They start singing too, throwing their equipment out into No Man's Land. One bearded soldier struts along the parapet playing a concertina. The men around him join hands and dance in circles. Eddie Rickenbacker, an American flying ace who has disobeyed orders to fly over the front, watches enemies "fraternising just as a group of school kids would after a football game". You can imagine — no, you can't imagine, it is impossible for anyone to imagine who did not experience it — the sense of relief and pure joy that came into our hearts. At first we took it quietly.
The feeling of gratitude was too deep for noisy expression. Instead of running out into the street, yelling, and turning a hand spring, we felt like stealign away into some lonely spot and crying for sheer joy.
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It's all over! T he needles on the Allied sound recording stations have danced wildly over the last 24 hours as they record each barrage. Now they suddenly go flat. Rudolph Forderhase is moving up on a sniper's nest when the shooting stops. It had stopped at eleven o'clock. In Belgium, a German machine gunner, who has fired off his whole belt of ammunition just before the deadline, stands up next to his gun. He removes his helmet, bows to his enemies, and then walks away.
In other places, whole units of Germans do the same. It would make a better story if I could tell of men cheering, yelling, laughing, and weeping with joy, throwing their tin hats in the air, embracing one another, dancing with delight. Nothing happened. The war just ended…. The men stood talking in groups.
The Last Day of World War One
The captain let me talk on the telephone to the outposts. No drama there, either. Further up the line it was the same. This was the end of the greatest war in the history of the world, the war that killed eight and one half million men, the war that affected in some way every man, woman, and child on earth. N obody knows why Henry Gunther jumps up at this moment. The German machine gunners have stopped firing. Maybe he sees a chance to win back his stripes.
The Last Day of World War One - OpenLearn - Open University
Maybe he thinks his comrades will follow him. Anyway, he does it. Ernie Powell shouts at him not to go. The Germans wave at him to turn around. But he keeps going, racing alone towards the roadblock.
With less than sixty seconds until the end of the war, the Germans fire a five-round burst and Henry Gunther drops to the ground. He is the last American to die. B ernard Freyberg 's cavalry finally burst into the village of Lessines, scattering the surprised Germans, chasing them through the narrow streets with revolvers and swords.
Lloyd George appears on the steps of Downing Street, his white hair fluttering in the wind, telling a wild crowd that the war is almost over. Thousands of people are packed into the square in front of Buckingham Palace. American troops enter the deserted down of Stenay from both sides, having lost hundreds of their number from shellfire. More than artillerymen crowd around a rope that leads to the lanyard of their gun.
Their officer holds a hankerchief in the air, fixated on his watch. When the hankerchief drops they will pull the rope, and all of them will be able to say they fired the last shot of the war. Still there are casualties. Joseph Trebuchon , a year-old runner with the French Army, runs to the lip of a waterlogged crater to joyfully tell the men inside that hot soup will be served at A sniper shoots him in the head and he topples inside.
He is the last Frenchman to die in action. He is the last Canadian. He and his young friend Walter are standing ready, staring out over No Man's Land, hoping against hope that the Americans won't attack now. Those minutes seemed to last forever. I glanced at my watch — I felt that my staring eyes were glued to it.
A runner finally reaches Henry Gunther' s headquarters with news of the armistice. But his commander, Brigadier William Nicholson, says there should be "absolutely no let-up". At the front, Gunther and his friend Ernie Powell emerge from the fog with their bayonets fixed. Ahead of them is a roadblock defended by machine guns, manned by the Prussian 31st regiment. The Prussians watch in amazement — are the Americans crazy? Gunther and Powell throw themselves to the ground and shoot back.
Enemy shells are exploding all around as the Yankee Division goes forward with everything it has. A New York Times reporter, who arrives "expecting to find quiet reigning", is shocked instead to find "the attack in full swing, with every gun we had going at full speed, roaring in a glorious chorus, singing the swan song of Prussianism". Someone shouts for stretcher bearers, and Chaplain de Valles leads Albertine up out of the trench. They haul the wounded man onto a stretcher but he dies before they can get him to cover.
Albertine writes:. Chaplain de Valles administered the last rites of the church, and without any other ceremonies we bean to dig a shallow grave with our bayonets As the Boches were shelling this particular spot quite heavily, we just about had him covered when a shell came so close that the dirt and stones and pieces of shrapnel fell all around us. The Chaplain decided we had better move, so we ran back to the brow of the hill, leaving the dead soldier covered except for his toes, which were sticking up about four inches.
P rivate Octave Delaluque of the French Army crawls towards the front line trench as fire whizzes overhead. For some bizarre reason, he has been specifically summoned by Captain Lebreton by name, and asked to bring his bugle. When he gets there, with German shells still whistling down all around, Captain Lebreton tells him that the Army needs Delaluque's bugle to signal the momentous approaching hour by playing the ceasefire. But Delaluque hasn't played the ceasefire since Lebreton has to whistle it for him to remind him how it goes.
Also, Delaluque can't find his mouthpiece. He eventually locates it in his pouch, gummed up with tobacco. H arry Truman lounges on the ground outside his house, eating a blueberry pie. T he Yankee Division captain can't believe what he's reading. All around him men huddle in the trench, freezing cold, breath misting in the air, clutching their tin cups of hot coffee, coughing and spitting. They are in no condition to attack, and yet they are now being told the attack is back on.
One Italian Catholic kisses the cross dangling from around his neck. Medics bustle along the trench handing out aspirin. They are going over the top in just a few minutes. At Lacotte Hill, the black doughboys sheltering in the woods after a second failed attack get a similar order. They are shocked, but still they gather up to make a third attempt.
I n the town of Belfort, crowds gather as they await the bells of Saint Christopher's Church which will signal the end of the war. A brass band, its music out of tune and its members clearly drunk, wanders towards the centre of town. Soldiers prepare the town's venerable cannon for a salute. He is a veteran of the awful fighting at Verdun, where scarred Poilus would taunt reinforcements by saying "Hey look, reinforcements for the cemetery! Revel in the fulsome flattery, dear fool! It does not stop war from being a filthy trick.
N ot all the Americans are seeking glory. Gen Bunker Haan of the 32nd Division tells his commander that he does not intend to risk his troops' lives to tidy up a map. His men do not go forward. Maj Gen Hanson Ely of the 32nd Division compromises by matching the enemy shot to shot, ordering artillery or machine gun fire only when the Germans do it. In all, seven out of sixteen American division commanders choose to stop in this way.
Nine of them opt to keep up the pressure and fight on. H enry Gunther and Ernie Powell advance across the boggy ground in eerie silence.
With visibility so low, nobody is shooting at them, but they also cannot be sure they are even going in the right direction. Then German shells start falling.
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Most just send up big harmless gouts of mud. But far back behind the line, a runner bringing the news that could stop the attack is killed en route to the front. A ll across the Western front, soldiers on both sides are watching the clocks. The Allies and the Germans continue to bombard each other viciously.