November 1918. The armistice of Compiègne was signed. For the people on the Rhine it was not over yet, because the allied occupation of the Rhine began. That was some 100 years ago.
For most people defeat had come as a complete surprise, because until the very last moment the war propaganda had promised victory. Martial law was still in force and most people suffered hunger, because the sea blockade was not lifted. After the sailors’ revolt in Kiel, the revolution spread throughout the country. Uncertainty about the future shaped the mood in the Rhineland.
The Kaiser flees
By the evening of 9 November, Kaiser Wilhelm II was already history, although he had not yet formally abdicated. On November 10, at dawn, he fled from headquarters in Spa, Belgium, to the neutral Netherlands. Queen Wilhelmina granted him asylum and did not extradite him even at the insistence of the Allies. However, he was not allowed to leave his property in the Netherlands.
According to the armistice, the left bank of the Rhine had to be evacuated by December 4, 6 am. Still German troops were in France and Belgium, there had been no fighting on German soil .. now Allied troops would soon occupy the left bank and bridgeheads at Cologne, Coblenz and Mayence. A 50 km wide strip along the Rhine on the right bank had been declared demilitarized zone. The German troops hurried back and many people stood at the edge of the roads and bridges, hoping to hear news about their relatives from the soldiers.
The villages Königswinter and Dollendorf on the Rhine seemed to be army camps in these days. Countless troop units marched through the streets on foot, on horseback or in trucks and other carts. The ferry took day and night shifts to transport people and material from the left to the right bank of the Rhine, as well as the ships of the Kölne-Düsseldorf Rhine steamers and other companies. Pioneer battalions had built pontoon bridges across the Rhine. Officers and crews had to be accommodated. Despite the defeat, the loals did their best to give the troops a friendly welcome.
Allied troops on the Rhine
The Allied occupation of the Rhineland began. Allied troops occupied the left bank of the Rhine and “bridgeheads” near Cologne, Koblenz and Mainz; a 50 km wide strip along the right bank of the Rhine was demilitarized territory.
After the withdrawal of the German troops stationed in Bonn, some 10,000 British and Canadian soldiers entered the area. On December 6th, the first British soldiers arrived in Cologne, by December 15 the whole Cologne area was under British occupation. It was switched to British time, so in Cologne it was an hour earlier than in the rest of Germany. Freedom of press and assembly were restricted, nightly curfews imposed, and carnival was forbidden. Many families had to provide accommodation for English soldiers. Soon Mayor Konrad Adenauer established good working relationships with the British military authorities, and both sides got along quite well.
The frontier of the Cologne bridgehead on the left side passed right through our county, the Siegkreis. Some villages belonged to the Cologne bridgehead, others were disputed and no one was sure.
After the conclusion of peace, the occupation was to be regulated by the Rhineland Agreement, signed at Versailles the same days as the Peace Treaty.
The left and right banks of the Rhine River would be permanently demilitarized, and allied troops would occupy the left bank of the Rhine and bridge heads in Cologne (British sector), Coblenz (American sector)and Mayence (French sector) for a period of 5-15 years. A 50 km wide strip along the Rhine would be demilitarized. Moreover, the Allies had to right to occupy the right bank, too, if they found that Germany violated the treaty.
A civil commission representing the governments instead of a military commission representing the armies was embodied, it was headed by Paul Tirard from France.
After at first British and Canadian troops had been stationed in Cologne and Bonn, in February 1920 French troops marched into Bonn.
The war was over, but not for the people here on the Rhine, and not for the occupation soldiers from far away either.