Monday, December 15, 2014

The Christmas Eve Truce of 1914

One hundred years ago this Christmas Eve, an extraordinary event happened. The war was World War I. The location was France, on the Western Front.

What was the Western Front? Basically, anything west of Germany. Here is a map of what was considered the Western Front:

Note Ypres to the north, just a bit in from the northern coast 

The area in red is where the truce was observed, for the most part-almost to Ypres in the north and a bit beyond Neuve Chappelle to the south.

The great portion of the Western Front is many times referred to as "No Man's Land." That's the area between trenches where, if you ventured out, you would be shot and killed.

The men fighting were mainly from Great Britain, Germany, and India. They had dug trenches from which to fire at each other.

What is a trench? The best way to think of it is sort of like a tunnel with no roof:

Some trenches could fit only one or two men, some were wider. When poorly dug, or when rain soaked the ground, the trenches could collapse, making it even more miserable to exist in them.

As Christmas approached, the men received packages from home and even from their own armed services which contained treats such as tobacco or cigarettes, candies, sweets, and other treasures they hadn't had for a long time. Townspeople nearby sent blankets and warm clothing for the soldiers.

The Germans thought of a plan: Why not call a truce for a day to celebrate Christmas and take a break from the fighting? At some point they passed a chocolate cake to the British soldiers on the other side of the field with a note asking them for a ceasefire that night at 7:30. The plan was to light candles to indicate that they were all planning to do the same. Candles were placed on parapets of the trenches, and in some cases, small trees were decorated with candles as well.

What's a parapet?  It's the topmost edge of the trench. It might have stones or only sandbags on it. Here is a diagram:

At the appointed time, the German soldiers began singing songs and coming out of their trenches.

Soldiers shared their treats, tried to speak to one another, and sang songs, having a few hours' peace in the midst of their cold, relentless, awful duties.

The truce was observed for quite some distance up and down the front, despite some rumblings from officers who were not in the trenches, saying that fraternization with the enemy was not the intent of war. The protest was not forceful, though, and the celebration continued in some cases for a week, to Boxing Day, which is a week later and observed by the English. In some cases, soldiers took the opportunity to give each other haircuts. In some, the soldiers used the opportunity to bury their dead without fear of being shot at.

What do you think motivated these men to do such a thing? Do you think it could happen today? What if they simply refused to fight anymore?

Here is an excellent article that speaks of the 'romanticized' version of the truce as well as the realistic version:

A music video/Music by Bruce Guthro:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.