So that was it. With the clock striking the hour the Armistice had come into force. It was all over. Jem Russell could hear the crowds cheering in the street, and rejoiced with them; but at the same time memories of all those of his friends who hadn’t survived to see this day filled his mind, and he surreptitiously wiped a tear from his eye. No-one would never be able to bring those brave young men back but, he vowed, he would dedicate the rest of his life to trying to save as many lives as he could. He owed them that much.
For Jem’s sister Margot, a member of the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service, the falling silent of the guns brought no respite in her work: the injured men in her care still required treatment and she knew that it would be many months more before they were fit enough to return home, those of them who survived at all. And even with the war over the fear of the influenza epidemic sweeping across the world hung heavily over them all. But at least the fighting was over. No more men would have to suffer as these men were suffering. Briefly, she allowed herself to wonder what the future now held for her. Her parents would expect her to return home, make a suitable marriage, live her life as her mother lived hers. She couldn’t imagine doing that now. Too much had changed.
In another military hospital, close to the front line in France, most of the men were too weak to indulge in any boisterous celebrations as the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month arrived. But Tristan Denny, who before the war had hoped to sing professionally, led those in his ward in an impromptu rendition of songs that become popular over the past four years. He wouldn’t be able to fulfil his dream now, he knew that – his voice would never be the same again, the damage to his lungs was too severe - but maybe, once he’d recovered some of his health and strength, he’d be able to do the next best thing, and become a singing master. At a good school, in a quiet, peaceful location somewhere, maybe he’d be able to find some measure of peace.
At a good school, in a quiet, peaceful location, Jack Maynard sat amongst a crowd of other excited boys, listening to their Headmaster address his assembled pupils. Usually young Jack and his chums didn’t pay all that much attention to what the old boy had to say, but they were all well aware that today was a day different to any that they had ever known before. A deep impression was made on all of them that day as they were told that, even as they rightly rejoiced in the Armistice and in victory, they must never forget those who had given their youth, their health and in so very many cases their lives in order that those of their generation might live out their years in peace; and that they must grow up into adults worthy of all the terrible sacrifices made during this, the war to end all wars.
In another school, in the small Devon town of Taverton, a girl a couple of years older than Jack, unused to the coldness of an English November and shivering despite the warmth of the jumper which she was wearing, heard her Headmistress make a very similar speech, and battled to hold back her tears. It had been almost exactly a year, that was all, since Madge Bettany had lost her mother, who’d died hours after giving birth to the baby whom her father had never even lived to see, and her emotions were very raw. However, today marked a new start for everyone; and, she vowed, she was going to settle down and make her parents proud of her. Somehow, she’d get used to managing without them, to living thousands of miles away from everyone and everything she knew, and to being separated from Dick for most of the year; and, most of all, she’d always be there for Baby Joey. That was what her parents would have wanted. She knew that much.
An old friend of Madge’s father celebrated with his men as the ceasefire came into force on the Western Front. Unlike many of those whose become his comrades over these past four years, he was a career soldier, an army man through and through; and his mind was already running ahead to what lay in store for the British Army in the months to come. He wouldn’t have to wait long to find out. His division was to be amongst those who, three days later, would receive orders to march to the Rhine and enter Germany as an army of occupation, their destination one of three bridgeheads over the Rhine to be occupied by Allied troops, that of Cologne.
The young lady whom Ted was to meet and marry during his years in Cologne was, on that November day, celebrating not so much the end of the fighting in Western Europe as the restoration, 123 years after the company had been wiped off the political map, of an independent Polish state, on what was to become Polish Independence Day. A day earlier, Marshal Pilsudski, freed by the Germans, had arrived in Warsaw: on this day itself the Regency Council would appoint him Commander-in-Chief of the Polish forces and ask him to form a government. A Provisional Government had been set up four days earlier, German troops were being disarmed wherever on Polish territory they were; and the Polish Liquidation Commission had taken control of Austrian-ruled Galicia and Silesia at the end of October, as the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart.
Given that an Armistice between Austria-Hungary and the Allies had come into force a week earlier, the Empire had collapsed and he had no idea what lay ahead, the news that Germany had surrendered didn’t really make much impression on Florian Marani. The independence of both Hungary, the part of the Empire richest in arable agriculture, and Czechoslovakia, the areas home to most of the Empire’s heavy industry, had already been declared. The Romanian lands, traditionally under Hungarian rather than Austrian auspices anyway, would probably form a union with independent Romania; Croatia and Slovenia had declared in favour of union with Serbia; and the only question about Galicia was whether it would all become part of a Polish state or whether part of it would form part of a Ukrainian one. There was chaos in Vienna, and he couldn’t see that the monarchy itself could survive very much longer. What would happen to Tyrol and the rest of the German-speaking lands? All he wanted was to return to his beloved Gisel and their little Gisela, but what sort of country would they be living in? An independent Austria? A Tyrol which would become another state of Germany? He didn’t know; and nobody could tell him.
Later that day, the Emperor Charles I formally relinquished his right to participate in the administration of the state. The following day, a German Austrian republic was to be proclaimed.
In Innsbruck, but in a different part of the city from that in which Florian’s wife and young daughter were residing, Gretchen Mensch, her three children and her mother-in-law heard the news of the German surrender and the end of the war in Western Europe and wondered how long it would be before the man of the house would be able to return to them. Gretchen’s thoughts were never far from him; nor were they ever far from her sister Luise, whose fiancé had been killed in Italy earlier that year. Her son Gottfried, who had been fond of the man who was to have been his uncle, had vowed that, one of these days, he would become a doctor, and he would dedicate the rest of his life to saving as many lives as he could. It was the very same vow that, far away in England, had been made that very same day by a young man whose name was Jem Russell.