February 15th 1920

I n   G e r m a n y   ( 1 9 1 4 – 1 8 )

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The staleness of which Cyril King wrote in October 1917 probably explains why he did not write much until the end of the war was in sight.

Towards the end of October 1918, when the German naval commanders ordered the Imperial fleet to sail out to engage the forces of the Royal Navy, the German sailors mutinied and this triggered a general state of revolution in Germany, leading to the Kaiser’s abdication on November 9th 1918.

News of this soon reached Ruhleben:

10/11/18. “They have had a revolution and are mightily pleased with it. Everyone here is wildly excited. A soldiers’ council has been formed among the garrison and representatives have just left for Berlin in the officers’ dog-cart flying a red flag. The officers have changed into mufti and most of them have gone home; but one, we hear, is to be courtmartialed.

A red flag has been hoisted on the flagstaff in the square where so many black and white eagles have flown during the last four years, for innumerable victories and royal birthdays! 

We heard firing last night and expect to be attacked by a mob at any minute – especially as several people have escaped, carrying food with them – and a bodyguard has been formed to patrol the camp and keep people from entering or leaving the camp.

They are absolutely certain to sign the armistice now.

How right Cyril was; at 11 o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, after four long years, the war was brought to an end.

11/11/18. They have signed all right. Powell has gone to the soldiers’ council at the War Office and asked about release. They say they will probably let us go as soon as they can get a train, but they don’t know whether we are to be counted as ‘prisoners of war.’

I am off to Berlin tomorrow to look round and see ‘Measure for Measure,’ which I hear is on at the ‘Volse’s Bûhné.”

Who would have believed that amongst such chaos, theatres continued to operate? Cyril’s adventures in the week that followed are the subject of the next instalment.

November 29th 1918

We must be thankful that the plague of ‘flu,’ which was so virulent in Oxford and elsewhere, has dealt lightly with us. We sent the boarders home for nearly three weeks.

The school was closed from Tuesday to Monday, and again from Thursday to Monday. Otherwise we kept the dayboys on.

The dozen or so boarders, who for various reasons could not go home, had some jolly expeditions, and did little work. They also made great use of the Carpenter’s Shop.

We let off some fireworks in honour of the Armistice yesterday. Many boys had never let off fireworks before, and there were moments when it seemed likely they would never let off any more (!) but there were no serious casualties.

It has been suggested that we should abolish Guy Fawkes’ Day and institute Nov. 11th instead, and burn a far less respectable and much more cowardly villain in effigy.

November 17th 1918

Lieut. Jack Pogson-Smith (OBLI) arrived back from the Macedonian Front on November 4th and a few days later made the mistake of visiting the ‘Draconian’ editor. Mr Vassall has duly extracted from him this account of armistice night in Salonika at the end of September:

Daily Telegraph, 1/10/18

“Really there was nothing at all exciting about it, as it was more or less expected, because for some days Bulgar officers had been passing blindfolded in cars through our lines, presumably to discuss terms.

If anything, I think there was a curious feeling of flatness. Possibly, though, this was merely due to the fact that we felt we could not celebrate the occasion as it deserved, as we had long ago run out of the wherewithal to celebrate anything, and the nearest EFC was a good thirty or forty miles away.

However, in the evening we did our best to make merry. Every unit sent up all the ‘Very’ lights it could lay hands on, and for a bit the Strumnica plain was quite gaily illuminated. But of course we soon ran out of ‘Very’ lights, so we lit a big bonfire in a river bed. This, however, was not a complete success, as we were promptly told to put it out, as we were interrupting visual signal communication with Battalion HQ. 

Fancy not being allowed the luxury of cutting yourself off from your HQ for a few blessed hours on armistice night!! 

But such is the Army.”

November 12th 1918

P E A C E   A T   L A S T !

Daily Telegraph, 12/11/1918

After four years of sacrifice, yesterday’s news of the Armistice is more than a little tinged with sadness at the thought of so many who have not lived to see this day.

As in London, the news of the Armistice was received with some enthusiasm in Oxford.

The first indication for many of us was the tolling of ‘Great Tom‘ in Wren’s Tom Tower at Christ Church (which, like Big Ben, has been silenced for the duration).

At 6pm the Mayor read out the terms of the Armistice in the city centre and the day concluded with fireworks and a bonfire (with the effigy of the Kaiser being consumed by the fire) outside St. John’s College in St. Giles, a stone’s throw from where the OPS started in 1877.

When the boarders return, we will have our own celebration.

Those noble sorts who have followed the King’s example – including Rear-Admiral Tyrwhitt –  in giving up alcohol till the war ended, can now enjoy their first drink since 1915!