At 0600 hours on the 5th November 1918, Caporal Maurice Hacot (from Auchel in the Pas-de-Calais) a telegraphist operating the radio station on the Eiffel Tower received a message in Morse code transmitted from the Belgian town of Spa.
Allô Eiffel… Allô Eiffel… Ici le quartier général de Spa… Nous désirons entrer en relation avec vous en vue de pourparlers sur un éventuel armistice…
Hello Eiffel…hello Eiffel…This is the High Command at Spa…We wish to gain contact with you with a view to negotiations for a possible armistice…
In the small hours of the morning of 7th November 1918 Matthias Erzberger leading the plenipotentaries arrived at the German OHL in the Belgian town of Spa.
Erzberger was fully aware that the results of any negotiations would be lain at his doorstep and not that of the military. The selected representative of OHL had already withdrawn. Erzberger’s thoughts were quite prophetic, because on 26th August 1921 he would be assassinated by fanatics.
The Germans were told to approach Général Debeney’s army along the front between Givet — La Capelle — Guise. They had asked for a provisional cease fire but this had been refused apart from the route leading into La Capelle where the French 166e Division d’Infanterie had been alerted to their possible arrival.
At noon following the transmission of messages to Maréchal Foch the German deputation set out.
At 2020 hours four cars, with full headlights, displaying white flags and carrying a trumpeter sounding the cease fire approached the French lines at La Pierre d’Haudroy. It was pouring with rain and a thick mist hung over the ground.
The party was met by the 25 year old Captain Lhuillier, commanding the 1st Battalion of the 171e Régiment d’Infanterie.
A Bugler called Pierre Sellier replaced the German trumpeter on the duckboard of the first German car and the convoy set off again through the French lines to the Villa Pâques at La Capelle.
Here the German vehicles were left behind and the convoy continued on its way in French ones. The route was atrocious all the way down to Homblières near St Quentin where Général Debeney, commanding the 1st French Army, received them in the ruined presbytery.
He accorded them a soldier’s meal before setting them off again towards the railway station at Tergnier. There in the ruins of the town the Germans boarded their train at 0300 hours. The wagon was the former dining car of Napoleon III and still bore the imperial crowned N. The windows were covered and the Germans had no idea as to their final destination.
If the Germans were under the impression that they had been given a tour of devastated France they may not have been so far from the truth.
At 0700 hours the train pulled up alongside the carriage of Maréchal Foch. The ground was a quagmire and a walkway had to be placed between the two wagons to get from one to the other.
They had arrived in a clearing in the Forest of Compiègne near to the village of Rethondes.
The 11th November 1918 was a cold, wet and miserable day. At La Pierre d’Haudroy, it was the same bugler: Caporal Sellier, who sounded the end of the war to end all wars. After 51 months of war France had lost 1,400,000 dead. Worldwide the figure is approximated at 8.6 million dead.