The Christmas Truce

A most inspiring story told by Aaron Shepard, in a letter format, that I wanted to share for the season but holds a lesson of suspending our hostilities towards each other in our everyday lives.    I may make this posting a yearly tradition.  Happy Holidays to all.  Love, Gayle
By Aaron Shepard AS@AARONSHEP.COM
 
Copyright (c) 2001, 2003 by Aaron Shepard. May be freely copied and
shared for any noncommercial purpose, but please do not omit any text,
including this notice.
 
ABOUT THE STORY: The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most
remarkable incidents of World War I 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 taking part. Perhaps
most remarkably, it grew out of no single initiative but sprang up in
each place spontaneously and independently.
 
Nearly everything described here is drawn from first-hand accounts in
letters and diaries of the time. Britishisms include using “Nowell”
instead of “Noel,” and “football” instead of “soccer.” Visit my home
page at http://www.aaronshep.com to learn more about the story, get a
copy in Web format, find a reader’s theater script version, read more
stories, or contact the author.
— Aaron
A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, to celebrate the site of the Christmas Truce during the First World War in 1914. The text reads: 1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget
A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, t...

Image via Wikipedia

____________________________________________
Christmas Day, 1914
 
My dear sister Janet,
 
It is 2:00 in the morning and most of our men are asleep in their
dugouts — yet I could not sleep myself before writing to you of the
wonderful events of Christmas Eve. In truth, what happened seems
almost like a fairy tale, and if I hadn’t been through it myself, I
would scarce believe it. Just imagine: While you and the family sang
carols before the fire there in London, I did the same with enemy
soldiers here on the battlefields of France!
 
As I wrote before, there has been little serious fighting of late. The
first battles of the war left so many dead that both sides have held
back until replacements could come from home. So we have mostly stayed
in our trenches and waited.
 
But what a terrible waiting it has been! Knowing that any moment an
artillery shell might land and explode beside us in the trench,
killing or maiming several men. And in daylight not daring to lift our
heads above ground, for fear of a sniper’s bullet.
 
And the rain — it has fallen almost daily. Of course, it collects
right in our trenches, where we must bail it out with pots and pans.
And with the rain has come mud — a good foot or more deep. It
splatters and cakes everything, and constantly sucks at our boots. One
new recruit got his feet stuck in it, and then his hands too when he
tried to get out — just like in that American story of the tar baby!
Through all this, we couldn’t help feeling curious about the German
soldiers across the way. After all, they faced the same dangers we
did, and slogged about in the same muck. What’s more, their first
trench was only 50 yards from ours. Between us lay No Man’s Land,
bordered on both sides by barbed wire — yet they were close enough we
sometimes heard their voices.
 
Of course, we hated them when they killed our friends. But other
times, we joked about them and almost felt we had something in common.
And now it seems they felt the same.
 
Just yesterday morning — Christmas Eve Day — we had our first good
freeze. Cold as we were, we welcomed it, because at least the mud
froze solid. Everything was tinged white with frost, while a bright
sun shone over all. Perfect Christmas weather.
 
During the day, there was little shelling or rifle fire from either
side. And as darkness fell on our Christmas Eve, the shooting stopped
entirely. Our first complete silence in months! We hoped it might
promise a peaceful holiday, but we didn’t count on it. We’d been told
the Germans might attack and try to catch us off guard.
 
I went to the dugout to rest, and lying on my cot, I must have drifted
asleep. All at once my friend John was shaking me awake, saying, “Come
and see! See what the Germans are doing!” I grabbed my rifle, stumbled
out into the trench, and stuck my head cautiously above the sandbags.
I never hope to see a stranger and more lovely sight. Clusters of tiny
lights were shining all along the German line, left and right as far
as the eye could see.
 
“What is it?” I asked in bewilderment, and John answered, “Christmas
trees!”
 
And so it was. The Germans had placed Christmas trees in front of
their trenches, lit by candle or lantern like beacons of good will.
 
And then we heard their voices raised in song.
 
“Stille nacht, heilige nacht….”
 
This carol may not yet be familiar to us in Britain, but John knew it
and translated: “Silent night, holy night.” I’ve never heard one
lovelier — or more meaningful, in that quiet, clear night, its dark
softened by a first-quarter moon.
 
When the song finished, the men in our trenches applauded. Yes,
British soldiers applauding Germans! Then one of our own men started
singing, and we all joined in.
 
“The first Nowell, the angel did say….”
 
In truth, we sounded not nearly as good as the Germans, with their
fine harmonies. But they responded with enthusiastic applause of their
own and then began another.
 
“O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum….”
 
Then we replied.
 
“O come all ye faithful….”
 
