November 2, 2018
Compiegne, Picardy, France, by Chancy Kapp
There are places where the veil between today and yesterday wears thin— where the breath of history stirs the hair on the back of your neck and spirits hover just out of sight.
We walked such a place today in the serene Glade of the Armistice near Compiegne in Picardy, about an hour from Paris.
On the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, leaders of the Allies and of the Central Powers met here in the private train car —or “wagon”— of Ferdinand Foch, Marshal of France and Supreme Allied Commander. They signed the Armistice that ended “The Great War” and imposed harsh terms on Germany. The French soon turned the site into a memorial.
In 1940, Adolf Hitler turned the tables when he insisted that the Armistice acknowledging his conquest of France be signed in the same car, in the same place. He ordered much of the Glade destroyed. The Germans later took Foch’s “wagon” to Berlin, where it burned in 1945 just before the Allied victory.
The Glade is once again a place of honor, dominated by a statue of Foch, a museum housing a restored “wagon” from the same train as the original and monuments to French soldiers from many conflicts.
We toured the museum, learned from our guide Guillaume that the French artillery piece is the namesake of the French 75 cocktails we drank at the opening of the Museum of History’s North Carolina & World War I exhibit and discovered that tanks made their debuts as weapons of war in 1916.
Mostly, we were quiet. In the Glade, it’s hard to avoid a sense of failed hopes and unimaginable loss.
French War Memorial in the Glade.
Yet, there are also reminders of fierce courage and grit.
Our day in Compiegne did offer some lighter moments. An ancient city famous as the site of Joan of Arc’s capture in 1430, Compiegne is one of Raleigh’s sister cities. It boasts a gorgeous city hall and a palace that housed kings and emperors. Our lunch was graced by a visit with the husband of the late mayor.
Museum of History Director Ken Howard with Nicolas le Chatelier, husband of Compiegne’s late mayor
Compiegne boasts much of the charm that makes France such a popular destination.
Compiegne City Hall
But the heart of the day—likely the trip—beat among the trees cloaked in autumn foliage and the brooding evergreens of the Glade.