Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The Christmas Truce of 1914I've posted on this the last two Christmases. It's probably my favorite Christmas story - except for the original one.
Caption on photo: "There was never a good war, and never a bad peace" (I agree with the spirit if not exactly the literal wording)
Stanley Weintraub, author of Silent Night: the Remarkable 1914 Christmas Truce wrote about the event more briefly in The Christmas truce: When the guns fell silent Independent 12/24/05. A fairly recent French film has been made about it, called Joyeux Noël, which is available from NetFlix.
The photo above is part of the back cover of Der kleine Frieden im Grossen Krieg [The Little Peace in the Great War] (2003) by Michael Jürgs.
While most of us could think of a war we considered good in some way and likewise a peace that was less than good, the sentiment is a basically sound one.
The 1914 Christmas Truce during the First World War was a spontaneous, unofficial truce that occurred all along the lines between the English and French, on the one side, and the Germans, on the other.
Weintraub writes of that event:
By Christmas morning, no man's land between the trenches was filled with fraternising soldiers, sharing rations, trading gifts, singing, and - more solemnly - burying the dead between the lines. (Earlier, the bodies had been too dangerous to retrieve.) The roughly cleared space suggested to the more imaginative among them a football pitch. Kickabouts began, mostly with balls improvised from stuffed caps and other gear, the players oblivious of their greatcoats and boots. The official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment says "Tommy and Fritz" used a real ball, furnished by a provident Scot. "This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter. Das Spiel endete 3:2 fur Fritz." [The game ended 3:2 for Fritz.] Other accounts, mostly German, give other scores, and British letters and memories fill in more details.And he laments:
A Christmas truce seems in our new century an impossible dream from a more simple, vanished world. Peace is indeed, even briefly, harder to make than war. [my emphasis]
William Faulkner projected the Christmas Truce on a much larger scale in his novel A Fable (1954). (English professors seem to think it's not technically a novel but literally a fable but don't ask me to explain the difference.) This 1968 Signet paperback edition pictured the protagonist as a Christ figure, and Faulkner indeed uses Christian symbolism heavily in the novel/story/fable.1
For some reason, Faulkner wrote part of this book on the wallpaper in one of the rooms of his small mansion in Oxford, MS, Rowan Oak. You can still see it there.
Here are some additional references on the Christmas Truce. Most of these were listed at Antiwar.com, which is a useful aggregator for antiwar articles, though I don't share their Old Right isolationist editorial viewpoint.
The Christmas Truce by Aaron Shepard School Magazine (Australia) Apr. 2001
The Christmas Truce by Simon Rees, FirstWorldWar.com 11/20/04
Short outbreak of sanity; war the only casualty Sydney Morning Herald 12/15/04
In Memory of the Christmas Truce by George Beres, History News Network 12/20/05
Peace on earth: The Christmas truce of 1914 by Dr. Richard Elam Cleburne Times-Review 12/24/06
The astonishing war story that a nation chose to forget Telegraph 02/12/2005
The truce is stranger as fiction by Tim Hunter The Age 12/17/05
Faded letter leaves record of famous truce by David Fried North County Times 12/23/05
Short Peace In A Terrible War by John Nichols The Nation Online 12/24/05
Joyeux Noël by by Mark Moring Christianity Today 03/16/06
Stop the war and love thy enemy by Mark Day The Australian 12/22/07
Lyrics to Christmas in the Trenches (1984) by John McCutcheon
Silent Night, Holy Night: The Story of the Christmas Truce (2003) by Stephen Wunderli, et al.
Tags: christmas truce of 1914, first world war
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?
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