying, ”Well Gentlemen it is finished. Be off with you.” Hostilities would cease at 11.00 am, the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month.
On the stroke of 11 o’clock, on the 11th November 1918, bugles sounded the ceasefire and the guns went silent. In one instance, opposite the 15th Scottish Division, a German machine-gunner stopped firing, took off his hat to his opponents and walked away. Although the war had ended, the casualties continued. The wounded still died of their wounds and the Spanish Flu, which had broken out during the fighting, was to be the next catastrophe to be dealt with. Millions of people died from the pandemic both civilian and military personnel of all nations.
For the British the war had turned full circle when the retreating German 17th Army made a brief stand at Mons on the 10th November 1918. Canadian troops advanced on the German defenders from the front and flanks, but at approximately 5.00 pm the main German force began to evacuate Mons. At about 2.30 on the morning of the 11th November 1918, Canadian advance patrols attacked and destroyed the last machine-gun posts in the town. The main advancing Canadian force marched into Mons and at 11.00 am they were within 100 yards of where the first engagement was encountered in 1914. It is generally accepted that Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment was first British soldier killed in action at Mons on the 21st August 1914. Private George Ellison of the 5th Irish Lancers and George Price of the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry are believed to have been the last Commonwealth combat casualties of the war in Europe. Price fell to a sniper’s bullet dying at 10.58 am, just two minutes before the ceasefire. All three are buried at St. Symphorien Military Cemetery at Mons in Belgium. Here the war had begun and here it finally ended for the British Expeditionary Force.