Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Christmas Truce of 1914

I was reminded of The Christmas Truce of 1914 a few weeks ago, when I came across this article on the passing of the last witness to this unique event.

This has sparked my interest in finding other resources about this event. Really, someone ought to write a picture book about it.

As Sara mentioned in the comments from my post on Studeo, The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy does include the Christmas truce in part of the story, although I believe this is a different one on the Russian front (and possibly a different year)...

"We crept out into the snow, countless silent dark shapes against the whiteness, and ran to the sunken road which lay between our lines and the mountainside where the Russian trenches were. Shells screamed overhead and burst behind us, drowning out all noise we might have made, and when we reached the road, whispered orders from the Captain scurried down the line like mice: 'Advance along the road. Don't dare make a sound or strike a light.'

"We tramped in knee-deep snow, skirting the friendly hillside that sheltered us from the fire, stealing toward the Russians. And then, just ahead of me I saw a boy kneel i the snow before a wayside crucifix and light a candle. It flickered in the still air, casting a feeble light on the image of Christ above it. 'Oh, Lord,' the man next to me sighed, reaching into his knapsack for a candle. Others had seen the glowing light, and as I looked around I saw that more and more candles were lighted all around. A whisper spread, like the order from the Captain from mouth to mouth, only this was not an order from the Captain. 'Light a candle for Christmas Eve,' men whispered and their very words seemed to turn into tiny stars as dozens and dozens, then hundreds of candles came forth from the knapsacks to be lighted and stuck in the snow. The hillside now was one glow of light and the crucifix was bright with an unearthly brightness. We were a target for the Russian guns, but we never gave it a thought. For a little while we were lost in prayer, until one of the men cried: 'They have stopped firing. Look!'

"Across the valley, on the hillside where the Russians were entrenched, a few small flames began to tremble, then more and more. Candles, hundreds of them, thousands, one for every gun that was now silent. Around me men began to sing 'Holy Night, Silent Night,' and from across the valley the song came back to us a thousandfold. Behind the lines so facing each other, the guns had ceased to roar and no more shells were screaming between men and the stars. Perhaps the Christ Child had walked between the lines and while He walked, peace had stayed the guns."
Here are some more things I dug up:
An Illustrated History of the First World War by John Keegan has this little tidbit in a photo caption of some soldiers from both sides smiling and smoking together:

"The Christmas Truce, 1914, Early on the morning of Christmas Day, the Germans in the line opposite the British, between Ypres ad Messines, began to sing Christmas carols and display Christmas trees on their parapet. Germans then came forward into no-man's-land and proposed a break in the fighting. Parties from both sides began to mingle, to exchange tobacco and drinks, to sing together and, in one place, to organise a football match. They also agreed to allow burial of the dead in no-man's land. The truce persisted the following day and in places for some days afterwards but the high command on both sides disapproved and took measures to stop the fraternisation. There was none on the French front. In this photograph Private turner, of the London Rifle Brigade, a recently arrived Territorial regiment, stands behind two German officers, one of whom wears the ribbon of the Iron Cross."

"The Christmas Truce" by Simon Rees
Snopes - Urban Legends Page (this one does pan out as "True"!)
"The Christmas Truce" adopted from the book Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton
As always, I love to hear of additional resources others have enjoyed.

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