On Christmas Eve of 1914 German soldiers started to decorate the areas surrounding their trenches. They lit candles and displayed handheld ‘Christmas tree’ branches. Then came carols came drifting across No Man’s Land and a white flag was raised. It was unthinkable, yet on this extraordinary occasion 100,000 men of war put their weapons down and remembered their brotherhood. They told jokes, exchanged stories, buried their dead, smoked, drank, shared photographs, gave gifts, swapped rations and in a few areas, games of football took place.
Henry Williamson, a nineteen year old private in the London Rifle Brigade, wrote to his mother on Boxing Day:
“Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Christmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?”
Last weekend I attended ‘The Christmas Truce’ musical evening at the church I go to
, where we watched video presentations, heard letters and poems and sang along to the likes of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ and ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’. Then with our trip to Berlin, the Sainsbury’s advert and currently reading ‘The Book Thief’, I’ve felt so full and moved by everything.
We won’t ever get to have a Christmas truce like those men in 1914, but almost a century on, ‘The Christmas Truce of 1914’ can serve as a reminder of the light in humanity that can come; in the darkest of times.
What men, and how truly remarkable.