One Hundred Years Ago Tonight!

The Christmas Truce 1914! On that notorious Christmas Eve, christmas-truce-1914German soldiers lifted their voices in song that spoke of the hope of Christmas, “Silent Night, Holy Night!” The sounds from the war weary men wafted across “No Man’s Land” to the alert ears of British soldiers. At first, they responded with a taunting rendition of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” As the night hours gave way to the breaking of Christmas Day, the hardened commitments of soldiers on both sides of the blood soaked and death filled battlefield gave way to a basic human need for peace and tranquility.

Calls from each side invited the other to join in no-man’s land for a time of peaceful human exchange. Thus began the “Christmas Truce of 1914.” Twentieth Century expert, Jennifer Rosenberg gives an interesting account of this moment in human history:

“On Christmas Eve, many German soldiers put up Christmas trees, decorated with candles, on the parapets of their trenches. Hundreds of Christmas trees lighted the German trenches and although British soldiers could see the lights, it took them a few minutes to figure out what they were from. Could this be a trick? British soldiers were ordered not to fire but to watch them closely. Instead of trickery, the British soldiers heard many of the Germans celebrating.

Time and again during the course of that day, the Eve of Christmas, there were wafted towards us from the trenches opposite the sounds of singing and merry-making, and occasionally the guttural tones of a German were to be heard shouting out lustily, ‘A happy Christmas to you Englishmen!’ Only too glad to show that the sentiments were reciprocated, back would go the response from a thick-set Clydesider, ‘Same to you, Fritz, but dinna o’er eat yourself wi’ they sausages!’ [6] 1

In other areas, the two sides exchanged Christmas carols.

They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang ‘The first Noël’, and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, ‘O Tannenbaum’. And so it went on. 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 Fidéles’. And I thought, well, this was really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.[7] 2

The Christmas Truce

This fraternization on Christmas Eve and again on Christmas was in no way officially sanctified nor organized. Yet, in numerous separate instances down the front line, German soldiers began yelling over to their enemy, “Tommy, you come over and see us!”[8]3  Still cautious, the British soldiers would rally back, “No, you come here!”

In some parts of the line, representatives of each side would meet in the middle, in No Man’s Land.

We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans – Fritz and I in the centre talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like streetcorner orators.

Soon most of our company (‘A’ Company), hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us . . . 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. Where they couldn’t talk the language they were making themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill! [9] 4

Some of those who went out to meet the enemy in the middle of No Man’s Land on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day negotiated a truce: we won’t fire if you won’t fire. Some ended the truce at midnight on Christmas night, some extended it until New Year’s Day” (Rosenberg, http://history1900s.about.com/od/1910s/a/christmastruce.htm).

One hundred years later, we have lived through the bloodiest century in human history. Current events around our world suggest that the blood shed, racial strife, and ideological warfare will only intensify.

Can we find the courage and willingness to pray that God would inspire people and nations on all sides of the conflict to come together in a moment of recognizing that we CAN HAVE PEACE when we embrace the Prince of Peace–He whose birth we celebrate today. Happy Birthday, Jesus! And Please Help our World!

Notes

  1. Lieutenant Kennedy as quoted in Brown, Christmas Truce 62.
  2. Jay Winter and Blaine Baggett, The Great War: And the Shaping of the 20th Century (New York: Penguin Books, 1996) 97.
  3. Brown, Christmas Truce 68.
  4. Corporal John Ferguson as quoted in Brown, Christmas Truce 71.

 Bibliography

Brown, Malcolm and Shirley Seaton. Christmas Truce. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984.

Winter, Jay and Blaine Baggett. The Great War: And the Shaping of the 20th Century. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

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