|Feature Article (Page 1)|
The True Story Of A Christmas Truce On The Battlefield-1914
–byGeorge Bonin Sr.
(Columnist Note: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most remarkable incidents of World War 1, and perhaps of all military history.
Starting in some places on Christmas Eve and in others on Christmas Day, the truce covered as much as two-thirds of the British-German front, with thousands of soldiers on both side taking part. Perhaps most remarkably, it grew out of no single initiative, but sprang up in each place spontaneously and independently. I am quite certain that this amicable assembly of enemies would not be repeated in Iraq this Christmas!)
“To properly understand how this could come about on a battlefield saturated with the blood of both German and British forces, one must realize that the Prussian soldiers were basically Christian, and in the spirit of Christmas, started by German soldiers missing being home with their loved ones, and also found the same sentiments by weary British troops.
The Christmas Truce of the Great War in 1914 was started by a “peace movement” of German soldiers who won over their trench-bound British foes by lobbing chocolate cake at them instead of hand grenades.
A new German book, written from the German perspective has been welcomed, not least because it helped to dispel the stereotype of the German soldier as a ruthless fighting machine. It’s about German front line soldiers not obeying orders and making peace by leaving their weapons behind.
The actions of those soldiers in 1914, can be compared to those of the country’s peace movement opposing the Iraq war. There were not merely one or two incidents of peace on the Western Front in 1914;in reality there was a spontaneous peace movement which ran for hundreds of miles and thousands on both sides took part. The German soldiers began preparing for the truce well in advance. Several days before Christmas, soldiers from a Saxon regiment lobbed a carefully packed chocolate cake across no-mans land into the British trenches. A message was attached asking about holding a one-hour cease-fire that evening might be possible, so that the troops could celebrate their captain’s birthday.
The British stopped firing and stood on their trench parapets and applauded as a German band struck up a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Thousands of Christmas trees had been delivered to the Germans as morale builders, and helped to bring about the ceasefire. There was tremendous illumination along the trench parapets as the trees were lit with burning candles.
What followed was a bout of unprecedented fraternization between enemy forces that has never been repeated on an equivalent scale; German Fritzes bearing candles, chunks of cake and cigars, met British Tommies carrying cigarettes and Christmas pudding into no-man’s land. The two sides exchanged presents, sang “Silent Night” in English, and “Stille Nicht” in German, and played football (soccer), using tin cans for makeshift balls and spiked Pickelhaube helmets for goalposts.
The Germans were able to take the initiative because many had been in Britain as “guest workers” before the war and , unlike most of the British, had a command of the enemy’s language.
Guns on both sides were silenced. The Germans donated barrels of beer, and the British donated quantities of plum pudding Several stray cattle were slaughtered for a feast. And yes, the Germans trounced the British in a soccer game.
Among the many stories told in later years was one about an insignificant Corporal by the name of Adolph Hitler, who was well behind the front line with a group in reserve in the basement of a monastery. He had no gifts like the others, and sulked over the truce. I wonder if the world would have been different if he had not survived?
Eventually, the day darkened and the men drifted back into their trenches. By then, the officers were implementing orders from higher-ups, and shooting began again usually over the heads of the enemy.
Eventually, though, the carnage began to mount. In the forty-eight months that remained in the war, approximately, 6,000 men died every day, many from the chlorine gas that each side used. There were a few attempts at truces or cease-fires on other occasions, but nothing materialized.
This Christmas, our troops have enemies of different religious persuasions facing them, and I seriously doubt that the heart-warming truce of 1914 will be repeated! It would take a miracle pray for that miracle!
Note: About the author:
George Bonin is a columnist for The Pawtucket Times and as this is written, has authored about 1500 columns, has written a column in the Free Press in North Attleborough, Massachusetts for 16 years,and still writing at age 88. Mr. Bonin is also Senior Staff Writer for Catholic Reflections Magazine.
used with kind permission from the author. Copyright George Bonin Sr. http://home.thirdage.com/Writing/scriberg85/ all rights reserved by the author
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