The end of the war

In the autumn of 1918, the Allied governments' Commander-in-Chief, Ferdinand Foch, negotiated an armistice that forced the abdication of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II and made it impossible for his forces to resume action.

During the weeks in which the negotiations took place, fighting continued even up to the last day with the Battle of Mons, but on 11 November at 5AM the armistice was signed that would see the cessation of hostilities later that morning, at 11AM.

News travelled too slowly along the Western Front and of the 700,000 men who were killed in the First World War some lost their lives that day. Germany's sea fleet, by this time much in mutiny, was to surrender later in the month.

Across all borders, jubilation that the War had ended was mixed with mourning; many soldiers were left too exhausted or distressed to celebrate and many were aware of facing an uncertain future.

Of the British soldiers, thousands waited for months to be demobilised, some went to serve in the Army of Occupation in Germany; at the same time prisoners of war from both sides awaited release.

In Britain, the War had seen women—already a substantial part of the workforce—find more independent lives working in factories, child care, transport and on the beat. More than one hundred thousand served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later renamed Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps), the Women’s Royal Naval Service and the Women’s Royal Air Force.

With the war ended, many women were forced to give up work or go back into domestic service with those who had worked in the munitions factories suffering the effects of toxic jaundice from working with the poisonous explosive, TNT.

Facing them all was the Spanish Flu epidemic that would claim some one hundred million lives worldwide. This deadly virus, that unusually hit those aged 20 to 40 the hardest, insidiously spread amongst the cramped troopships returning home and the many crowds who came together to celebrate the ending of the War.

During the War, British theatre employed women to fill backstage vacancies created by men who volunteered to fight as well as in suitable roles on stage, mostly playing young men.

When dealing with the War itself, the content was largely patriotic, promoting enlistment and reflecting the concerns of the day whilst at the same time providing entertainment.

As the nation prepares to mark the Armistice, the theatre industry too has responded with new and established works.

These look at the lives of the "Canary Girls", the jaundiced munitions workers, the friendship between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, stories of the women who volunteered on the front line as ambulance drivers and include a number of tributes.

Some of these productions are listed on the next page.

More information about theatre produced during the First World War can be found in a recent feature on the Great War Theatre research project.