A century ago, on Nov. 11, 1918, World War I came to an end.
For four years prior, the horrific struggle between the Allies and the Central Powers had thundered on. In all more than 30 million people were killed and wounded, primarily by artillery and rifle fire, whose endless sound characterized the battlefield as much as the sight of soldiers on the European frontlines hunkered in their trenches. The “monstrous anger of the guns,” English poet Wilfred Owen called it. But at the agreed-upon time—the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month—the war abruptly halted, and suddenly it became so quiet you could hear a watch ticking (paywall).
Though no actual recording of the moment exists, you can still hear what it would have sounded like, courtesy of a London acoustics firm called Coda to Coda. Have a listen here.
As Deutsche Welle explains, among the artifacts in the collection of Britain’s Imperial War Museum were graphic records labeled “The end of the war.” They weren’t audio recordings. The Allies created them using a technique called “sound ranging” that essentially recorded noise intensity onto photographic film, similar to the way a seismograph works. Scientists devised it as a way to let soldiers in the field pinpoint the locations of enemy artillery, which could be exceedingly difficult.
The visual record of the war’s end allowed Coda to Coda to turn the moment into audio again, so that 100 years later, we can hear what it may have been like for the soldiers on the frontline.