The moment the guns went silent

| November 11, 2020

Few recordings exist of what World War I sounded like. There’s plenty of film, but audio recording at the time was not something easily done in the field. Delicate recording equipment of the time required scratching a wax or lacquer disc.  The conditions at the front during the war were notoriously bad for man, mule, and machine.

Two years ago, as we celebrated the centennial of the war-ending Armistice, the photo above came out from the Imperial War Museum (UK). That’s a strip of film documenting the sounds coming from sound ranging equipment. Sound ranging of the thumps when cannons and artillery were fired could be used (when combining multiple sounding locations across the front) to triangulate the locations of the firing guns.

The film strip above is haunting. I can only imagine what the men in the trenches were feeling at that moment. The ceasefire had been agreed to hours earlier, but the war continued until 1100 hours. What would happen when the clock struck 11? Would both sides hold up the truce?

You can see the guns firing, in large quantity I might add, right up to the final second. The clock moves to 1100. Silence across the front. It must have been deafening. Those first few moments would have been a lot of tense anxiety for the troops at the front. Someone slams a door at an inopportune time and the war could start right back up.

How the battlefield sounded as World War I guns fell silent. 

Category: Historical

Comments (17)

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  1. David says:

    I cannot recommend too highly “They Shall Not Grow Old”, the Peter Jackson documentary using restored WWI footage. Only documentary I paid to see in a theater.

  2. Ex-PH2 says:

    Thanks for posting the recording. It was more interesting than I had anticipated.

  3. Toxic Deplorable Racist SAH B Woodman says:

    To hear the birds at the end………

  4. Sparks says:

    The birds remind me of this.

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

  5. 5th/77th FA says:

    10 seconds after 11 AM…”Hey what was that noise?”

    “Relax man, I dropped my sewing needle on the hay bale.”

    Lady Friend’s Grandpappy was in the trenches then. He never said a word about his service. Not.a.single.word. He did suffer the effects of trench foot and mustard gas til the day he died.

    • A Proud Infidel®™️ says:

      A lot of WWI Veterans suffered from the effects of Mustard Gas until they passed away, those Warriors did their time in hell!

  6. MustangCryppie says:

    An insane end to an insane war.

    I can’t believe the generals forced the troops to fight to the bitter end.

    • gitarcarver says:

      I can’t believe the generals forced the troops to fight to the bitter end.

      “Blackjack” Pershing was one of those generals. He was criticized for pushing until the end.

      His reasoning was that he feared that the Germans would pull out of the agreement at the last moment, having given the Germans time to reorganize and shift troops. He wanted to keep the pressure on the Germans as to not allow that to happen and in the long run, prolong the war.

      • USMC Steve says:

        It was much more than that on Pershing’s part, and it proved to be correct. He said the Germans must be made to feel the pain of the war on their soil, or they would never really accept and believe that they had lost. He also said if they were not made to feel the pain, this would happen again at some point. He was of course correct. It gave rise to Hitler, and his claims that Germany was never actually defeated, but was betrayed by disloyal politicians. That and the Frogs insisting on hammering Germany with reparations and punishments from WW1 just set the stage for WW2.

        • OldSoldier54 says:

          Yep. The Treaty of Versailles instantly made German money worthless because all the gold that backed their currency was required to pay for “Reparations.”
          Which led to the Weimar Republic, which led to wheel barrows of money to by a loaf of bread, which led to Hitler, and Hitler was a really good BS artist, which led to WWII.

          We have a bunch of disloyal politicians seeking to destroy the Republic, now. Or so it seems.

  7. OWB says:

    Wow. That really brings some clarity to the words, “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”

    Nice. Thanks for the post.

  8. 5JC says:

    It took me about 3 years to not get jumpy at loud unexpected noises. Those guys probably the rest of their lives.

    • A Proud Infidel®™️ says:

      I did Convoy Security in A-stan and for at least a month or two after I got home, I got cold sweats when I drove past anything piled up on the side of the road!

  9. SgtBob says:

    The loudest silence I have ever heard occurred when the helicopters left the landing zone. The silence of the guns must have been frightening. For a few seconds, anyway.

  10. OldSoldier54 says:

    Pretty amazing post, Mason. Thanks.