The story may change a little depending on which account one reads. But the takeaway is that under the most unlikely circumstances, for one day 109 years ago, men who were cast into the roles of enemies set down their weapons for a respite of peace and fellowship.
In the Encyclopedia Brittanica version, it was “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night), sung by German troops in their trenches at Flanders, that caught the ears and hearts of their British adversaries, who responded with carols of their own on Christmas Eve 1914. The German soldiers, the story says, placed Christmas trees outside their trenches. The tannenbäume had been sent to the lines by emperor Wilhelm II to boost morale as the winter cold set in five months into the war.
According to a recent Time magazine article, quoting a personal account by Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade, the Germans and British exchanged carols until the latter offered a verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
“The Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words ‘Adeste Fideles,’” Williams recalled. “And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing—two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”
The next morning, in some locations along the battle line, German soldiers emerged from their trenches calling out “Merry Christmas” in English, Time reported. Allied soldiers came out warily to greet them. In other places, Germans reportedly held up signs that read, “You no shoot, we no shoot.”
Over the course of the day, troops reportedly exchanged gifts of cigarettes, food, buttons and hats.
Smithsonian magazine reported that after serenades of carols, each sides’ “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 and some cigars, and a message was sent back saying that if we didn’t fire at them, they would not fire at us.’”
Time quoted British soldier Murdoch M. Wood, who, speaking in 1930, said, “I then came to the conclusion that I have held very firmly ever since—that if we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.”
But the troops’ superiors, however, weren’t as happy about the “unofficial and illicit” truce, Smithsonian said.
“Many officers disapproved and headquarters on both sides took strong steps to ensure that it could never happen again,” the article says.
Almost 48 years later the world was on the verge of nuclear war. I was five months old. If U.S. and Soviet military leaders got their way during the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s a fairly strong possibility that none of us would be here today. During and before those tense two weeks in October 1962, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev—the top executives of the world’s two nuclear powers—while talking tough publicly, privately expressed their mutual desire for peace in an exchange of letters while their psychopathic military leaders pressured them to “win” with a first nuclear strike. Kennedy privately confided that a military coup to overthrow the presidency—and commence nuclear war—was entirely possible.
The psychopaths didn’t get their way in October 1962, and nuclear devastation was averted. But psychopaths still walk the halls of government offices and others, like Nikki Haley, are hoping to convince the American people to elect them into positions of power from which they can preside over the pointless death and destruction.
During this Christmas season, as I await the birth of my first grandson, I’d like to believe that his future will be influenced more by the spirit of humanity and fellowship that briefly overcame some World War I soldiers than by the misguided minds of those who make soldiers necessary.
Photo: A cross in Comines-Warneton (Saint-Yvon, Warneton) 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.Follow me on social media: