On this day: the end of the First World War

November 11 1918: Armistice Day


At 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, the Great War, the one that was supposed to end all wars, came to an end with the signing of an armistice.

The fighting began in June of 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and pitted the Allied powers, including Britain and France, against the German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian armies. Some nine million soldiers died in the trenches and on the battlefields of Flanders, Ypres and the Somme.

The war reverberated around the globe, setting the stage for Britain and France to divide up between them the Middle Eastern spoils of the Ottoman Empire. Russia fought for three years, but her troops left after the Bolshevik revolution brought Lenin and the communist party to power.

The United States joined the fight late, with President Woodrow Wilson keen (but ultimately unsuccessful in doing so) to prevent history from repeating itself through the creation of the League of Nations.

Sixty thousand of those who fought for the Allies were British Jews. More than 2,300 British and Commonwealth Jews perished, 88 of them with the surname Cohen. Another 467 fought in the German army.

Among the dead was the painter and poet Isaac Rosenberg, who wrote of the war: “Red fangs have torn His face/God's blood is shed /He mourns from His lone place/His children dead.”

Five Jewish soldiers won the Victoria Cross for their deeds. One of those honoured “for most conspicuous bravery, initiative, and determination” was Captain Robert Gee of the Royal Fusiliers, a Leicester born Jew who began working as a pit boy at the age of nine.

In 1920 then Secretary of State for War Winston Churchill praised the community’s contribution and said: "British Jews can look back with pride on the honourable part they played in wining the Great War." In 2006 three Jewish soldiers who were executed for cowardice during the war were issued pardons.

The war impacted not just on those countries that fought it, but in every corner of the world. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East became a prize for British and French forces. Under the terms of the League of Nations the mandate of Palestine was created.

What the JC editor wrote in a telegram to the King after peace was declared: At this solemn and fateful hour, when by the grace of Almighty God Victory rests with the Empire over which you rule and with the Allies that have been joined to it in the great and holy cause of Justice, Freedom, and Right, may I not voice to you the sentiments of loyal congratulation of the Jewish people throughout your dominions?

And what His Majesty replied (through his Private Secretary): I am commanded to thank you for the message of congratulation in which you have voiced the loyal sentiments of the Jewish people throughout the British Empire, and I am to assure yopu of the deep appreciation felt by His Majesty at the part that his Jewish subjects have played during these years of warfare.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 9:40am, November 11 2010