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The Greatest Day In History – How the Great War Really Ended

By: Nicholas Best (571.3/35936)
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson ISBN: 9780297851905

Armistice Day 1918. In London, Paris and New York, the bells were ringing. In Boulogne, drunken Allied troops were raping prostitutes. In Kansas, a mob of patriotic Americans was trying to lynch a man who had refused to support the war. And in Berlin, General Ludendorff was making his escape in dark glasses and false beard, desperate to get away before his own people beat him to death for leading them to defeat.

This is the story of a momentous day, but it is also a snapshot of the whole world at the end of an extraordinary week. Everyone remembered where they were on 11 November 1918, from Marlene Dietrich in Berlin and Mahatma Gandhi on his sick bed to Eamon de Valera in an English prison and the Kaiser in Holland, fending off an assault by the British Ambassador’s wife. For Erich Maria Remarque, Armistice Day was an opportunity to strut about in an officer’s uniform to which he was not entitled, but for Wilfred Owens’s family in Shrewsbury, it meant a telegram from the War Office that arrived at lunchtime, just hours after the fighting had ended.

For ordinary people too, many of whose stories are told here for the first time, the Armistice was a day they would never forget. Drawing on a wealth of unpublished material, both military and civilian, Nicholas Best tells a compelling tale of the men and women from all around the world who heaved a collective sigh of relief as the clock struck eleven and they were able to lay down their burden at last on the final day of the most disastrous war in history.

September 2008


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