But this time they joined in, singing the same words in Latin.
“Adeste fideles….”
 
British and German harmonizing across No Man’s Land! I would have
thought nothing could be more amazing — but what came next was more
so.
 
“English, come over!” we heard one of them shout. “You no shoot, we no
shoot.”
 
There in the trenches, we looked at each other in bewilderment. Then
one of us shouted jokingly, “You come over here.”
 
To our astonishment, we saw two figures rise from the trench, climb
over their barbed wire, and advance unprotected across No Man’s Land.
One of them called, “Send officer to talk.”
 
I saw one of our men lift his rifle to the ready, and no doubt others
did the same — but our captain called out, “Hold your fire.” Then he
climbed out and went to meet the Germans halfway. We heard them
talking, and a few minutes later, the captain came back with a German
cigar in his mouth!
 
“We’ve agreed there will be no shooting before midnight tomorrow,” he
announced. “But sentries are to remain on duty, and the rest of you,
stay alert.”
 
Across the way, we could make out groups of two or three men starting
out of trenches and coming toward us. Then some of us were climbing
out too, and in minutes more, there we were in No Man’s Land, over a
hundred soldiers and officers of each side, shaking hands with men
we’d been trying to kill just hours earlier!
 
Before long a bonfire was built, and around it we mingled — British
khaki and German grey. I must say, the Germans were the better
dressed, with fresh uniforms for the holiday.
 
Only a couple of our men knew German, but more of the Germans knew
English. I asked one of them why that was.
 
“Because many have worked in England!” he said. “Before all this, I
was a waiter at the Hotel Cecil. Perhaps I waited on your table!”
 
“Perhaps you did!” I said, laughing.
 
He told me he had a girlfriend in London and that the war had
interrupted their plans for marriage. I told him, “Don’t worry. We’ll
have you beat by Easter, then you can come back and marry the girl.”
He laughed at that. Then he asked if I’d send her a postcard he’d give
me later, and I promised I would.
 
Another German had been a porter at Victoria Station. He showed me a
picture of his family back in Munich. His eldest sister was so lovely,
I said I should like to meet her someday. He beamed and said he would
like that very much and gave me his family’s address.
 
Even those who could not converse could still exchange gifts — our
cigarettes for their cigars, our tea for their coffee, our corned beef
for their sausage. Badges and buttons from uniforms changed owners,
and one of our lads walked off with the infamous spiked helmet! I
myself traded a jackknife for a leather equipment belt — a fine
souvenir to show when I get home.
 
Newspapers too changed hands, and the Germans howled with laughter at
ours. They assured us that France was finished and Russia nearly
beaten too. We told them that was nonsense, and one of them said,
“Well, you believe your newspapers and we’ll believe ours.”
 
Clearly they are lied to — yet after meeting these men, I wonder how
truthful our own newspapers have been. These are not the “savage
barbarians” we’ve read so much about. They are men with homes and
families, hopes and fears, principles and, yes, love of country. In
other words, men like ourselves. Why are we led to believe otherwise?
As it grew late, a few more songs were traded around the fire, and
then all joined in for — I am not lying to you — “Auld Lang Syne.”
Then we parted with promises to meet again tomorrow, and even some
talk of a football match.
 
I was just starting back to the trenches when an older German clutched
my arm. “My God,” he said, “why cannot we have peace and all go home?”
I told him gently, “That you must ask your emperor.”
 
He looked at me then, searchingly. “Perhaps, my friend. But also we
must ask our hearts.”
 
And so, dear sister, tell me, has there ever been such a Christmas Eve
in all history? And what does it all mean, this impossible befriending
of enemies?
 
For the fighting here, of course, it means regrettably little. Decent
fellows those soldiers may be, but they follow orders and we do the
same. Besides, we are here to stop their army and send it home, and
never could we shirk that duty.
 
Still, one cannot help imagine what would happen if the spirit shown
here were caught by the nations of the world. Of course, disputes must
always arise. But what if our leaders were to offer well wishes in
place of warnings? Songs in place of slurs? Presents in place of
reprisals? Would not all war end at once?
 
All nations say they want peace. Yet on this Christmas morning, I
wonder if we want it quite enough.
 
Your loving brother,
 
Tom 
Sharing this with Amy (Soul Dipper) for her Occupy Blogosphere for December 20, 2012:  http://souldipper.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/occupy-blogosphere-thursday-december-20-2012/
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21 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful story, Gayle! Thank you for sharing. I saw a movie a year or so ago called ‘Joyeux Noel’ (French, 2005-2006) which is similiar to this storyline and message. I highly recommend it:(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/)

    Like

    Reply
    • Thanks for the movie tip…I’m always looking for interesting stories to watch.

