Cause and Consequence
Who: All people and countries involved in WWI were affected.
What: The armistice was a global ceasefire which marked the end of World War One. Fighting ended, and soldiers would be allowed to return home over the course of the next several years depending on whether they were needed or not.
Where: The ceasefire affected the entire world, though the signing of the armistice itself was carried out in the French General Ferdinand Foch’s private railway cabin parked in the forest of Compiégne.
When: 11:00 AM, November 11, 1918
Why: The Germans were at a nearly hopeless disadvantage, especially after Canada’s Hundred Days. They realized that more fighting would only lead to more losses on both sides, so they decided to make peace with the Allied Powers and thus salvage a portion of what little strength they had remaining.
Additional info: The terms of surrender had yet to be completely agreed upon, and were postponed for several years until the Paris Peace conferences happened and the League of Nations was created. But that’s Yuwen’s topic, so I’ll leave it at that.
The majority of information I found on how Canadians reacted to the end of World War One was through newspapers, due to the relative lack of first-hand accounts. As the newspaper above (left) shows, there was a lot of talk about the victory and heroism of the Allied Powers and their leaders, as well as a lot of talk about kicking out the Kaiser and saving the world from Germany’s tyranny. And as the smaller article above (right) shows, there was a lot of partying and celebration. Understandable, considering the war that had taken the lives of so many young Canadians had finally been won.
While there was a moderate amount of nationalism in many of the Canadian newspapers, that nationalism was usually more towards Great Britain and not towards Canada. Compare this with the above American newspaper’s “Eagle Screams in Old Erie” message on one of the leftmost headlines and the… frankly hilarious and unrelated headline of “It is Your Patriotic Duty to do your Christmas Shopping Now” near the bottom right. (Also, they were far too enthusiastic about printing the word “enthusiasm”). True, many American papers such as the New York Times were very informative with very little nationalism at all, but I couldn’t find any Canadian papers that said “Maple Leaf Flutters in Old Toronto” or anything of a similar caliber of nationalism. This shows that we Canadians still didn’t have a national identity to the extent that other countries like England and the US did.
The soldiers, on the other hand, had a different experience. While it is true that the soldiers celebrated and partied after the ceasefire, the final hours of the war were almost as bloody as the rest of them had been. General Arthur Currie, the genius behind the Canadian Corps’ great success in offensives including Passchendaele and the Hundred Days, had ordered his troops to fight on until the last moment so that the German forces would be as weakened as possible at the end. Unfortunately, this meant that some Canadian soldiers died on November 11, 1918. Other soldiers were enraged by this, so much so that according to an editorial at the time, “when Currie and the officers of his staff arrived in the Mons town square on the afternoon of Nov. 11, there were Canadian soldiers prepared to shoot them” (Carrigg). Among the soldiers who died on the day of the Armistice was 25-year-old Private George Lawrence Price. According to Veteran Affairs Canada, “Private George Lawrence Price is believed to be the last Canadian soldier to die in battle during the First World War. He died at Mons, Belgium, about 2 minutes before the signing of the Armistance [sic].” David Carrigg’s article mentions that a chaplain gave a description of the burial of another last-day victim, Private Frederick William Joyce. The chaplain stated that “it was so sad that he was killed the last day of the fighting. He was quite conscious when he was brought in and I talked and prayed with him. Of course it was with difficulty that he spoke as he had been wounded in the jaw.” This chaplain most likely watched Private Joyce die of his wounds. This shows that for some Canadians, Armistice Day was not the happy time that it was for most of their fellow countrymen (and women).
Continuity and Change
For starters, the anniversary of Armistice Day is celebrated annually in Canada as Remembrance Day, a day to remember all the Canadians who died in battle. While Remembrance Day was originally intended as a memorial to the Canadians who died in World War One, the sacrifices honoured on that day now include Canadians who perished during other conflicts such as World War Two, the Korean War, and Afghanistan. Today, taking a moment of silence on Remembrance Day is one of our most widespread social norms.
Before World War One, we had another celebration for honouring Canadians who died in battle called “Paardeberg Day”. It was named after the Battle of Paardeberg that happened in South Africa in 1900, in which the Canadian forces’ assault won the battle for Britain. But as James Marsh’s article in the Canadian Encyclopedia states, this celebration was “less a sombre affair of remembrance, than a victory celebration and an affirmation of English Canada’s loyal ties to the British Empire.” Conversely, “the horror and mass slaughter of the First World War – which took the lives of millions of people at sea and on battlefields across Europe, including 61,000 Canadians – changed Canadian perceptions of war. Although Canada fought on the winning side, celebration of victory was replaced by solemn commemoration, and a sense that the country owed a collective national debt to the ordinary soldiers, mostly young men, who had given their lives in battle. This debt would be paid, in perpetuity by successive generations, by the simple act of remembering the soldiers’ sacrifice.” And thus Canadians’ views on war were changed forever, as were the views of every other country that participated in the so-called “war to end all wars”.
By the end of the war, Canada’s economy was in bad shape, especially compared to how it was during the Laurier Boom. Returning soldiers were met with great praise, but many of them struggled to find jobs, particularly the ones who had become disabled. I’m not entirely sure of any specifics about the economic situation, but I think that topic will probably be covered in the interwar years.
Armistice Day marked the end of the first world war, and it gave all the Canadian soldiers autonomy – the freedom to return home from their European vacation from hell. This allowed all the autonomy and nationalism that Canada’s soldiers had created through exemplary fighting and bloody sacrifice to return home from Europe and spread throughout the country. In addition to this increase in social autonomy, they had gained serious respect from all the other nations who had participated in the war. “Their primary fighting force at the front, the Canadian Corps, had achieved a first-class reputation as one of the most effective formations on the Western Front. Their generals and politicians had played an obvious role in victory, and the country itself enjoyed an international standing that few observers in 1914 could have predicted” (warmuseum.ca). Canada would no longer be underestimated or ignored as it once was. Knowing this, Robert Borden pressured Britain into giving Canada more political autonomy, which was somewhat acknowledged in the separate signature Canada got on the Treaty of Versailles a year later. Unfortunately for the soldiers returning home, this autonomy didn’t particularly extend to an economic level, as many soldiers returned home heroes, disabled… and out of a job. True, the soldiers often went back to doing what they did before the war, but the injuries many of the veterans sustained prevented them from doing the hard manual labour required for their occupations. Unemployment was a large issue at the time, but that’s a topic for another time period.
As a final point, I’d like to mention that the true extent of the effects of Armistice Day could only be seen through what happened after: the Paris Peace Conferences, the end of Borden’s wartime leadership and Union Government, the reflections on the war made by civilians and veterans alike, etc. This is because Armistice Day acted as an end to the days of death and loss, and sparked the dawn of a new era for Canada. In other words, Armistice Day acted as a crucial transition that allowed wartime to pivot into peacetime and thereby set the stage for the developments of the interwar years – and eventually, World War Two.
Marsh, James H. “Remembrance Day.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 07 Nov. 2011. Web. 11 June 2018.
Carrigg, David. “The Story of the Last Canadians Killed in First World War Sparked a National Controversy and Libel Trial.” Postmedia’s World War 1 Centenary Site. The Province, 23 June 2014. Web. 09 June 2018.
The “Creating Canada” Textbook we got in class