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Christmas Truce

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During the First World War, drafts created the armies that were drawn from remarkably similar societies for the first time in modern warfare. Along the Western Front, on both sides there were industrial workers and farm laborers. On both sides there were aristocratic senior officers and middle-class junior officers. For Catholics, Protestants and Jews fighting for separate armies, they sometimes identified more with their religious brethren on the opposing side than with their fellow soldiers.

The soldiers, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans and Italians were equally irreverent about what they were supposedly fighting for. Over the longer period of trench warfare, a kind of ‘live and let live’ attitude developed in certain relatively quiet sectors of the line; war was reduced to a series of rituals, as with the Greeks and Trojans. English pacifist Vera Brittain noted about a Scottish and a Saxon regiment that had agreed not to aim at each other when they fired. They made a lot of noise and an outsider would have thought the men were fighting hard, but in practice no one was hit. Robert Graves — in his pivotal memoir of the Great War, Goodbye to All That — recollected about letters arriving from the Germans, rolled up in old mortar shells: “Your little dog has run over to us, and we are keeping it safe here.” Newspapers were fired back and forth in the same fashion. Louis Barthas spent some time in a sector where the Germans and the French fired only six mortar rounds a day, ‘out of courtesy’.

Nothing symbolized this easygoing attitudes more than the informal Christmas truce of 1914, when opposing soldiers in many sectors joined together to sing carols, and exchange Christmas greetings and gifts. Soccer games were played in no man’s land with makeshift balls. Of course, there were some who refused to participate in the truce; among those was a German field messenger named Adolf Hitler, who grumbled, ““Such things should not happen in wartime. Have you Germans no sense of honor left at all?”

At Diksmuide, Belgium, the Belgian and German soldiers famously celebrated Christmas Eve together in 1914, drinking schapps together. One year later, ad hoc ceasefires took place again, this time in northern France. No man’s land was suddenly transformed into ‘a country fair’ as lively bartering began for schnapps, cigarettes, coffee, uniform buttons and other trinkets. More worryingly for their superiors, the soldiers sang the Internationale.

Yet socialist hopes that soldiers would ultimately repudiate their national loyalties for the sake of international brotherhood were proven to be futile. Christmas Truce was almost the last hurrah of a bygone era; as the war went on, mutual hatred grew, expunging the common origins and predicament of the combatants. War, too, has lost its mystique; soon, only fools would celebrate it or enter it with excited patriotic fervor. After August 1914, when thousands of red-trousered Frenchmen and white-gloved officers in full dress and plumes were decimated by German machine guns, France eschewed her pride and switched to neutral-colored service uniforms — the last world power to do so. Soon, there will be no more sabres and Sam Browne belts, no more centuries-old habits of chivalry, no more leaving civilians out of war.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 27, 2011 at 8:48 am

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , ,

7 Responses

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  1. There’s a beautiful movie “Joyeux Noël” (“Merry Christmas”).

    Note, that guy in the front (the one a bit blurred) has his helmet backwards.

    Punx

    March 27, 2011 at 1:29 pm

  2. Interesting. We did an alternate history where a second truce in 1915 takes hold

    http://www.todayinah.co.uk/index.php?story=39806-Z15

    Steve Payne

    March 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm

  3. Interesting photo, but I believe it’s posed – a nice Christmas in the Trenches photo for the folks back home. Nice clean uniforms, Rifles evenly spaced and neatly laid in front of men intently watching for an unseen enemy, others oblivious that they are standing exposed to that same enemy, especially the officers. The closest fellow is wearing the harness associated with a machinegun, yet stands his watch with a rifle. If his helmet is on backwards, it might be a soldier’s little rebellion at this piece of playacting.

    Chris

    March 28, 2011 at 12:44 am

  4. Well Boys, I agree that tha Photo is STAGED but, that Hienie in front with his helmet on Backwards is not doin it for fun…He’s putin it on backwards because thats one way to help you focus on your sights and eliminate distractions and such…Germans been doin that a long time and Yeper, It finally caught on here. Heres one product offered that is the Hybred of this bygone technique…an these days most all the top shooters use um:

    http://www.creedmoorsports.com/store/home.php?cat=577

    Notice, He’s also usin a chinstrap, which would help him keep it on his head after he got shot by one o our fellers….(^>)

    All This talk about Christmas Truces an What-not reminds me Of tha Tet Offensive…..No wonder the Generals didnt like it….But its pretty clear that the men did…well, Like you say, at least at first, before they got Lost…. My Uncle was one of um. Old Soldiers used to hang around his barber shop and stare at the pot Belly Stove. HE used to say, that they were “the Lost Generation”….includin himself as he’d shift his gaze to the fire.
    He said they were “Lost” cuz they wernt connected anymore to anything cept to each other.

    Its a great photo. the more you look..the more you see…Keep these a-commin.

    Y Obt. Svt,
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    Now Head o Waste Removal an Security,
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    Col. Korn

    March 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

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  7. […] and history, I’ve always been fascinated by the stories from the US Civil War and WWI of the Christmas truces.  Many times, these tales tell of swapping common, but well liked items from one side, for what […]


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