November 7, 2018

Armistice Railway Coach


You know the story or should know it...World War I coming to an end...four years of unspeakable horror...millions of men dead...Bulgaria, The Austro-Hungarian Empire, The Ottoman Empire...all vanquished...only Germany left...Kaiser Wilhelm knowing it was useless to keep fighting on his way to the Netherlands and exile...November 11, 1918...the day the famed Versailles treaty was signed...somewhat of a useless treaty really...it didn’t weaken Germany much...took a little land away...but it did make them furious...a railway car...the forest of Compiegne...a cheerless, gray day much like the attitude of many there...the harried German leaders of the time agreeing to the terms set forth by the Allies...they were in no position to bargain or demand anything...the carriage was then put back into regular service afterwards...later it was part of the French presidential train...in 1927, it was taken out of service and put back in the exact spot where the armistice had been signed years earlier...a monument of sorts...standing to the end of the Great War...the war to end all wars as it was known...but of course it wasn’t the war to end all wars...the Germans were incensed at their humiliation of the surrender and the terms that were dictated...but the carriage remained, a monument to the defeat of the Kaiser Wilhelm and  Germany...that is until June 22, 1940 when Nazi forces swept through France and brought that country to its knees...on June 22nd, another surrender treaty was signed...this time France was the one surrendering...Hitler took great pride and a measure of revenge in demanding the treaty be signed in the same exact railway car that the First World War armistice was signed in...it was a great humiliation for France to have to sign the surrender in the same railway car...the car was then taken to Berlin and it was proudly exhibited in a place called the Lustgarten...a park in Berlin which later was demolished by bombers...fast forward to early 1945 when Allied troops were advancing into Germany...the Germans moved the coach to a place called Ohrdruf...it wasn’t long before American troops were at the outskirts of the city...then it’s said that German SS troops then set the carriage ablaze and possibly used dynamite on it...destroying it...amazingly there are several relics from the railway carriage that were preserved...a pen that was used to sign the Armistice was saved by a French military officer before the German advance forced his unit to vacate the Clairière zone when the coach was located...also an ashtray was kept...thanks to a person present at the signing in 1918 who had pocketed it as a souvenir...a few years later in 1950, the Compiègne site was restored, but it wasn’t until Armistice Day of 1950 that a replacement carriage, one that was absolutely correct in every detail, was re-dedicated...recently I went to France and thought it would be cool to see the railway car being a student of history...but not enough of a good student to know that it had been destroyed 73 years earlier...I’m late to the party...the replica would be ok to see, but the site is 44 miles from Paris and I wasn’t in the neighborhood...it’s part of a museum now...I hear it’s a pretty good museum but if you’re going...know that you can’t take pictures in the museum, so there’s that.