Many World War I veterans remembered similar truces in 1915, despite the disapproval of commanders from both sides. It was argued the men should not interact, as that would just make it harder to fight against their enemy. While this is logical from a military viewpoint, it also reveals a basic solution to even the simplest disagreements; honest communication and conversations.
December 21, 2017
Soldiers huddled in their trenches as the sun disappeared and temperatures fell close to freezing. With wet, cold hands, they carefully opened precious packages and letters they received from family. Treasures of home, such as candy, cookies, chocolate, cigarettes, clothing, pictures, and loving notes, erased the distance if only for a moment.
Europeans from Germany, Great Britain and France had only been at war for just a few months, yet the soldiers were already becoming war weary from one of the bloodiest conflicts yet. The first Christmas Eve away at war, Germans and Britains on the Western Front sought confirmation that someday peace would return, if only for a moment.
Out of the darkness, harmonizing voices rose above the muddy, uncomfortable trenches as German soldiers celebrated the holy night with carols and hymns. At first, the British suspected a trick. Before long, they realized the spirit of the moment and began to sing along. After one side finished a treasured piece, the other side would reciprocate.
“Then both our men and the Germans started signing hymns together. The same thing carried on nearly all night, and there was a sharp frost to make things look better.” - Corporal A. Wyatt
“It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and about 7 or 8 in the evening there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there were these lights -I don't know what they were. And then they sang ‘Silent Night’ – ‘Stille Nacht.’ I shall never forget it, it was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, what a beautiful tune.” - Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment
“Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air! … 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 Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” - Rifleman Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade
Throughout the evening, soldiers found comfort and joy in the words of the Christmas anthems rejoicing in the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. With each hymn, they were reassured of hope and peace, if only for a moment.
As the sun rose on Christmas morning, the union in Christ still lingered in the crisp, calm air. Feeling the Christmas spirit, one brave sole climbed out of his trench, recognizing it as nothing more than a grave for the living, holding his empty hands high. Cautious, yet curious, the enemy watched in interest and refrained from firing. Then, one by one, men from both sides exited the safety of their hiding places and approached each other. Each one stepping out of their crypt and into the comfort offered only in Christ. Men terrified of death met in “No Man’s Land,” and found life and humanity, if only for a moment.
Along the Western Front, Corporal A. Wyatt described his experience as, “On Christmas morning, it was very thick, and we could not see far in front of us till about midday. Then we heard the Germans shouting, ‘Come over here, we will not fire!’ They got out of their trenches and started walking about on the top. Our chaps, seeing them, did the same. Then all at once came the surprise. The Germans started walking towards our trenches, and two or three of our chaps went out to meet them. When they met, the Germans, speaking in English, wished them a Merry Christmas.”
Greeting each other with smiles and handshakes, soldiers exchanged pictures, holiday goodies, and cigarettes, replacing aggression and bloodshed with gestures of good will. Soon several men began kicking a ball around in a lighthearted game of English football, turning mortal enemies into lively opponents, if only for a moment.
“Then came the fun. Everybody on each side walked out to the middle of the two firing lines, and shaking hands wished each other a Merry Christmas. To our surprise we found we were fighting men old enough to be our fathers, and they told us they had had enough of the war, as they were nearly all married men. We finished up in the same old way, kicking a football about between the two firing lines. So football in the firing line between the British and Germans is the truth, as I was one that played.” - Corporal Wyatt
While some relished in rest and recreation, others took advantage of the unique opportunity of suspended hostilities, utilizing the ceasefire to bury their fallen brothers in arms who still laid in “No Man’s Land.” Several soldiers even assisted their rivals, as they were not adversaries, but fellow human beings, if only for a moment.
Pope Benedict XV had called for a Christmas truce on December 7, 1914, yet military leaders were unable, or unwilling, to reach an agreement. However, we should never have to wait for leadership or government to approve an act of humanity or endorse doing the right thing. Thankfully, the soldiers on that fateful Christmas of 1914 realized that. Enemy officers throughout the Western Front made agreements for local ceasefires. However, some soldiers, believing they too were under a truce, exited their trenches only to be greeted with gunfire instead of friendship. Not all units were blessed with the miraculous Christmas peace.
Over the years, many have paid tribute to this historical event through music and other media.
IF ONLY FOR A MOMENT
In the music video for his 1983 hit “Pipes of Peace,” Paul McCartney saluted the 1914 Christmas Truce, including the good will gestures and impromptu football game. McCartney implores the listener, "Won't you show me how to play the Pipes of Peace?" On that memberable Christmas morning, the soldiers did just that, beginning with caroles of the birth of our Lord and Savior.
Country great, Garth Brooks, tenderly retold the story in his 1998 release “Belleau Wood.” (left)
Even the UK-based company, Sainsbury’s, commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 truce in a 2014 commercial. (below)
The Irish group, Celtic Thunder, commemorated the 1915 truce in their song, “Christmas 1915,” Their emotional portrayal of that day perfectly crystalizes the feelings of what the soldiers must have experienced, before again reminding us of the realities of war.
As the war waged on, becoming more bloody and deadly, bitterness swelled as kindness and compassion disintegrated. It became inconceivable, and for many impossible, to put aside such animosity, even if only for a moment.
This year (2017) marks the 100th Anniversary of America entering World War I, which began in August of 2014. Democrat President Woodrow Wilson maintained America’s neutrality (see ), as per the Monroe Doctrine (see ), during the first Christmas of the war. Fortunately our boys only had to experience the Christmas of 1917 at war as hostilities ended on November 11, 1918. (see and )
Liberty, people today wonder why there is so much anger and hatred in the world. The answer is very simple. Back in a time before political correctness and before the culture forced God out of schools, even non-religious people still honored the birth of Christ at Christmas. They understood the reverence of the event and the meaning behind the day. Because of that, and before the effects of war truly tainted their souls, soldiers were able to put down their guard and lift up their spirits. Unfortunately, as with every other country, America is now reaping what it has sown over the past century. We have lost the foundation of the Bible and with that goes the benefits of peace. We have lost our humanity because we have rejected the knowledge of recognizing we are children of God. Now, humanists want to generate that understanding through the government and legislation, but compassion can not be manufactured. It has to be cultivated. (see )
Always remember, Liberty, that underneath, no matter our race, creed, color, or nationality, our hearts all break, our tears are all wet and our blood all runs red. As children of God, we are all family.
This Christmas, I pray Americans can find the strength to put our political opinions and agendas aside. For one day, I pray we can show we still have a little humanity left in our partisan hearts.
America, let’s not lose the true meaning of Christmas because of our own, personal wars. Go outside for a friendly game of football. Share photos of loved ones as well as your favorite Christmas treats. Even if it's just to prove to ourselves we still have a soul, if only for a moment.
That’s my 2 cents.