The Christmas Truce of 1914Eileen Wittig | December 30, 2014
One hundred years and five days ago, the famous Christmas Truce of the First World War occurred. Because of its centennial this year a lot has been said about it, but since it is still the Christmas octave and there is still violence in the world, it bears repeating.
On December 24, 1914 in France, the soldiers of Britain in their trenches faced the soldiers of Germany in their trenches, all of them wet and cold. That evening, the Germans sent the British a chocolate cake and a note, asking for a ceasefire so they could have a concert. The British replied with tobacco and a note agreeing to a temporary armistice. The next morning, the famous Truce unfolded:
“On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy [the Germans] had stuck up a similar one […] Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench. […]
During the whole of Boxing Day [December 26] we never fired a shot, and they the same, each ] side seemed to be waiting for the other to set the ball a-rolling. […] We were conversing off and on during the whole of the day.”
The brigade that relieved the British there that evening reported that similar events had happened all down the line of trenches. For one troop, it began with singing. On Christmas Eve, Private Edgar Aplin began to sing a popular song of the day. When he finished, Germans across the trenches called out to him in to sing it again. He did, with other British soldiers joining in. After the singing had ended, they and the Germans began a shouting conversation. At dusk the British suggested each side send a man to meet in the no-man’s land between the trenches, and the Germans agreed. Private Aplin wrote home about what happened, saying,
“So, advancing towards each other, each carrying a torch, when they met, they exchanged cigarettes and ‘lit up’. The cheering on both sides was tremendous, and I shall never forget it. After a little while, several others went out, and a pal of mine met an officer who said that if we did not shoot for 48 hours, they wouldn’t. And they were as good as their word, too. On Christmas Day, we were nearly all out of the trenches. It was almost impossible to describe the day as it appeared to us here and I can tell you, we all enjoyed the peaceful time.”
In a Wall Street Journal article on the Christmas Truce, Robert M. Sapolsky brought up the point that, although nothing like the Truce of 1914 happened during World War II, there is something similar ensuing now that the war is over. Veterans from both sides are paying their respects to all the fallen, regardless of what side they fought on. Some veterans are even meeting with those they fought against.
In our own time of ISIS and Al Qaeda it is incredibly difficult for us to imagine a truce like that of 1914 occurring in our current wars, or even the active forgiveness of WWII happening years after the fact. But there is no one who says that the Christmas Truce was not an amazing, admirable, beautiful thing, and hopefully that feeling carries over so that we can implement it ourselves later, when we heal enough to have a chance.