On Christmas eve of 1914, the beginnings of one of the most remarkable stories in human history began. After months of intense fighting, and brutal trench warfare, German troops called out to allied forces not to attack at midnight. Other German troops started singing Christmas carols in France and Belgium. Many allied soldiers applauded the Germans, and shouted for more carols. Eventually soldiers on both sides of no-man's land, began singing in unison, trading verses in alternating languages. Writing in his journal at the time, was British Regimental Sergant, Major George Beck: "Germans shout over to us and ask us to play them at football, and also not to fire and they would do likewise. At 2am (25th) a German band went along their trenches playing "Home Sweet Home" and "God Save the King" which sounded grand and made everyone think of home."
When daylight broke on Christmas Day, many allied soldiers looked across no-man's land. What they saw in the German trenches where crude attempts at decorating. The Germans found bits of evergreen to try and make their trenches more festive. Some German soldiers in an effort to promote a peace, hoisted lanterns above their trenches, promising not to open fire, if the allies didn't. Many allied troops took this as a sign of a truce.
Very cautiously, the first troops began to disarm, and crawl out of their trenches on both sides. One of the first men to cross no-mans land, was an Irish solider near Neuve Chapelle. Instead of a bayonet to the gut, or a hail of bullets, the Germans greeted the Irish man, with a cigar. This act of bravery inspired allied troops to make the journey to German trenches, and vise versa. Once both sides met, they exchanged Christmas gifts, the best they could. These gifts included food, tobacco products, or even personal items like watches, or keepsakes. Both sides showered each other with pictures of loved ones back home, and some started playing soccer with makeshift balls. This scene played out in many districts along the western front. From the North Sea, to the Swiss border. Unfortunately not all districts were at peace, and some 250 Germans, and 149 allied soldiers were killed Christmas Day. Another unfortunate result, was the end of the truce. Generals on both sides of the war were outraged, and ordered fighting to resume imideatly. Unfortunately the fighting would resume, for another three years. The world was changing, and the soldier was no longer allowed to think for himself. Never again would fraternizing like this occur. The soldiers place was merely to kill, and die without question. It was the last gasp of the romantic 19th Century battlefield. The last gesture of "gentlemanly" soldiering, and gallant professional soldiers who could fight adversaries face-to-face. Such men were replaced by recruits with no sense of military tradition, and only dogmatic loyalty to the men who sent them there to die. Indeed this was the final Curtian on a dying age. The high casualties of the First World War, was only a precursor of the horror to come in the next 100 years. And as wars became more personal, more propaganda driven, and more gruesome, many would look back on a gesture such as the Christmas Truce, as either sentimental crap, or what it really was, or could have been. Defiance in the face of a meaningless cause. Now as we look back 100 years after the fact, let us remember that even enemies can find common ground.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hollidays, and let's work toward a Happy New Year.