Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Truce of 1914

This is still my favorite Christmas story after the original.

German and British troops fraternize, Boxing Day, 1914

It's my Christmas blogging tradition to post about my favorite modern Christmas story, the Christmas Truce of 1914. It was a spontaneous, unofficial truce during the First World War that occurred all along the lines between the English and French, on the one side, and the Germans, on the other, at Christmas time.

This is a song by John McCutcheon about the event:



I'm going to be repeating some things I've posted in previous years. But classic Christmas stories deserve to be retold over and over.



This following photo showing German and British troops on Christmas Day 1914 appears on the dust jacket of Der kleine Frieden im Grossen Krieg [The Little Peace in the Great War] (2003) by Michael Jürgs with the caption, ("Es hat niemals einen guten Krieg und niemals einen schlecthten Frieden gegeben") ("There has never been a good war and never a bad peace").


Most of us could think of a war we considered good in some way and likewise a peace that was less than good, but the basic sentiment is sound.

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. (Original link dead; copies here and here) A French film has been made about it, called Joyeux Noël.

Describing the Christmas Truce, Weintraub writes:

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." 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.
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:


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.

Simon Rees writes about this amazing event in The Christmas Truce FirstWorldWar.com 08/22/09:

Today, pragmatists read the Truce as nothing more than a 'blip' - a temporary lull induced by the season of goodwill, but willingly exploited by both sides to better their defences and eye out one another's positions. Romantics assert that the Truce was an effort by normal men to bring about an end to the slaughter.

In the public's mind the facts have become irrevocably mythologized, and perhaps this is the most important legacy of the Christmas Truce today. In our age of uncertainty, it comforting to believe, regardless of the real reasoning and motives, that soldiers and officers told to hate, loathe and kill, could still lower their guns and extend the hand of goodwill, peace, love and Christmas cheer.
Indeed it is.

Other accounts:

The Christmas Truce of 1914 The Long, Long Trail n.d., accessed 12/24/2011

December 15, 2011

‘Operation Silent Night’ tells of another Christmas miracle Fayette Tribune 12/15/2011

Peace on the Western Front, Goodwill in No Man's Land — The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce Past Imperfect (Smithsonian blog) 12/23/2011

Claudia Becker, Erster Weltkrieg.Als Briten und Deutsche Weihnachtsfrieden schlossen Die Welt 23.12.2011

Damien Fletcher, Carol Ann Duffy's moving tale of World War Christmas truce Daily Mirror 23/12/2011

Gary Kohls, The Christmas Truce of 1914 Consortuium News 12/16/2011

Michael Omer-Man, This Week in History: The Christmas Truce of 1914 Jerusalem Post 12/18/2011

Spitalfieldslife.com, 11th December, Christmas Truce My Tower Hamlets 12/11/2011

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