In a silent forest cloaked* by the red of autumn, the leaders of Germany and France will this weekend walk together down a path between two old railway tracks.
It was here, on a misty morning 100 years ago, that the deal was signed to bring an end to World War I.
The Armistice — declaring peace at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 — was signed in a railway carriage in the forest at Compiegne, an hour’s drive northwest of Paris.
On the eve of the centenary*, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron will walk side-by-side between the railway tracks where the trains housing the Germans and the French were shunted*, metres from each other, so the warring parties could sign the deal.
They will be watched over by a towering* statue of Ferdinand Foch, the French marshal and commander of the Allied forces who sealed victory and signed the Armistice peace treaty in his railway carriage with a group of mid-level German military officials.
A tiny museum housing the replica of Foch’s railcar now sits at the site in Compiegne, which is one of the most important, but least-known, memorial* sites of World War I.
Never before have the leaders of the two great European powers, France and Germany, come here together.
They will visit the site on Saturday, November 10 before returning to Paris for a service and peace forum on Sunday, November 11 expected to be attended by dozens of world leaders.
The museum’s president, Bernard Letemps, said it was highly symbolic* for the French and German leaders to visit the little museum together.
The museum has been rebuilt after the Germans tore it down after invading France in World War II, and around 70,000 people a year visit.
“We have a new display and we want to show the children about the war and the fact more than one million (French military) people died. And then there was another war 20 years later,’ Mr Letemps said.
He said discussions to end the four-year Great War had begun in December 1917, but it was decided a final negotiation would take place in early November 1918 at Compiegne, a spot chosen for its isolation* and secrecy.
Foch got there first, arriving in a Wagon-Lits carriage built originally as a dining car but converted into an office. The Germans came by car to Tergnier, further north, then switched to a train.
“The train of Marshal Foch arrived in the evening of the 7th (November),’’ Mr Letemps said. “The Germans arrived in the morning of the 8th.’’
Day and night, the two sides negotiated*.
“The final negotiation was between 2.15am and 5.15am,’’ Mr Letemps said, adding the signatures were inked in Foch’s carriage between 5.15am and 5.20am, but several hours were needed to get the message to the soldiers on the front lines.
“It was agreed it (the Armistice) would start at 11am.
“The clarion (a type of trumpet) started and sounded along the 400km front line.’’
After more than four years, the Great War was over, but not before it killed 17 million people on both sides — an estimated 10 million of them military personnel*, and another seven million civilians*.
On Sunday, an Australian service of remembrance will be held at Villers-Bretonneux in honour of the 60,000 Australians who lost their lives fighting in World War I.
Veronica Di Toro, of Melbourne, will be one of hundreds of descendants* at the service at the Australian National Memorial, honouring the service of her three uncles, who all served on the Western Front.
Ms Di Toro, who has visited the battlefields nine times, makes an effort to reach out and touch as many headstones as she can of the tens of thousands of soldiers buried along the old front line.
“So many of those men have never had a visitor in 100 years, not one,” she said.
“You might be the only one …”
While her father Laurence James Neal was too young to enlist, three of her uncles — Keith Neal, Francis James Neal and John William Neal all did — enlisting at the ages of 22, 24 and 25 respectively.
While Ms Di Toro has always been interested in war history, it wasn’t until 2006 that she realised she needed to learn more about her family’s service.
“I had this really extraordinary experience at breakfast — the photos that my father left to me (of the three brothers) were in the bookcase and I remember looking up at these photographs and just like this moment came over me that the mens’ uniforms were from WWI, not WWII which is kind of what I was assuming,” she said.
“I came in and got into the national archives and found out in a nanosecond* just how they were connected to WWI.
“It was just a life changing experience.”
Veterans’ Affairs Minister Darren Chester said it was important to honour the centenary of the moment the guns fell silent on the Western Front.
“We must never forget the service and sacrifice of 416,000 Australians who enlisted* and more than 60,000 who never made it home to the country they loved and the country that loved them in return,” he said.
“Remembrance Day is a time for us as a nation to unite in a minute of solemn* respect and
admiration for those who served and died in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations, and thank all fallen and current serving men and women for their service.”
cloaked: hidden or covered
centenary: marking 100 years
towering: very tall
memorial: a statue or structure established to remind people of a person or event
symbolic: serving as a symbol
isolation: being away from anything else
negotiated: get an outcome through discussion
civilians: a person not in the armed services or the police force
descendants: children and fmaily from a particular ancestor
nanosecond: a very short time, a moment
enlisted: join the armed forces
solemn: formal or dignified
LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY
1. Exactly when did the Armistice take effect? Include the year.
2. Where was it signed in the forest at Compiegne?
3. Name the French marshal and commander of the Allied forces who signed the Armistice peace treaty.
4. How many people died in the Great War?
5. What touching gesture does Veronica Di Toro do when she visits the battlefields?
1. 100 years since the end of the war
On what is an important anniversary in the world’s history, use all the facts presented in the Kids News article to write an acrostic poem about Armistice day. Write a sentence for each letter presenting a fact about the history of the day.
Extension: How would you have got the word out to all the soldiers that the war had ended? How would the soldiers have felt hearing that news on the battlefield?
Time: Allow 30 minutes
Curriculum links: English, History
The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?
HAVE YOUR SAY: What are your thoughts about Armistice Day and why we should remember it?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking.