On 11 November 1918, an armistice came into effect ending the war in Western Europe – but this did not mean the return of peace.

The armistice was effectively a German surrender, as its conditions ended any possibility of Germany continuing the war. Similar agreements had already been signed by Bulgaria, Turkey and Austria. However, the peace treaties which officially ended the First World War were not signed until 1919.

In the interim, fighting continued in many regions, as armed groups pursued nationalist, revolutionary or counter-revolutionary aims. Russia was torn apart by a civil war, which claimed more Russian lives than had the world war.

The peace settlements were imposed by the victors, rather than negotiated, and have since been criticised as laying the foundations of future conflicts. In fact, the conditions imposed upon the defeated powers were not unduly harsh, but the treaties contained many compromise solutions to difficult issues. As a consequence, their long-term success was limited, but they did not in themselves make the Second World War inevitable.


The Signing of Peace in the Halls of Mirrors

The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919, by William Orpen
The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28th June 1919, by William Orpen

This is the moment of resolution for the Peace Conference when the leading allied politicians are able to demonstrate their determination and unity as the treaty is signed, as well their political power. The setting is the dazzling Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, built by Louis XIV, at vast expense as a demonstration of his political power. Above their heads reads the legend 'Le Roy Gouverne par lui même' [The King governs alone], a pointed reference to the conference's endless squabbling, as Germany claimed not to be able to meet the penalties imposed and the allies were unable to agree a compromise. In William Orpen’s vision, it is the extravagance of the architecture that sets the scene, reducing the politicians to a footnote. Their supposedly ordered world is distorted and broken by the mirrors behind them.

Related Content

A group of happy girls in an American automobile in London on the day the Armistice was signed, 11 November 1918.
First World War

Voices of the First World War: Armistice

Episode 47: In early October 1918, Germany, no longer able to continue the war, approached the United States about an armistice. Many ordinary British soldiers on the Western Front recall having a sense that the war was drawing to a close.

German infantry crossing the Place Charles Rogier in Brussels as civilians look on following the invasion of Belgium, August 1914.
IWM (Q 88431)
First World War

How The World Went To War In 1914

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian-backed terrorist. 

French troops manning a captured German Maxim gun at Fort Douaumont, Verdun, 1916.
© IWM (Q 69971)
First World War

10 Significant Battles Of The First World War

From the largest naval battle, and the longest battle, to the most painful and infamous battle, and the battle that marked the end of mobile warfare on the Western Front, discover 10 significant battles of the First World War that took place between 1914-1918.