Special Blog on Treaty of Versailles
On the 28th June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles near Paris. This ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. Although the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, ending the actual fighting, it took six months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the Peace Treaty.
Negotiations between the Allied powers started on 18 January in the Salle de l’Horloge at the French Foreign Ministry on the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. Initially, 70 delegates from 27 nations participated in the negotiations. The defeated nations of Germany, Austria, and Hungary were excluded from the negotiations. Russia was also excluded because it had negotiated a separate peace (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk) with Germany in 1918.
At first a “Council of Ten” comprising two delegates each from Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Japan decided the peace terms. However, it became the “Big Four” when Japan dropped out and the top person from each of the other four nations met in 145 closed sessions to make all the major decisions to be ratified by the entire assembly. Apart from Italian issues, the main conditions were determined at personal meetings among the leaders of the “Big Three” nations: British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and American President Woodrow Wilson.
The minor nations attended a weekly “Plenary Conference” that discussed issues in a general forum, but made no decisions. These members formed over 50 commissions that made various recommendations, many of which were incorporated into the final treaty.
On 7 May, the treaty was presented to Germany. For most of the allies the treaty had created a just peace which weakened Germany, secured the French border against attack and created an organisation to ensure future world peace, to be called the League of Nations. Yet the backlash in Germany against the Treaty was enormous. She was stripped of 13 per cent of her territory and ten per cent of her population; the border territories of Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France. Germany lost all of her colonies, 75 per cent of her iron ore deposits and 26 per cent of her coal and potash. The size of the army and navy was drastically cut, and an air force and submarines were forbidden. The Germans also had to officially accept ‘war guilt’ and pay reparations of around £6,600 million
When faced with the conditions dictated by the victors, including the so-called “War Guilt Clause”, von Brockdorff-Rantzau (Foreign Minister for Germany) replied to Clemenceau, Wilson and Lloyd George: “We know the full brunt of hate that confronts us here. You demand from us to confess we were the only guilty party of war; such a confession in my mouth would be a lie.” Because Germany was not allowed to take part in the negotiations, the German government issued a protest against what it considered to be unfair demands, and a “violation of honour”, soon afterwards withdrawing from the proceedings of the peace conference.
Germans of all political shades denounced the treaty — particularly the provision that blamed Germany for starting the war — as an insult to the nation’s honour. They referred to the treaty as “the Diktat”, dictated peace, since its terms were presented to Germany on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
In June 1919, the Allies declared that war would resume if the German government did not sign the Treaty that they had agreed to among themselves. The Government headed by Philip Scheidemann – Germany’s first democratically elected head of government, was unable to agree on a common position, and Scheidemann himself resigned rather than agree to sign the treaty. In a passionate speech before the National Assembly on 21 March 1919, he called the treaty a “murderous plan” and exclaimed, “Which hand, trying to put us in chains like these, would not wither? The treaty is unacceptable.”
Gustav Bauer, the head of the new government, sent a telegram stating his intention to sign the treaty if certain articles were withdrawn, including articles 227, 230 and 231. In response, the Allies issued an ultimatum stating that Germany would have to accept the treaty or face an invasion of Allied forces across the Rhine within 24 hours. On 23 June, Bauer capitulated and sent a second telegram with a confirmation that a German delegation would arrive shortly to sign the treaty. Then on 28 June 1919, the peace treaty was signed. The treaty had clauses ranging from war crimes, the prohibition on the merging of Austria with Germany without the consent of the League of Nations, freedom of navigation on major European rivers, to the returning of a Koran to the King of Hedjan.
It is now strongly believed that the harsh treatment of Germany in the forming of the Treaty of Versailles was one of the major causes of the Second World War.
The copy of the Treaty
This copy of the Treaty of Versailles was in possession of the Labour Party following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and was given to Meredith Farrar Titterington. Meredith was born in Bradford and started his working life aged eleven as a mill-boy in a dyeworks. He went on to study at night school and in 1909 won a scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford. On completing his studies he worked for the trade union ‘Amalgamated Society of Stuff and Woollen Warehousemen’ and in 1915 became General Secretary. During the war period 1914–18 he was on the War Council. He was a member of the Labour Party and was elected to Bradford Council in 1919, becoming an alderman in 1929 and Lord Mayor of Bradford in 1939–1940. He was elected the Member of Parliament for Bradford South in the 1945 General Election, but died in office on 28 October 1949.
His funeral service was held at Bradford Cathedral and was taken by the Provost of Bradford, the Very Rev. J. G Tiarks. In his address the Provost said they were saying goodbye to a life well spent in the public service. That idea, and the great regard in which he was held, was reflected in the many mourners who included Members of Parliament, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Bradford, members and officers of the City Council, his own Labour Party as well as those from across the political spectrum, the Cooperative Movement and Trade Unions and representatives from many areas of the local community in Bradford.
The Treaty was later passed on by his daughter to a close friend, Audrey Wilkinson, an art teacher at Wyke Manor School. She in turn gave it to Martin Bland, a history teacher at Wyke Manor and later Salt Grammar to be used with his history students. As a result this copy has always been in the hands of Bradford residents and, supporters or members of the Labour Party. It has now been donated by Martin Bland to the Peace Museum in Bradford as the anniversary of that flawed peace approaches, in the hope that it will be used by visitors and students, and is given in memory of Meredith Farrar Titterington, an advocate of peace.
Staff here at the Peace Museum have been working very hard to put together a new exhibition in our temporary exhibition space to replace the previous Basque Children in Yorkshire exhibit. The new exhibit will be entitled A force for peace? The History of European Co-operation, and will include our newly acquired copy of The Treaty of Versailles. The exhibition seeks to explore the troubled past of Europe and how European nations have overcome difficulties and difference which led to conflict.
Written by Sarah Bartey