Remembering The Christmas Truce

As 2009 comes to a close, many of us are probably feeling some degree of relief. It has been, by all accounts, a challenging year. I know that our family, friends, and clients have spent considerable time dealing with the stress of economic, military, and other challenges. We all know someone out of work. We have all read about the conflicts that are continuing in multiple arenas. Emotions have been running high – and the challenges we all face, regardless of position or wealth, remain enormous.

This holiday season, our team is focusing on looking forward to a better 2010 for our clients and personal relationships. It is our wish that all of us can collaborate on things that will help us see these challenging times through – and will ultimately lead to a better future for those we love and care for. Regardless of religion, ethnicity, employment or political affiliation, there is plenty of common ground on which we can stand together.

Nearly 100 years ago, the world was at war. In 1914, the British and French were engaged in what would soon be outdated combat with the German army. The loss of life was beyond comprehension, and the most tragic battles were still to come. Yet, something remarkable happened at Christmas in 1914.

photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In many places, beginning on Christmas Eve, enemies and combatants stopped fighting. It is now historically referred to as, “The Christmas Truce.”

In the Ypres area of Belgium, Germans and British soldiers were hunkered down in trenches just hundreds of feet from one another. During the early evening, Germans began decorating their trenches. They put candles in trees and began singing Christmas carols. As their voices carried across the battlefield, the British were amazed to hear “Still Nacht” (Silent Night). The British responded with their own rendition of the much-loved song.

Singing escalated into holiday greetings shouted across the “no man’s land” of the battlefield. And shortly thereafter, soldiers from both sides climbed out of their trenches, walked exposed and without shelter into the night and began to greet their “enemies” with handshakes and in fact, gifts. Whiskey, bread, jam, chocolate and cigars were traded, along with more song.

The truce spread along the lines. Wounded soldiers left on the battlefield earlier in the day were rescued and removed to have their wounds treated. And the dead were buried. Proper burials for soldiers on both sides were performed, and both sides stood, side by side, to pay their respects.

It has been reported that on that Christmas day – December the Twenty Fifth, Nineteen Hundred and Fourteen, instead of firing bullets and shells at one another, the British and Germans played football. Apparently, there were many matches played all along the lines, and more food, song, and drink were shared. So too were addresses, as many soldiers befriended those they were shooting at just days before – and promises were made to visit once the war was over.

Although there is no concrete evidence to support the length of the truce, some written reports indicate the cessation of hostilities lasted until New Year’s Day.

The following year, a similar truce occurred, this time between French and German troops. A repeat of the previous year’s truce took hold in some places, and in fact, through to the end of the war, soldiers collaborated in multiple areas with informal armistice agreements. While the politicians and senior commanders were continuing to plot war, the combatants were plotting peace.

An unknown British soldier wrote home about the truce, and in part, his letter reads:

This will be the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don’t think there’s been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned a very clear frost moonlight night, so soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs. The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us, wishing us a Happy Christmas etc. They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party. Several of them can speak English very well so we had a few conversations. Some of our chaps went to over to their lines. I think they’ve all come back bar one from ‘E’ Co. They no doubt kept him as a souvenir.

I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I’ve also got a button off one of their tunics. We also exchanged smokes etc. and had a decent chat. They say they won’t fire tomorrow if we don’t so I suppose we shall get a bit of a holiday… perhaps. After exchanging autographs and them wishing us a Happy New Year we departed and came back and had our dinner.

We can hardly believe that we’ve been firing at them for the last week or two. It all seems so strange. At present its freezing hard and everything is covered with ice…

And so, in this new century, with new challenges and obstacles to overcome, I would like to wish you the happiest of times possible. Reach out and find someone in need of a smile, and share something festive with them. Their smile will certainly be contagious and hopefully we can all enjoy the holidays together. And may 2010 bring you new prosperity, hope, and good health.

Kind regards,
David Barrett & everyone at R|com Creative!

P.S. If the Christmas Truce is of some continuing interest to you, the “Truce” is dramatized in the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël (nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film category at the 78th Academy Awards). The Christmas Truce was also briefly portrayed in Richard Attenborough’s 1969 film Oh What a Lovely War.

A number of books have been written on the Christmas Truce, including Stanley Weintraub ‘s Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, which chronicles the event itself from first hand accounts.

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