I never plan anything, never, which is why that it’s so unusual for this blog post to be appearing at such an appropriate time. This weekend, we remember the dead of two World Wars and I thought it might be fitting to tell you about the time I visited the Glade of the Armistice in Compiègne, France.
Earlier this year Liz and I were touring through France in our motorhome. Towards the end of our trip we were naturally moving further north towards Calais and our trip through Eurotunnel and back to the UK. We stopped in a place called Berny Rivière intending to visit another of our favourite restaurants. Sadly, the restaurant was closed and so we found somewhere to park up for the night and as the heavens decided to open up and drop a major rainstorm on top of us, we ate in.
We were parked not far from Compiègne where the armistice which ended the First World War was signed in 1918 so it seemed an opportune moment to visit The Glade of the Armistice.
The Glade is exactly that, a clearing in the middle of a forest. A series of what look to be tram lines curve across the glade to the site of the museum but still visible today, is the location where the armistice was signed, aboard a famous railway carriage in 1918. The railway carriage was designated 2419D and was part of Marshal Foch’s personal train. Foch decided on the spot for the surrender as he wanted to keep the negotiations away from the prying eyes of the press. The negotiations began on November 8th and were finally finished and the document of surrender signed at 5:45am on the 11th November, 1918.
The surrender came into force at 11am and fighting continued until that time with 2,738 men dying on the last day of the First World War.
The railway carriage went back into regular service for a while but was then attached to the French Presidential Train. Afterwards it was put on display in Paris until 1927 when it was returned to the glade at Compiègne.
The Second World War began in 1939 when Hitler and the Nazis invaded Poland. The railway carriage was still in Compiègne on the 22nd June, 1940 when Hitler ordered it to be brought out from its shed and back to the glade and it was there that he and his generals accepted the surrender of the French. Three days later the site was demolished on the orders of the Führer and the railway carriage was taken to Berlin. The statue of Marshal Foch was left standing intentionally, left to stand guard over a scene of devastation, a personal insult from Hitler to the Marshal who had died in 1929.
After the war, the site was restored by German prisoners of war and in 1950, an identical carriage was returned to the site. Carriage number 2439 was built with the same batch as the original and was also part of Marshal Foch’s train in 1918.
The carriage is housed in a small museum and when I entered early one Saturday morning I was the only visitor present. The staff asked me my nationality and when I stepped into the main area a recording began telling the story of the site in English. It was really fascinating and as I walked around, I started up my camera and took numerous pictures and video.
Outside in the Glade, the statue of Marshal Foch is still there and looks down on a beautiful clearing. It was a calm and peaceful place and it was strange to stand on the spot where Hitler and his Nazi cronies once stood.
Hitler can be seen on photographs and film footage from the time. He must have been overjoyed. He and his generals had done in 1940 what the Kaiser and his generals could not do in 1918 and defeated the Allied Armies. His joy only lasted a few short years. In 1945 he shot himself surrounded by the debris of a ruined Berlin.
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