By David Hargreaves
The hubris of war, and its irrationalities, were never more glaring than during its last days, and in the first dazed hours and days which followed its end.
Call it a great and glorious endeavour, if you will, call it a holy crusade. That might have made sense of the Allies’ firm determination to fight hard until the first stroke of eleven sounded on 11th November.
Although talk of armistice and of peace was everywhere in that final week, no quarter was given. That implacability — the Allied steamroller, pushing back the Germans as far as possible — made sense when dictating the terms of an armistice. On 5th November, the British continued the advance from the Scheldt to the Meuse, and the French managed to cross the Ardennes Canal. By the following day, the Germans were in full retreat, and the Americans entered Sedan. The day after that, the Tommies made their formal entry into Valenciennes and, at dawn on 11th November, they liberated Mons — a massive moment, given this had been the scene of their retreat and the killing ground of the old BEF over four years earlier.