The Christmas Truce (December 25, 1914 – Ninety eight years ago today)
“Germans Started The Christmas Truce Of World War One” – That’s how Craig deMott began his letter to Rense.com, and his letter merits attention today.
“Singing ‘Silent Night’ and calling ‘We not shoot, you not shoot’, German soldiers began the Christmas truce of World War One, when whole regiments stopped killing each other and played football in no-man’s land instead.
“‘The Germans started it. That’s the miracle. For the first time it wasn’t the Germans who waged war but started a peace,’ Michael Juerges, the first German author to write a book about the legendary cease fire of December 1914, told Reuters in Berlin.
“British troops holding the front line in Flanders on a cold, clear Christmas Eve four months into the war heard ‘Stille Nacht’ (‘Silent Night’) being sung across the battlefield littered with frozen corpses.
“They started clapping and shouting ‘more, more’. German soldiers ventured their heads above the parapets and put candles along the edge of their trenches, writes Juerges in his book ‘The Little Peace in the Great War,’ published last month.
“It resembled the footlights of a theatre, one British soldier recalled. One German officer sang the Scottish ballad ‘Annie’. ‘We were overwhelmed, as if the war was suddenly over,’ Juerges quoted a British rifleman, W. A. Quinton, as writing 15 years later.
“An officer called: ‘I am a lieutenant, gentlemen, my life is in your hands. I’m outside the trench and walking towards you. Would one of your officers meet me halfway?’ A British sergeant walked up to him and they started talking. Others followed. The news spread rapidly, with British soldiers taking part readily, and French and Belgian troops more hesitantly, writes Juerges.
“‘It was maybe almost 1,000 soldiers at first. Then word spread by field telephone.’ Along the entire 40 kilometres from the Belgian North Sea port of Nieuwpoort to the town of Ypres, soldiers met and arranged not to shoot each other over Christmas.
“Juerges matched war diaries and letters from soldiers on both sides to piece together a detailed account of the series of spontaneous armistices that by December 26 had silenced much of the Western Front from the North Sea to the Swiss border. They staged joint burials, hunted rabbits, and cooked a pig. One British soldier, a hairdresser by trade, brought out a stool and offered haircuts to all comers for a few cigarettes a time.
“It was the first Christmas of a war that has come to epitomize pointless sacrifice on a biblical scale. In over four years an estimated 10 million military personnel were killed in action or listed as missing, with more than 20 million wounded.
“‘If there had been live television footage at the time and people had seen the pictures of the truce, it would have been the end of the war,’ said Juerges. Soldiers exchanged food and cigarettes and showed each other pictures of their families. A frequent topic was how best to get rid of lice and the rats that plagued them. They swapped Dresden ‘Stollen’ Christmas cake and sausages for British jam and whiskey. One German infantryman even handed over a Christmas tree with lit candles.
“Some French civilians scorned at the fraternization taking place on their invaded soil. Some British troops reported French women spat at them for it.
“While many officers took part, the top brass on both sides were outraged, ordering their men back into the trenches and threatening court martial whenever they heard about it. But soldiers continued to shoot above each other’s heads until February on some stretches of the front, Juerges said.
“Prussian troops, traditionally the most disciplined in the German army, were less prone to join the armistices than others, such as soldiers from Saxony in what is now eastern Germany. ‘We are Saxons, you are Anglo-Saxons, why should we shoot each other?’ said one Saxon.
“‘After the dead had been buried, and because the ground had frozen, hundreds of men played football wildly in uniforms with leather balls which the English supplied, or tins or balls of straw,’ said Juerges. The diary of the Lancashire Fusiliers tells of one match the Germans won 3:2, but notes that the third goal should not have been allowed because the scorer was offside, he writes.
“British newspapers gave the truce prominent coverage, perhaps because the idea appealed to a British sense of fair play among gentlemen, writes Juerges. German papers largely ignored it, while French papers wrote that French soldiers shouted out ‘Shut up, German pigs’ as soon as the Germans started singing. In fact, whole French regiments took part.
“Attempts to repeat the truce a year later were rapidly quashed. ‘In the history of war there had never been such a peace from below. There has never been one since,’ writes Juerges.” –
Craig deMott added that, “Though this Christmas Truce happened many years ago … I feel that it is very relevant in the light of recent wars that many European nations are engaged in. The Christmas Truce of World War One reflects the common man, with common sense, realizing the senselessness of the war they were engaged in. In the 21st Century, millions of people the world over see the senselessness of the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars.
“What do you think if something like that were to happen today? It would be just like it was back then – high ranking officers would be opposed to a spontaneous show of peace. The most venomous opposition would be from the politicians and the wealthy Power Brokers of the country. Such soldiers would be quickly court martialed and perhaps even charged with being a terrorist under the perverted laws that we have now.
“Should such a thing be done now? Most definitely, yes. Regardless of the consequences, injustice should be stopped. Long has the day passed that such injustice can be rectified in court, so it has to be done by the common man and woman in refusing to fight an unjust and un-Christian war.” –