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Remembered Today:

11/11/11 Refuseniks?


George Armstrong Custer
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In the countdown to the ceasefire at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 are there any recorded instances of men flatly refusing to obey orders which might endanger their lives in those last hours of the war? If so, what were the consequences so far as punishment was concerned? I know there's been some books out in past months leading up to the 90th anniversary of the last day of the war, but I haven't actually got any of them myself, and can't recall reading elsewhere about instances of direct disobedience to orders in the period immediately preceding the Armistice. Charles Carrington, in Soldier from the Wars Returning, writes that "Only the most active formations, urged on by their commanders, made much progress and no one wanted to be killed on the last day of the war." I should imagine that knowing that the end was imminent might have been a great incentive to keep your head down as the clock ticked off the final hours of the war - though I have read accounts other than Carrington's which echo his description of certain commanders determined to keep up the combative pressure right up until the official moment for the guns falling silent.

ciao,

GAC

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From everything I have read, George, most units were unaware that they were about to cease fire until they received orders to this effect on the morning of 11 November.

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The timing of the telegram announcing the signing of the armistice has been discussed before. I think it is fair to say that most units on the Western front would have had only a few hours warning. The rumours must have been flying around of course but they always had. Probably little reason to give the latest batch any more credence than the ones which had gone before. The notion that the war was soon to end could conceivably had a variety of effects. Might some men not have been stirred to exact vengeance for themselves and comrades they had lost, before the cease fire sounded?

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I think it is fair to say that most units on the Western front would have had only a few hours warning.

Yes, it's those few hours I'm referring to, Chris and Tom. One imagines the feelings of men being on the one hand told the news of the imminent armistice, only to have this followed by orders to continue combat until the designated cut-off time. The futility of continuing to put your neck on the line for a matter of hours in which nothing measurable could be achieved must have been apparent to many.

Regards,

George

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Of course you are right George. However, many Germans viewed the news of a cease fire with great dismay not to say anger and a great sense of betrayal. They certainly would continue fighting to the bitter end. That might well exasperate allied soldiers who would then answer in kind with a deadly game of tit for tat. We also know of soldiers who wanted to fire the last shot, whether rifle or artillery piece. Reluctance to be killed on this of all days, would almost certainly exist but I think that would only have been one of many emotions. I suspect that a common one on both sides would be a suspicion and doubt as to whether the other guy would not break the cease fire.

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