Today in 1918, the Armistice that ended World War 1 was signed by representatives of Germany and the Allied Powers in a railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne in France. It has been a cause of controversy over the years that, although the Armistice was signed at approximately 5.20 in the morning, the war was allowed to continue until 11.00 that day – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the time chosen to officially end hostilities. During this time there were thousands of needless casualties. The official explanation for the delay was the need to communicate the message to all of the areas in which fighting was taking place.
The railway carriage in which the Armistice was signed had an interesting and chequered history. It was built in 1914 and served as a regular dining car until 1918, after which it was converted to an office for Marshall Ferdinand Foch. After it had been used as the location of the signing the armistice, Foch continued to use it until 1919.
In 1921 it was moved to Paris and exhibited in the Cour des Invalides until 1927, after which it was moved back to a specially built commemorative museum near the Armistice site in Compiegne Forest.
There it remained until 1940. When France surrendered to Germany, in an ultimate act of humiliation for France, Hitler demanded that the carriage be removed from the museum and placed in the same spot as the 1918 Armistice had been signed. On the 21st of June 1940, the preamble of the French Armistice was read out by Generaloberst Wilhelm Keitel and Hitler immediately left the carriage to leave the surrender formalities to his staff – another carefully calculated insult.
Three days later, Hitler ordered the site to be destroyed, and the carriage to be removed to Berlin. It was displayed as a War Trophy in the Lustgarten outside the city’s cathedral.
The piece of historic rolling stock had a sad end. As the war’s end neared and the bombing of Berlin increased, it was decided to move the carriage to a safe location in Thuringia where it was guarded by Hitler’s elite SS. As the allied invasion of Germany progressed, the SS guards followed their orders and burned the carriage in case it fell into enemy hands. The remains were buried.
After the war, the location at Compiegne was restored, the museum rebuilt and a replica carriage from the same year of manufacture was procured and re-numbered as 2419D – the same number as the original. It was filled with memorabilia and fittings from the original carriage. These had been removed to safety on the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Armistice Clearing in Compiegne was re-dedicated on 11th November, 1950