The Christmas Truce

December 1914:  the cold winter was made colder by disappointment and homesickness.  The wind and rain shouted across the plains of France, whipping and biting like harpies.  And when the rain collected in the trenches, the men were forced to stay partly submerged in the freezing water – water poisoned by the corpses lying hidden in its depths.

All that summer, when volunteers marched to meet the acclaim of their fellow citizens and certain death by strangers, experts said that they would be home for Christmas.  This was merely a squabble to occupy one's time during the turgid, frivolous summer, before coming home in time for the holidays.  This was just a bit of healthy exercise.

But dominoes once pushed must fall, and now the Western Front stretched like a livid wound from Switzerland, through France, to end on the Belgian coast before bleeding into the North Sea.

On Christmas Eve, things seemed bleaker than ever.  Fogs swathed the huddled soldiers like a cold breath of despair.

Suddenly, there was a shimmering of light over the German trenches.  British sentries watching for fixed bayonets, instead reported sights of bayonets wrapped with tiny lights lifted above the parapets.  Small fir trees, bearing lit candles, were held high, daring the sniper's fire.  But the night was silent.

Isolated, flickering spots of light were seen all along the Front, in the lifing dusk.  Tremulous reminders of the sacred date; they were a timid sharing of holiday greetings.

German voices were raucous:  'A happy Christmas to you Englishmen!"  And then they were singing:  "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht"  The British retaliated by singing the carol in English.  There was, in fact, a merry volley of carols:  "The First Noel" ricocheted against "O Tannenbaum", "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" was answered with "Adeste Fideles" – as lively as any exchange of bullets.

Battalion leaders ventured into No Man's Land to shake hands.  After this tacit agreement, men from both sides scrambled out to look into the enemy's face and discover a humanity that they never expected to see.

Gifts were exchanged:  tins of bully beef, badges, caps, buttons, chocolate, cigarettes.  Photographs of families and sweethearts were shared – as were the stories, plans and hopes that graced each face like a halo.  Frostbit hands smoothed pictures torn and creased with repeated viewings; small holes in the margins showed where they had been pinned to the dirt walls of the trenches.

Impromptu discussions broke out, small oases of friendship.  Men spoke of their homes, their schools, what they would do when the war ended (the conflict was only four months old, so such a topic could be discussed without derision). 

The Christmas Truce of 1914 ended as it had begun, by mutual agreement.  The men then retired into their homes in the earth, back to living with fear and forgeting the unlikely camaraderie that had flourished so spontaneously.

This Truce is seen as myth, as legend, but most importantly it is seen as the truth.  The memories of that early morning lives with reverence in the memories of those that were there.  

But whatever had been learned during those few hours of companionship would be torn and distorted within the next year.  Poison gas at Ypres.  The slaughter at Gallipoli…history would change everything.  But for the time, the fellowship of a common holiday held sway and the one thing that the soldiers learned about each other was that a terrible mistake had been made.  And now they just wanted to go home.

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11 responses to “The Christmas Truce

  1. And now they just wanted to go home.
    We all do, Aubs. We all do.

    Thank you for telling this story; it was made even better by your literary virtuosity.

  2. Seems I have heard a similar story. Hope it is true. So sad.

  3. Lemme at the very outset Thank you for this Christmas Truce of 1914 story. Hope it's true, but doesn't really matter whether it's actually true .. it's good indeed. I'm Michael and am really excited about spreading the fragrance of love, hope and friendship wishes this Christmas. Wishing you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance.

  4. Beautiful post, Aubrey. This impromptu truce apparently happened at several points on the front line. The movie, Joyeux Noël (also known as 'Merry Christmas' in the US) is a dramatization of one such occurrence. I cried buckets and highly recommend that film.

  5. It doesn't really matter if it happened, like you said, it is still True. God bless us, every one.

  6. I saw that movie last year and liked it. I didn't cry buckets, but I did get a bit teary-eyed in places. I second the recommendation.

  7. Wow. That gave me goosebumps, Aubrey. Damn.Thanks so much for posting this. And as always, your words are beautiful, Aubrey.Happy Holidays my friend. &:o)

  8. What a wonderful post, Aubrey. I had never heard about this, but it makes my heart soar. Thank you for sharing it. Happy Holidays!!

  9. This is so beautiful that i'm speechless. Excellent!

  10. I've heard a story like this one before and it is incredibly touching, especially in your telling of it. Thank you for sharing it.

  11. The truce has been built up, shot down, romanticised and scrutinized. But when all is said and done it most definately Did Happen. As W. Queen Whom I Will Never Believe Is Evil said, this type of fraternization happened all along the front – even in Russia. I don't know when I first heard the story, but I do remember being impossibly moved.
    Sometimes it's good to cry buckets. Or even to get a little teary-eyed.

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