Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 24, 2011

Christmas Truce of WWI

Filed under: antiwar — louisproyect @ 8:01 pm

 

Christmas truce

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A cross, left near Ypres in Belgium in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce in 1914. The text reads:
1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget.

Christmas truce was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires that took place along the Western Front around Christmas of 1914, during the First World War. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “No man’s land“, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides had also been so friendly as to play games of football with one another.[1]

The truce is seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of modern history. It was not ubiquitous, however; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, whilst in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made. The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but to nothing like the widespread extent seen in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternisation.

The truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and reflected a growing mood of “live and let live“, where infantry units in close proximity to each other would stop overtly aggressive behaviour, and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there would be occasional ceasefires to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead soldiers, whilst in others, there would be a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised, or worked in full view of the enemy. However, the Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation – even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable.

5 Comments »

  1. Glad you posted this as I was thinking of posting a few comments on my FB page. A few weeks ago I found a secondhand copy Malcome Brown and Shirley Brown’s Christmas Truce: The Western Front DEcember 1914, Lodon, Pan Books, 1984 a history of what happened. One can only speculate what would have happened if this had become widespread along the whole front and united action by the troops had stopped the war.

    Comment by Douglas Jordan — December 24, 2011 @ 8:59 pm

  2. You inspired a bit of googling. I especially like the penultimate verse of this:

    “A Carol from Flanders” by Frederick Niven

    In Flanders on the Christmas morn
    The trenched foemen lay,
    the German and the Briton born,
    And it was Christmas Day.

    The red sun rose on fields accurst,
    The gray fog fled away;
    But neither cared to fire the first,
    For it was Christmas Day!

    They called from each to each across
    The hideous disarray,
    For terrible has been their loss:
    “Oh, this is Christmas Day!”

    Their rifles all they set aside,
    One impulse to obey;
    ‘Twas just the men on either side,
    Just men — and Christmas Day.

    They dug the graves for all their dead
    And over them did pray:
    And Englishmen and Germans said:
    “How strange a Christmas Day!”

    Between the trenches then they met,
    Shook hands, and e’en did play
    At games on which their hearts were set
    On happy Christmas Day.

    Not all the emperors and kings,
    Financiers and they
    Who rule us could prevent these things —
    For it was Christmas Day.

    Oh ye who read this truthful rime
    From Flanders, kneel and say:
    God speed the time when every day
    Shall be as Christmas Day.

    Comment by Will Shetterly — December 24, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

  3. Amazing story.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — December 26, 2011 @ 4:07 am

  4. Adolf Hitler on Christmas Truce 1914:
    Such things should not happen in warime. Have you Germans no sense of honor?
    A shit from the start.

    Comment by Douglas Jordan — December 26, 2011 @ 4:55 am

  5. How refreshing to see the word Football used in its proper way by an American!

    Comment by Steve — December 26, 2011 @ 5:16 pm


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