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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

Defeat and Surrender

Defeat and Surrender.

The events of the next few days proclaimed in striking and dramatic form that the final stage in the mighty concentration of effort for supremacy between the great nations of the earth had at length been reached; that the German spirit had been irretrievably broken, and both its ability and its willingness for further effort hopelessly destroyed. The enemy now commenced to fall back along practically the whole front of battle. The growing demoralisation was intensified by the ceaseless and tremendous pressure exerted by the Allied Armies. On November 9th all semblance of organised resistance was abandoned, and the retreat became general over the Western Front. On November 10th the enemy was rolled still further to the east; and only at Mons was any serious attempt made to dispute the British advance; but this was quickly swept aside and the town entered early on the following morning.

There is conclusive testimony, even from German official sources, that the enemy was now moving helplessly towards the worst phases of a demoralised and beaten force. It was drifting rapidly from its disciplinary moorings, was suffering equally from the attacks of the pursuing army in its rear and the overwhelming fear of its own helplessness. It had reached that point in the last stages of a beaten Army where its thoughts turn exclusively on its own safety.

Under such conditions no other course remained to the German Supreme Command but to appeal to the consideration of the Allied Commander and sue for an armistice. An armistice was accordingly granted, amounting substantially, and in effect, to a complete surrender of the enemy. All that could have been gained by fighting came into the hands of the Allies more speedily, and without the loss in lives which would have followed the adoption of a more extreme course.

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At 11 a.m. on November 11th—a memorable and unforgettable moment in history—hostilities on the Western Front were suspended under the terms dictated by the Allies. Peace was at last to be restored to a world prostrate and bleeding under the scourge of war.

In order to understand the full meaning of Germany's defeat, it has to be remembered that the spirit or morale of the German people was as completely broken as that of its Armies in the field. It was a defeat so overwhelming in its magnitude of consequences as no nation can seriously risk more than once in its life; and in the grave of its defeat must slumber for many generations the ambitions that led Germany to the abyss, and nearly wrecked the World.

The declaration of an Armistice was received by the Regiment when at Le Quesnoy without demonstration or outward show of enthusiasm. It first became known to the general number of troops through the civil population of Le Quesnoy, who in the early hours of the morning were heard excitedly repeating the news along the streets. But, in strange contrast to the extraordinary demonstrations in other parts of the World, there was barely a shout from the billets, except perhaps as a protest against so much noise; and the weary soldier, with a sigh of relief as after a task well done, turned over and went to sleep again.

The German occupation of Le Quesnoy, practically since the commencement of the War, had left the town in a deplorably filthy state. After all, this was typical of the German soldier's standard of cleanliness. On this occasion some satisfaction was to be derived from the fact that they were required to clean up the mess which they had made.

On November 10th M. Poincare, President of the French Republic, had visited Le Quesnoy, and was received by the civil and military population with demonstrations of extraordinary enthusiasm. The Regiment contributed to the guard of honour accorded M. Poincare.

At midday on November 1lth the Regiment marched out of Le Quesnoy, and headed south-west for Beauvois. The journey was completed on the 12th, after staying the night at Quievy. The Regiment now settled down to a period of rest and training, the latter sufficiently strenuous to preserve physical fitness.

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On November 13th all officers of the New Zealand Division attended an address delivered by Major-General Sir A. H. Russell, G.O.C. Division. The announcement was then made that the New Zealand Division was to form part of the Allied Army of Occupation of Germany.

On November 14th, on the outskirts of Beauvois, the Regiment participated in a Thanksgiving Service held to mark the cessation of hostilities. On this occasion practically the whole Division was assembled.