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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Christmas truce of 1914

The Christmas truce of 1914

Informal truces and small armistices have often taken place during prolonged periods of fighting … the military history of the last two centuries, abounds with incidents of friendship between enemies. The fact that these events occur are assurances, for all of us, that man is, in his inner most being, a creature of compassion and peace.

In the Peninsula War British and French Troops at times visited each others lines, drew water at the same wells and even sat around the same campfire. In the Crimean War British, French and Russians at quiet times also gathered around the same fire, smoking and drinking. In the American Civil War Yankees and Rebels traded tobacco, coffee and newspapers, fished peacefully on opposite sides of the same stream and even collected wild blackberries together. Similar stories are told of the Boer War, in which on one occasion, during a conference of commanders, the rank and file of both sides engaged in a friendly game of football.

The Christmas truce of 1914 does not stand alone; on the other hand it is undoubtedly the greatest example of its kind… in which thousands of soldiers English, French, Belgian and German at the fifth month of the savage 52 month World War I…left their trenches and joined together in no man’s land to celebrate Christmas together….

A Christmas Truce - by Kevin Radcliffe

On the frozen fields of Flanders, one cold December night,
Across the field of battle, all was very calm and bright.
As the stars shone down upon, each opposing side,
Crouching in the trenches, between No Man's Land divide.

It was Christmas in the trenches, no yuletide carols were sung,
As men huddled in their fox holes, brushing off the frost that clung.
Then a young German voice, from across the great divide,
Sang the carol "Stille Nacht" known throughout the worldwide.

As soon as he was finished, there was a reverent pause,
Then cheers broke out on both sides with tremendous applause.
"God rest ye merry Gentlemen" sang a young British boy,
And both sides joined in chorus with "Tidings of Great Joy."

Suddenly there appeared upon the plain so bright
The figure of a German lad, holding a truce flag tight.
Singly from the trenches, men walked into No Man's Land
Without guns and ammunition, they met there hand to hand.

Exchanged chocolate, cigarettes, scotch and cognac
Showed photographs of home, slapped each other on the back.
Played a game of soccer, on the field so bright.
After that talked "peace on earth" under the starlit night.

On frozen Flanders' fields, as the dawn broke through,
Men met in the middle of No Man's Land, to bid a sad adieu.
As they walked back to the trenches, they waved a last farewell
And thought about the weeks ahead, when the going would be hell!

It's Christmas Day in Flanders, as the snow lies on the ground
A grey haired German mother kneels amid crosses all around.
She prays for her young son Hans, who held that truce flag tight,
On the frozen fields of Flanders, on that cold December night.