“Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
On Christmas Eve, 1914, The Great War was still in its preliminary stages. Three more Christmas Eves and most of another year would pass before the guns of “The War to End All Wars” would fall silent in November of 1918.
Late in the evening on a dark and gloomy Christmas Eve 1914…in the dank, muddy trenches on the Western Front of the First World War, an odd occurrence happened, briefly peace broke out. It came to be called the Christmas Truce. It remains one of the most storied and strangest moments of the Great War—or of any war in history.
British troops had spent six months fighting the Germans. In a part of Belgium called Bois de Ploegsteert, the British who crouched in a trench that stretched just three feet deep by three feet wide heard German troops singing Christmas Carols.
In the darkness, some of the British soldiers began to sing back and before you say, “Dash away all”, German and British soldiers were meeting in the middle of no man’s land among the barbed wire and shell holes, not to kill each other, but for a moment, to share a bit of peace and good will toward men, even their enemies.
According to journals written on both sides, there were handshakes and words of kindness. The soldiers traded songs, tobacco, and wine, joining in a spontaneous holiday party in the chilly night. According to accounts, small trees were adorned with candles.
Other accounts tell that there were impromptu cease fires all along the front involving British, French, Belgian, and German troops. On the Eastern Front, Austrian, German, and Russian troops participated but on a smaller scale.
For six months the warring factions had experienced great hardships and tribulation. For a brief time, they put the death, mud, homesickness, and poor food behind them.
In a diary, British rifleman, J. Reading, wrote, “Later on in the day they came towards us, and our chaps went out to meet them…I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire (a shot) that day, and everything was so quiet it seemed like a dream.”
Another British soldier, named John Ferguson, recalled it this way: “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!”
The strangest of the strange, a soccer ball appeared, and a soccer match involving hundreds began. German Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch of the 134 Saxons Infantry, a schoolteacher who spoke both English and German, also described a pick-up soccer game in his diary. “Eventually the English brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued,” he wrote. “How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”
Not everyone was happy. Both German and British High Command were horrified when the news of the truce found its way into the newspapers. Any further celebrations were banned, and the Christmas Truce of 1914 would not be repeated. Instead, armies would go about doing what they do best, killing themselves in horrific numbers. Some fifteen million would shed their life blood before the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918.
Unless you are involved or have family and friends involved, I think for our own sanity we see wars being fought with game pieces instead of flesh and bone human beings. The Christmas Truce of 1914 should remind us, war is not fought with “forces” but with humans. Christmas should remind us that we are all members of humanity, and that peace should reign. There is nothing humane about war.
To all who read this, and those that don’t. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Pray that those in places of power give peace a chance. Pray that we love and attempt to understand our fellow man. Tidings of peace and good will toward all men and women.
Thanks to the History Channel for providing most of my information and my images.
Don Miller’s newest fictional novel is “Thunder Along the Copperhead.” An action romance that takes place during the Great Depression, with the backdrop of prohibition and textile strife. It can be purchased in paperback or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/stores/Don-Miller/author/B018IT38GM?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true