      I loved this one too. My brother emailed it to me…I got goosebumps!

      Like

      Reply
  2. I’d heard about this before but never read the details. I’ve got the chills. Just beautiful, Gayle.

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  3. I had read of this truce years ago – but it never grow tired of reading and praying for similar events to occur in these times. Thank you for sharing so more can know of it. Trust your Christmas was blessed and wishing you a wondrous New Year! Namaste ~~

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    Reply
    • Namaste, Becca!

      This story just blew me away…I know it must have changed the men that participated in this exchange with their “enemies”.

      Had a lovely Christmas day with family and hope you had a nice one too, Becca. May your New Year be blessed with peace, joy and prosperity, my friend. xo

      Like

      Reply
  4. Androgoth

     /  December 27, 2011

    A very nice offering, remembering
    that even during War there can be
    a touch of humanity…

    Have a lovely rest of holiday time
    Gayle and be good too, if you can 🙂

    Androgoth XXx

    Like

    Reply
    • Isn’t it an amazing story…I didn’t know about this. Yes, humanity in the middle of war…I’m sure it happens quite a bit actually.

      Had a lovely Christmas day with family and I hope your day was a nice one too, Androgoth. I’m being very good…so far. 😉

      Hugs,
      Gayle

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      Reply
  5. Peace and Good Will towards fellow man .. lovely story …
    in keeping with the holiday message.
    Pleased you enjoyed your family for Christmas
    may 2012 be filled with all the wonders that life can bring.
    Blessings and Namaste,
    Izzy xoxoxo

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  6. My goodness, Gayle. What a find! Thank you so very, very much for sharing it here. I’ve read it twice … my favorite ever Christmas story. I will reblog to pass the sentiment and link it back to you.

    In metta for the holidays and always,
    Jamie

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    Reply
    • It was an easy find, Jamie…one of my brothers emailed it to me. I told him I was putting it up on my blog. I’ve re-read it myself several times…my favorite Christmas story too. Yes, please do re-blog it.

      Blessings for you,
      Gayle

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      Reply
  7. nice..i have heard the tale before…this is so appropriate for the holiday….thank you for sharing it…excellent..hope you are having a great holiday season…smiles.

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    Reply
    • So appropriate for the holidays and onward…it’s so inspiring to me. Having a very mellow holiday, Brian, hope you’re enjoying yours too.

      Like

      Reply
  8. Being a bit of a history buff myself, I had heard this story before and there’s quite a lot about it on various websites online. There’s also some videos at Youtube too. If you do a search for WW1 and Christmas Truce.. They also covered it well in the British movie ‘Oh what a lovely war’ They actually showed them playing football on Christmas day too. Apparently, they had to transfer some of the soldiers afterward because they couldn’t shoot and kill men they had met and made friends with. Amazing.
    Enjoyed this read very much, and thanks for your comments. Appreciated. Happy new year.

    Like

    Reply
    • Thanks for the information. You know, I was wondering about that very thing…how could those soldiers face each other the next day or so and be expected to continue the killing. I didn’t know how they could. Will look up the movie you referenced…thanks so much for your visit and thoughtful comments.

      Happy New Year!

      Like

      Reply
  9. Just read this on Jamie’s blog, Gayle and glad you both posted it. It warmed my heart and I’ll never forget this story. Thank you!

    Like

    Reply
    • I was very happy that Jamie wanted to re-blog this. The more people see this, the better. I’ll never forget this story either, Leslie. So glad you came by.

      Happy New Year! xo

      Like

      Reply
  10. I had heard about this story before, but the letter really…I don’t know…somehow made it much more personal. Goosebumps here, too. It saddens me to know that deep down inside, we all want the same things in life, and yet, circumstances often dictate we ignore that voice. Thanks so much for sharing and I hope your Yule was blessed!

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    Reply
    • I was just so touched by this story…I just can’t get over it. Did you see what Daydreamertoo said in her comment? That some of the soldiers had to be relocated because they could no longer bring themselves to shoot at the men they had just befriended… I guess not!

      Had a very mellow Christmas with my family. Stayed home quietly for New Years…I guess my partying days are behind me…I’m very happy that way. Hope yours was a pleasant one too, Corina.

      Like

      Reply
  11. This was worthy of a repost, Gayle. I enjoyed it the second time as much as the first time. It was nice to see a story posted so I could come by and comment. It’s been awhile but I often think of you.
    May you have the most loving and blessed Christmas with your family and your beloved Mira. This is truly going to be a Christmas filled with smiles for you.
    namaste ….
    Izzy xoxox
    http://insidethemindofisadora.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/selfless-gifts-a-family-tradition/

    Like

    Reply

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