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Remembering the Christmas Truce

On this very night, 100 years ago, there was a true Christmas Miracle. Gather round my dear readers, as I tell the tale of the Christmas Truce.

Following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Europe had plunged into war. As the many nations send men by the millions to the front, despite optimistic boasts of “being home by Christmas”, those same soldiers instead found themselves dug into trench systems stretching from the North Sea to Switzerland, the true scope of the daunting task before them finally sinking in.
Christmas_Truce_1914Though not yet achieving the iconic carnage of the war’s later years, with the poison gas and tanks not yet deployed, and the war’s grimmest battles such as Verdun and the Somme still yet to be fought. Much of the stage for the war’s worst had been set however – often muddy, always bloody trenches packed full of soldiers whose only breaks from the misery of the trenches were brief and terrifying charges across no-man’s land. With that in mind, it makes what happened all the more miraculous.

What began with a few ceasefires to collect the wounded would grow into the Christmas Truce, one of the most famous moments of World War I. It began on Christmas Eve, when British and German soldiers huddled in the trenches began to sing Christmas carols, and took notice when their enemies across the trenches responding in kind. A brave few finally worked up the courage to look over the trench line, and found their counterparts on the other side doing the same.
christmas-truceEventually, the soldiers from both sides crossed into No-man’s land, and began to celebrate Christmas together. Songs were sung, food prepared, gifts exchanged, and even a few famous games of soccer played. Former enemies embraced as friends, the guns fell silent across nearly the entire front, and accounts of the Christmas Truce remain some of the most famous of the whole war.

Of course, like any true miracle, there were those who wanted to see it brought to an end. As soon as word of the Christmas Truce spread to high command, the top brass was livid about the informal ceasefire, due to the idea that “fraternizing with the enemy” might jeopardize the war effort. In some places, the truce would last past Christmas Day for a day or two, or in some as long as two weeks, but as the officers on both sides cracked down, switching troops and threatening court marshals to those who disobeyed. In time, the Christmas Truce would pass, and not be repeated – in 1915, the brass was told to prevent any such fraternization, and by 1916, any such actions were unneeded, as the war grew increasingly bitter and bloody.

Aside from providing an uplifting repast from the unfolding horrors of trench warfare, the Christmas Truce would have very little effect on the war in the long-term. Historically however, the Christmas Truce represents both a stark reminder that it was a war desired by officers and politicians in far-flung capitals, utterly unwanted by the men on the front, and as one of the last examples of chivalry in warfare, before masses of millions of men and machines would become the new method of warfare.
Christmas_truce_sayingToday, remembering the Christmas Truce is all the more important, serving as an episode where what is best about human nature overcame what is worst about human nature, where common humanity if only for an instant would triumph over petty squabbles, and where for all too briefly, even in the trenches of Western Europe, Christmas truly did bring peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. It’s a history lesson we’d all do well to learn from.

Merry Christmas my dear readers.

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