The Spirit Of Christmas At A Time Of War
On a crisp, clear morning 100 years ago, with forces separated only by a no-man's land littered with fallen comrades, sounds of a German Christmas carol suddenly drifted across the frigid air. Then, on that first Christmas Day during World War I, in 1914, something magical happened, at least in some areas. Thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with their German enemies along the Western front.
At dawn, a German called out, "We good. We no shoot." And so was born an unofficial armistice. Men walked out, extremely apprehensive at first, many fearing some deadly trick. Then human warmth cracked the freezing cold.
“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
Soldiers, the number is hard to quantify, but believed to be around 100,000, who's main concern had been killing each other by the tens of thousands for months, climbed out of their soggy trenches to seek a shred of humanity amid the horrors of war. Hands reached out across a narrow divide, presents were exchanged, and in Flanders Fields a century ago, a spontaneous Christmas truce briefly lifted the human spirit. Not a shot was fired.
On the both side of the front line, soldiers were amazed by the goodwill among enemies. Few could believe their eyes, on this patch of Belgium and northern France where crimson poppies had long ago shriveled in the cold. Peace allowed for dead bodies to be recovered from the fields and given a proper burial.
Fighting continued in many other places on the front line and some generals ordered the troops to get back into position and feared there was a softening. But it was a momentary peace in a war that would last for nearly four more years.
In 2005, the New York Times ran a column noting some soldiers' journal entries. Notations included those of Cpl. John Ferguson, a Scottish soldier:
"We stood inside the circle like street corner orators. … What a sight -- little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman's cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs."
Pope Benedict XV, who took office that September, had originally called for a Christmas truce, an idea that was officially rejected. Yet it seems the sheer misery of daily life in the cold, wet, dull trenches was enough to motivate troops to initiate the truce on their own. Reports indicate that at about 30 scattered points across many miles of Belgium, similar scenes occurred. Others happened across the Western Front, which ran from the North Sea to the Swiss border. Apart from talk in a shared language or merely with hands and kindred eyes, the men exchanged gifts, using everything from bully beef and barrels of beer to small mementos. Some reportedly played soccer.
German soldier Werner Keil scribbled his name on a piece of paper and gave a uniform button to 19-year-old British Cpl. Eric Rowden of the Queen's Westminster Rifles on Christmas Day 1914. "We laughed and joked together, having forgotten war altogether," Rowden later wrote.
For many at the time, the story of the Christmas truce was not an example of chivalry in the depths of war, but rather a tale of subversion: when the men on the ground decided they were not fighting the same war as their superiors. Still, a century later, the truce has been remembered as a testament to the power of hope and humanity in a truly dark hour of history. And though the Christmas Truce may have been a one-off in the conflict, the fact that it remains so widely commemorated speaks to the fact that at its heart it symbolizes a very human desire for peace, no matter how fleeting, no matter the era.
May you and yours have the best of Christmas and holiday seasons. Please remember on this joyous day those that can not be home today and pray that those who are fighting in wars waged by governments around the world find the peace, even if it is temporary, that their military predecessors found on a European battlefield 100 years ago.
source: Time Magazine
source: Fox News