An Extract from Fen's Book, "The Distant Drum"
False Armistice. Fen had been receiving treatment for mustard gas burns at the 3rd Australian General Hospital in Abbeville in France in the autumn of 1918.
I returned to the camp at Cayeux on November 5th, and found everyone in a state of tension, expecting the news of Germany's surrender at any moment. No one know how or when the tidings would come, and the slightest rumour was sufficient to produce an uproar. The premature outbreak of excitement on the evening of November 7th demonstrates the almost hysterical state we were in.
It was half past nine; "Last Post" was just about to sound, and nearly everyone in my hut was in bed. I was reading, I remember, "The First Hundred Thousand". Suddenly, through the pandemonium which always preceded "Lights Out" could be heard the sound of distant cheering, apparently from the far side of the Camp. At first it was greeted with sarcastic laughter and a few ironical counter-cheers, but the sound increased, and presently the throbbing of a drum mingled with the shouting.
At that, the noise in the hut was suddenly silenced. Men gazed at each other with eager, questioning eyes. "Can it be?" was the unspoken query - "It is!" and with a simultaneous movement, everybody huddled on their clothes and poured out on to the parade-ground. On all sides, the other huts were disgorging their occupants and in a few minutes the huge open space was black with excited men: "Germany has surrendered!" and the whole eight or ten thousand of us yelled ourselves hoarse. With one accord, the whole throng burst into unanimous song:-
"Take me back to dear old Blighty, put me on the train for London town; Drop me over there, any-blooming-where: Birmingham, Leeds or Manchester - well, I don't care..."
Backwards and forwards we swayed, arms linked, shouting, cheering and singing. The uproar was indescribable, and it never occurred to us to doubt the rumour. I remember thinking: "This is the happiest moment of my life. I must fix it in my memory for ever!"
Someone found a box of Verey lights and there was an impromptu firework display. "Lights out" sounded on the bugle, but the power-house was seized and the dynamo attendants forcibly prevented from turning off the current. Presently, some of the wilder spirits began to get out of hand; a number of men raided the Guard-room and tried to release the defaulters in detention (who wisely refused to be released), and drenched the RSM in the contents of a fire-bucket. Then a small crowd broke camp and marched into Cayeux in a body; they returned during the small hours of the morning, still singing.
But, after the first excitement, the great majority of us began to wonder whether the celebrations were not after all a little premature, since no official confirmation of the news was forthcoming, and gradually we dispersed to our huts again. Next day, at dinner-time, the Camp Commandant visited the large mess-hut in which we took our meals, and addressed us. Without recriminations, he said that he sympathised with our feelings, but asked us not to repeat the performance. He pledged his word that as soon as he received official news of the Armistice, the "Fall in" would be sounded and he would announce the fact on parade; then we should have all the opportunity for celebration we desired.
That was all, and we felt that it was quite reasonable, so we settled down to wait as patiently as we might.
See also A Night in the Trenches
............ Fen Gets Wounded
........... Fen Gets Wounded Again
............ On Smoking, Drinking and Fear
............ Over The Top