Compiègne _ Wagon de l’Armistice Rethondes © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Ludovic LeleuCompiègne _ Wagon de l’Armistice Rethondes © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Ludovic Leleu
©Compiègne, Wagon de l’Armistice Rethondes |CRTC Hauts-de-France - Ludovic Leleu

In Rethondes, The other side of the Armistice of 11th November 1918

On 11th November 1918 at 11 am, in a peaceful clearing in the middle of the Forest of Compiègne, Armistice was signed in a dining car belonging to the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, putting an end to four years of combat.

You can now visit a museum there where the 3D effects of the time (stereoscopy) are combined with modern 3D effects.

Northern France _ Compiègne _ Glade of Armistice © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Ludovic LeleuNorthern France _ Compiègne _ Glade of Armistice © CRTC Hauts-de-France - Ludovic Leleu
©Northern France, Compiègne, Glade of Armistice|CRTC Hauts-de-France - Ludovic Leleu

Not only was peace signed in the region, but the fate of WW1 was also decided here, in Hauts-de-France. In August 1918, the German offensives in Aisne and the Somme ended in failure. On 8th August, Foch, who had just been appointed Marshal, launched the 100 Days Offensive from Amiens and did not stop until the final moment of victory.

The Germans realized that they had lost the war and sought to obtain Armistice. The allied forces who had been counting on victory in Spring 1919 were caught off-guard by the German collapse and hastily drew up a treaty that would be finalised on 4th November.

Didn’t an Armistice that put an end to 1561 days of combat involving all 5 continents deserve more ceremony? To understand why such a discreet forest clearing was chosen, you have to look at the background to the situation. Marshal Foch wanted to avoid publicly humiliating the German delegation so that signing the peace did not trigger a desire for vengeance and so that it would last for as long as possible.

Armistice was signed in Foch’s mobile command centre, a train whose dining carriage had been converted to an office. It was taken to “a place that will ensure calm, silence and respect for our adversary”. It was, in fact, a luxurious train with comfortable green and gold upholstered carriages that had been used by Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie when they visited Compiègne.

Plunge into history

The carriage that can be visited nowadays in the heart of the Armistice Glade is a replica, the original having been destroyed by the Nazis in 1940.

Children love the new scenography, combining technology of today (3D room, paper chase) and that of days gone by (stereoscopes, showing period images with antiquated technology making them appear to be in relief).

All in all, this is a moving educational spot in a green ocean of 15,000 hectares in the Forest of Compiègne, that can be visited on foot or by bike, via the forest paths and marked trails.

Local’s tip

Jean-Pierre Gilson, photographe à CompiègneJean-Pierre Gilson, photographe à Compiègne
A picnic at the foot of one of the oldest oak trees in France!

I suggest you set your picnic basket down in Saint-Jean-aux-Bois by the tree we call “le chêne Saint Jean” (St. John’s oak). At nearly 800 years old, it is one of the oldest oak trees in France and was planted by monks during the reign of Louis IX! Children are always lost in admiration when they’re told how old it is. It’s a veritable giant and its sturdy trunk (over 8 m in circumference) is quite extraordinary. See if, by all of you joining hands, you can make a complete circle round its trunk … good luck with that!

Jean-Pierre Gilson, Photographer and expert on walks in the Forest of Compiègne
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