Monday, December 22, 2014
When tens of thousands of young British and Commonwealth men went off to war so eagerly and naively in the summer of 1914, it was generally thought that they would be home by Christmas. But by then the troops on the Western Front were well entrenched along a mostly static line that would witness a brutal war of attrition during the next four years.
One of the absurdities of war is that the people who are expected to kill one another have no personal enmity towards one another. This became particularly clear on Christmas, 1914, when there was a spontaneous cessation of hostilities between British and German troops in the front lines. The Germans were decorating their trenches with small Christmas trees and singing carols. The British “retaliated” with English carols, and soon the men were shouting greetings to each other. Many met in No Man's Land (the area between the opposing front lines) where small gifts like chocolate or buttons were exchanged, and pictures of sweethearts were shown. In some places, the opposing troops played soccer, and drank together. It became known as the "Christmas Truce", and was dramatized in the 2005 Oscar-nominated French film entitled "Joyeux Noel". The commanders, of course, didn’t like this fraternization with the enemy, and tried to ensure that it never happened again.
Christmas is a time to truly reflect and heed Longfellow’s words, sung for generations: “peace on earth, good will to men”.