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Souvenir du Wagon du Marechal Foch

Souvenir du Wagon du Marechal Foch
Souvenir du Wagon du Marechal Foch
During 1918 it became clear that the Allies were to be victors in the Great War. German forces were experiencing heavy losses across the western front; the German navy had mutinied at Kiel, and on the home front a hungry and disillusioned populace threatened revolution. The question of where to negotiate and ultimately sign an armistice became a pressing one.

The responsibility for obtaining an armistice agreement was entrusted to Marshall Ferdinand Foch, Commander and Chief of the Allied armies. It was decided that negotiations would take place on a remote railway line in the Forest of Compiegne in Picardy. This lonely outpost was chosen to maintain secrecy as the armistice was pressing yet fragile and if they failed fighting would continue. Moreover Foch knew that public opinion may be against the move. Many saw it as weak and unnecessary to give quarter to a spent and beleaguered German force.

On the morning of November 8th the opposing delegations met in Foch's luxury railway carriage. Terms were offered which would be devastating to Germany and her people. Amongst other sanctions Alsace and Lorraine were to be handed to the French, the entire Navy fleet was to be handed to the allies and Germany was commanded to pay huge monetary reparations to France. In short, Germany was to accept all responsibility for the conflict. Matthias Erzberger, German signatory to the negotiations, had little choice but to sign. Just after 5 am on the morning of November 11th 1918 it was done. Foch, without shaking the hand of his defeated opponents, left immediately to take the armistice to Paris. He would later say 'This is not Peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.' This statement proved prophetic as it was in 1939 that world war two broke out to devastate Europe anew.

After peace returned to the French countryside the once inconsequential clearing in the Compiegne became an important location for the French people. The clearing became a memorial to the deed. Monuments were erected to Foch himself, to the peoples of Alsace and Lorraine and to the destruction of the German power. The site on which the train stood that fateful day was marked out for posterity. Later the carriage itself was returned to the spot and an ornate carriage house was built around it to serve as a small museum.

However the clearing's role in history was not over. In 1940 France was once again beset by German Forces and quickly fell to the might of the Reich. Hitler, who had been a soldier in WW1, had sought to humiliate the French at the very place Foch had humiliated the German people in 1918. The French surrender was signed in the carriage which was then taken to Germany as a victor's trophy. The monuments were dismantled and the carriage house razed to the ground. All that remained was the sculpture of Foch to eternally survey the desolation of the shrine to his greatest achievement.

Today the Armistice clearing has been restored to some of its former glory. Monument stones which had been taken to Germany by the Nazis have been returned and a new carriage house encloses a perfect replica of the original train, which was unfortunately burned by SS soldiers as French forces entered Germany at the end of the Second World War. The postcards included this exhibition give a rare and interesting view of the clearing in the brief time between the armistice of the First World War and the vengeful destruction of the monument at the hands of Hitler's men.