The Christmas Truce Of 1914
The Illustrated London News's of the Christmas Truce: British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches. Source: (wikipedia.org)
War is terrible at any time of the year, particularly when that war is World War I, the horror of which is overshadowed only by that of World War II. Being stuck in the trenches on Christmas Day, a time traditionally spent celebrating with family, not knowing when or if they would ever see their loved ones again, only made it that much worse. Which is probably why on Christmas Day in 1914, many soldiers along the Western front decided to take a break from the war.
A Christmas truce had originally been suggested by Pope Benedict XV, but the idea had been rejected by the powers that be. However, based on numerous accounts from soldiers who had been on the battlefield during that time, approximately 100,000 troops took it upon themselves to initiate a truce of their own. Historians are unclear as to how the truce began and what caused it to spread to various locations along the Western front. Some believe it happened because they had expected the war to be over by Christmas and were simply burned out and in need of a break. Others suggest that it was the snow that put them in the Christmas spirit.
Soldiers told various stories of how it began in their location. According to an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles, it began when the Germans lit up their trenches and began to sing carols and wish the Allied soldiers a merry Christmas. In another area, the Germans and the British soldiers both began singing carols. Another record claims that Private Murker of the Scots Guards met with a German Patrol and was sent back with a message offering a ceasefire for the day. Others describe the German soldiers luring them out of the trenches with songs.
Many reports say that the troops exchanged gifts such as cigarettes, food, buttons, and hats. Others took the opportunity to bury their dead. Several reports mention a soccer game taking place on the battlefield. While many official sources say that such a game was never played, there seems to be more evidence saying that it did. Most accounts say that “someone” brought out a soccer ball and began kicking it around. This allegedly led to participation from both sides. Most sources say that it wasn’t organized and no score was kept while others say the Germans won. Other reports claim that multiple games took place along the front.
While the memory of the truce is looked back upon today as a Christmas miracle, there were many people who were not so happy with it at the time. In some locations, a truce was offered by one side but declined by the other, and in other locations, neither side attempted a ceasefire. There is evidence that in at least two locations, soldiers attempting to start a truce were shot for their efforts. Many people higher on the chain of command considered the truce to be dangerous as it could cause troops to develop a “live and let live” philosophy. Hitler, who was a corporal at the time, considered the truce to be evidence that the soldiers had “no German sense of honor.”
The truce was, of course, only a temporary ceasefire. In many areas, the war resumed the very next day and the soldiers began firing on the very men with whom they had celebrated the day before. In other locations, the truce held until the new year. A German artilleryman was quoted as saying, “Today we have peace. Tomorrow, you fight for your country, I fight for mine. Good luck.” And that’s exactly what they did. Many of those men would not live to see another Christmas or even another truce. But for one magical day, they proved to themselves and the rest of the world, that peace is possible, even on a battlefield during one of the worst wars in history.
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