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Shropshire Archives is open in a phased way from 21 April 2021.

Peace and consequences of war

Just two days after the end of the war, Lord Robert Cecil made a speach to the University in Birmingham. It seems that many people were surprised by the catastrophic way the German forces collapsed. The victory for the allies was described as overwhelming, and he says ‘They (the allies) have in their hands the political future of the whole world.’

He also said that the fight was to annihilate the idea of one Nation being in a position to dominate others and to set up something better in its place. ‘We have achieved Victory; but the most glorious victory would be indistinguishable from defeat unless we lay the foundations for lasting peace… It is only the hope that such a peace may be established that will in any degree compensate for its fearful sacrifices.’

The following sections are a summary and quotes from his speech, with sections copied from The Times, Wednesday November 13th 1918.

Lord Cecil says that he does not believe there should ever be a domination of the world by any one group of powers. He felt that peace could only be safeguarded by some general agreement, or association, or League of Nations. He describes the horror of thinking of any future wars, and that a League of Nations would be incomplete if it was not open to every nation of the world.

In September 1916, Lord Cecil circulated a memorandum making proposals for the avoidance of war, which was the first document from which came official British advocacy of the League of Nations.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1937, they said he was; ‘Appalled by the war’s destruction of life, property, and human values, he became convinced that civilization could survive only if it could invent an international system that would insure peace’.

Do you think Lord Cecil meant that Germany should be included with other nations, and have an equal voice in future?

If this had happened straight away, how do you think things might have changed in the 1930s?

Letter from Andrew Bonar Law, British Chancellor of the Exchequer

In this letter to Mrs Bridgeman, wife of the Shropshire MP, Andrew Bonar Law, British Chancellor of the Exchequer, explains that Germany will be made to pay as much as she is able, for reparations to pay Britain cover the cost of the war.

He also says that The Government will do what it can to prevent Germany attacking Britain again. This letter was written just days after the Armistice and shows that people were already asking many questions about the future.

What do you think most ordinary people were thinking about how to treat Germany in the years following the war?

Signing the Peace Treaty at the Palace of Versailles

The treaty was signed on June 28th 1919. The Paris Peace Conference had begun on January 18, 1919, with 21 nations in attendance at the palace of Versailles. The representatives of Germany and the other defeated Central Powers were not allowed to sit at the conference table. Four of the Allies representatives, Great Britain, France, Italy and America made the important decisions.

This included a League of Nations. The treaty finally consisted of 24 articles to which the signatories listed in the Annex (above) agreed. The constitution had taken over six months to agree, as there were many differing views, and a number of historical treaties and territorial rearrangements had already made by the other three European powers. France’s primary objective was to secure its own borders against future invasion by Germany and, as the war had been fought on French soil, the French wanted the Germans to pay for the restoration of her devastated homeland.

The content of the Peace Treaty

Agreement was finally reached on May 7, 1919. The terms were harsh and Germany was not included as a member of the League of Nations. Germany was stripped of approximately 13% of its pre-war territory and all of its over-seas possessions. Germany’s industrial heartland was to be occupied by allied troops. The size of Germany’s military forces was drastically reduced. The treaty further stipulated that Germany would pay for the devastation of the war through annual reparation payments to its neighbours.

On June 28, two fairly minor German representatives signed the treaty. The signing ceremony was seen as the final act of the Great War.

Read the description of the signing, by the only woman at the conference, journalist Andree Viollis.

No one present was aware that it also became the opening act of a conflict that would erupt twenty years later with even more terrible consequences. Even though Lord Robert Cecil and those supporting a league of Nations, understood that Germany should be allowed to recover as a Nation.

Why do you think this advice was not listened to by other governments?
Do you think there could have been a less harsh settlement for Germany which could have averted WWII?