Today, November 11th is commemorated “Armistice Day”, the day in which First World War representatives of the Allies and Germany signed at Compiègne (France) an armistice for the cessation of hostilities on the Western front at the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month“.
Last May, we visited the “Musée de l’Armistice 14-18” at Compiègne, in a forest north of Paris. The main attraction of the museum is the Compiègne Wagon, the train coach in which the armistice was signed. A replica of the coach is displayed today at the museum, showing the position of each delegation within the train.
The coach itself, number 2419 D, was a restaurant coach built in May 1914 and delivered to the French Marshal Foch in September 1918 and employed as an office. The coach was the sixth out of the seven of the train that brought the Allied delegation.
As part of the display, one can see pieces of the original wagon, the rails where the train once stayed, some monuments to the main actors of the event, military uniforms of the time, pictures of how the delegations arrived to Compiègne, documents with the letters exchanged in advance of the meeting, announcements made to communicate it, some videos of the time, etc.
The armistice initially expired after a period of 36 days. It was followed by the Paris Peace Conference in which diplomats from several countries participated. The British economist John Maynard Keynes was a delegate at the conference, and he wrote the book “The Economic Consequences of the Peace” about it (see here a post about the book).
Months later, on June 28th 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
In September 1919 the coach was donated to the Musée de l’Armée, in Paris. It was then moved to the Cour des Invalides where it was displayed in open air for some years. Thanks to the contribution of the American businessman Arthur H Fleming, a building to house it in the forest of Compiègne was built, where it was displayed until the Second World War.
Second World War
Once France was occupied, on June 22nd 1940, Hitler ordered that the wagon was taken out of the exhibition building and be placed in the rails outside in the exact location in which it was on November 11, 1918, for the signature of another armistice. He carefully prepared the setting, by switching sides for the occasion, the German delegation occupying this time the seats that the Allies had taken in 1918, with Hitler taking the place of Foch. As the story goes, he stayed while the terms were read out by someone of his delegation and left the coach before the signature took place. He then disposed that the coach be transferred to Berlin to be displayed there, at the Cathedral. As the second world war advanced the coach was moved to different locations in Germany and destroyed before the end of the war. Thus, what it is shown today is a replica.