Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Christmas Truce of 1914

World War I, you are a British soldier in the infamous Western Front. You left home to serve your king and defend your country. You have endured the unendurable and you wait your fate in a curtain of machine gun fire that will end your life. You wait for the enemy and your commander, whichever comes first to begin what certainly will be your last steps on earth. You peek over the top of the trench and you see a lonely figure walking towards you holding a lampshade. You aim your rifle towards that lonely figure in no-man's land as he... walks slowly towards your trench? You hear Christmas carols in a foreign tongue and you think for a moment... It's Christmas Eve! You slide down your wet trench in mud and disbelief. You take a moment to reflect what you just witnessed and heard.
You are standing up to your knees in the slime of a waterlogged trench. It is the evening of 24 December 1914 and you are on the dreaded Western Front. Stooped over, you wade across to the firing step and take over the watch. Having exchanged pleasantries, your bleary-eyed and mud-spattered colleague shuffles off towards his dug out. Despite the horrors and the hardships, your morale is high and you believe that in the New Year the nation's army march towards a glorious victory. But for now you stamp your feet in a vain attempt to keep warm. All is quiet when jovial voices call out from both friendly and enemy trenches. Then the men from both sides start singing carols and songs. Next come requests not to fire, and soon the unthinkable happens: you start to see the shadowy shapes of soldiers gathering together in no-man's land laughing, joking and sharing gifts. Many have exchanged cigarettes, the lit ends of which burn brightly in the inky darkness. Plucking up your courage, you haul yourself up and out of the trench and walk towards the foe... The meeting of enemies as friends in no-man's land was experienced by hundreds, if not thousands, of men on the Western Front during Christmas 1914...
For a brief moment in the Post-Christian world there was peace. Machine gunfire, cries of mangled men, and artillery pieces go silent. The unthinkable occurs as both sides drop their weapons and what started out as a duel of Christmas carols breaks out in the Christmas Truce of 1914. A soccer game starts out, men start exchanging helmets, and even barrels of beer. Unfortunately the truce never held. Many parts of the Western Front held several variations of the truce. From grimmer episodes to collect fallen comrades to other episodes where not a single shot was fired but no contact was made. By the end of the day the war resumed unceremoniously... well almost...
'At 8.30 I (British) fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with "Merry Christmas" on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He [the Germans] put up a sheet with "Thank you" on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again.'
For a brief moment in late 1914 the last flicker of light shown brightly as the end of Christendom fell to the darker forces of Liberalism which began the Post-Christian world. Man, not God, was the ultimate answer. And thusly through the barrel of the gun the horrors of the 20th century began its road to perdition. To read more about the Christmas Truce of 1914 click here.


The story of the Christmas truce says a lot about the fact that the 1914-1945 period was in many ways not unike a second Thirty Years War or some sort of European Civil War. Even in the bloody clashes of nations and ideologies though, you see the goodness of mankind, both his intrinsic compassion and dignity as he is made in the immage of God, and the beauty and life affirming culture in which these young soldiers grew up, some German soldiers were no doubt Catholic, and maybe a handful of the English ones too, but of course the Anglicanism and Luthernism of 1914 while far from perfect was a lot more sound in terms of morals preached than those denominations claim today. Fine post! I'll respond to your email soon by the way!

EC Gefroh said...

Oh thank you for posting this! It's been a while since I read about the truce.

Unknown said...

FD & Esther,

Thanks for the compliments!

God bless,


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