A CHRISTMAS TRUCE
On Christmas Day, 1914, in the first year of World War I, German, British and French soldiers disobeyed their superiors and fraternized with "the enemy" along two-thirds of the Western Front. German troops held Christmas trees up out of the trenches with signs, "Merry Christmas." "You no shoot, we no shoot." Thousands of troops streamed across no-man's land strewn with rotting corpses. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged photographs of loved ones back home, shared rations, played football, even roasted some pigs. Soldiers embraced men they had been trying to kill a few short hours before. They agreed to warn each other if the top brass forced them to fire their weapons, and to aim high.
A shudder ran through the high command on either side. Here was disaster in the making: soldiers declaring their brotherhood with each other and refusing to fight. Generals on both sides declared this spontaneous peacemaking to be treasonous and subject to court martial. By March, 1915 the fraternization movement had been eradicated and the killing machine put back in full operation. By the time of the armistice in 1918, fifteen million people would be slaughtered.
Not many people have heard the story of the Christmas Truce. Military leaders have not gone out of their way to publicize it. On Christmas Day, 1988, a story in the Boston Globe mentioned that a local FM radio host played "Christmas in the Trenches," a ballad about the Christmas Truce, several times and was startled by the effect. The song became the most requested recording during the holidays in Boston on several FM stations. "Even more startling than the number of requests I get is the reaction to the ballad afterward by callers who hadn't heard it before," said the radio host. "They telephone me deeply moved, sometimes in tears, asking 'What the hell did I just hear?'"
I think I know why the callers were in tears. The Christmas Truce story goes against most of what we have been taught about people. It gives us a glimpse of the world as we wish it could be and says, "This really happened once." It reminds us of those thoughts we keep hidden away, out of range of the TV and newspaper stories that tell us how trivial and mean human life is. It is like hearing that our deepest wishes really are true: the world really could be different.
[Above text is an excerpt from We Can Change the World: The Real Meaning
of Everyday Life by David G. Stratman. Photos are courtesy of
FirstWorldWar.com (FWW) and
Photos of the Great War website (PGW).]
Seasons Greetings from New Democracy! Click on the tree to visit our homepage and view a wonderful period illustration of the Christmas Truce.
Christmas Truce Poetry
Here are some links to other interesting items on the Web related to the Christmas Truce:
"All Together Now" by The Farm. A reworked version of this song, recorded by The Farm and the St. Francis Xavier's College Boys' Choir, became the Official England Song for the 2004 European Football Championships.
Some background information from the online exhibit at the website of the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University.
A review, also from the BYU exhibit, of Michael Foreman's "War Game," a children's book about the Christmas Truce.
Another haunting song about a Christmas truce, "Belleau Wood," written by Garth Brooks and Joe Henry.
"The 1914 Christmas Truce" from the Kinnethmont website.
Poets website combines poetry, love of soccer and working class politics
to commemorate the Truce:
"Remembrance Day - Football In The Trenches"
For detailed history of the Christmas Truce of 1914 see Christmas Truce: The Western Front, December 1914 by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, M Papermac, 1994.