These doomed WWI soldiers can inspire our Christmas

Summary: Flashes from the past show that we’re capable of being better than we are today. Such as the creation after WWII of a new world order based on law (now ruined by us). And the spontaneous celebration by the soldiers across the trenches on Christmas 1914. They desired peace but lacked the will and leadership to make it hold. The actions of these doomed men can inspire us today to make their dream of peace into reality.

“Then assembles youth’s fairest flower to see your play and listen to the revelation. Then everyone takes melancholy nourishment from your work. Each one sees what he carries in his heart.”
— From the opening scene of “Faust: A Tragedy” by Goethe (1808).

Angel touching Earth - Dreamstime-23645381
Illustration 23645381 © Philcold – Dreamstime.

By December 1914 the stories confidently told in August 1914 were obviously lies. The boys would not be home by Christmas. The trenches ran from Switzerland to the sea, dashing hopes for victory except through bloody attrition. The complex reasons for fighting became vaporous when examined. Morale sank. On December 7, Pope Benedict XV called for a “Truce of God” to halt the fighting during Christmas, a tradition first declared in 989 AD. Leaders on both sides rejected it. Then something miraculous happened.

British and German Troops during the Christmas Truce of 1914
British and German Troops during the Christmas Truce of 1914.

A note from our past: the Christmas Truce of 1914.
It’s inspiring, but not as usually described.

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The first signs that something strange was happening occurred on Christmas Eve. At 8:30 p.m. an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles reported to headquarters: “Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.” Further along the line, the two sides serenaded each other with carols – the German “Silent Night” being met with a British chorus of “The First Noel“ – and scouts met, cautiously, in no man’s land, the shell-blasted waste between the trenches.

The war diary of the Scots Guards records that a certain Private Murker “met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whisky {sic} and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us.”

The same basic understanding seems to have sprung up spontaneously at other spots. For another British soldier, Private Frederick Heath, the truce began late that same night when “all down our line of trenches there came to our ears a greeting unique in war: ‘English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!’” Then – as Heath wrote in a letter home – the voices added:

“‘Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.’ For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity – war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn – a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.”

… Perhaps it was inevitable that some men on both sides would produce a ball and – freed briefly from the confines of the trenches – take pleasure in kicking it about. What followed, though, was something more than that, for if the story of the Christmas Truce has its jewel, it is the legend of the match played between the British and the Germans – which the Germans claimed to have won, 3-2. … {Soccer games took place} at least three or four places between troops from the opposing armies. …

It was certainly not general – there are many accounts of fighting continuing through the Christmas season …Saxon troops – universally regarded as easygoing – were the most likely to be involved, and to have made the first approaches to their British counterparts. “We are Saxons, you are Anglo-Saxons,” one shouted across no man’s land. “What is there for us to fight about?” …Accounts of a Christmas Truce refer to a suspension of hostilities only between the British and the Germans. …

In most places, up and down the line, it was accepted that the truce would be purely temporary. Men returned to their trenches at dusk, in some cases summoned back by flares, but for the most part determined to preserve the peace until midnight. There was more singing, and in at least one spot presents were exchanged. George Eade, of the Rifles, had become friends with a German artilleryman who spoke good English, and as he left, this new acquaintance said to him –

“Today we have peace. Tomorrow, you fight for your country, I fight for mine. Good luck.”

… Their truce was unofficial and illicit. Many officers disapproved, and headquarters on both sides took strong steps to ensure that it could never happen again. While it lasted, though, the truce was magical, leading even the sober Wall Street Journal to observe: “What appears from the winter fog and misery is a Christmas story, a fine Christmas story that is, in truth, the most faded and tattered of adjectives: inspiring.” …

The war was on again, and there would be no further truce until the general armistice of November 1918. Many, perhaps close to the majority, of the thousands of men who celebrated Christmas 1914 together would not live to see the return of peace. But for those who did survive, the truce was something that would never be forgotten.

From “The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce” by Mike Dash in The Smithsonian, 23 December 2011.

———– Read the full article! ———–

“We have issued strict orders to the men not to on any account allow a truce, as we have heard rumours that they will probably try to. The Germans did. They came over towards us singing. So we opened rapid fire on them, which is the only truce they deserve.”
Armageddon Road: A VC’s Diary 1914-1916 by Major Billy Congreve, VC, DSO, MC. He was killed on 20 July 1916.

“Jesus wept.”
— John 11:35.

We imagine that there is such a thing as peace because we see periods between wars. But incidents such as the Christmas Truce suggest that peace is possible for humanity. Some of the soldiers in the December 1914 trenches saw their common humanity with their foes and the futility of their fighting – and stopped the war. But the larger social systems were too strong and the soldiers were unorganized and weak of will, so the mad war continued for four more years. A stronger similar impulse led to the widespread May – June 1917 mutinies in the French infantry.

These stories can inspire us to make greater efforts to fight for greater causes, such as overcoming those who seek to divide us and plunge the world back into war. This is something to dream about on Christmas and to resolve to work for in 2020.

For more about the Christmas Truce

Give holiday gift to those who defend America

There are ways to support our troops, actions more effective than a bumper sticker on your car.

For More Information

Ideas! For ideas about using your Holiday gift cash, see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: “Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

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Books about the Great War

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan.

Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub.

The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914
Available at Amazon.
Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce
Available at Amazon.

 

4 thoughts on “These doomed WWI soldiers can inspire our Christmas”

  1. “These stories can inspire us to make greater efforts to fight for greater causes, such as overcoming those who seek to divide us and plunge the world back into war. This is something to dream about on Christmas and to resolve to work for in 2020.”

    Thanks Larry. This is a story that empowers each of us to make peace where we can. Merry Christmas to you and your family. And lets try to do what we can to bring a little more peace in 2020.

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