|Dr. Hartnell's Nutty the A.D.D. Squirrel||
Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht...
World War I was one of the most destructive wars in history. There was, however, an unofficial peace between the Allies and Central Powers that took place in 1914 in what would be dubbed the "Christmas Truce".
Just after midnight on Christmas Morning, German troops in Ypres, Belgium stopped firing their guns. They began decorating the area around their trenches by placing candles on trees and then started singing Christmas carols. At certain points along the front, brass bands joined the Germans in their joyous singing.
The words drifted across the frozen battlefield: "Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht." To the ears of the British troops peering over their trench, the lyrics may have been unfamiliar but the haunting tune was unmistakable.
After the last note, a German appeared holding a small tree glowing with light. "Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot."
Not to be outdone, the British troops in the trenches across from the Germans responded by singing English carols. The two sides continued by shouting holiday greetings to each other. At the first light of dawn, many of the Germans emerged from their trenches and walked across the feared "No Man's Land", calling out "Merry Christmas!" in their enemies' native tongues. At first, Allied soldiers suspected it to be a trick. Eventually, though, they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the Germans. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes, cigars, whiskey, and plum pudding. "Hello Tommy!" and "Hello Fritz!" could be heard as both sides used the nicknames generally ascribed to each other. The truce allowed the bodies of the fallen to be brought back and buried. Funerals took place as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together.
There was even a case of soldiers playing a good-natured game of soccer. (Sadly, the game ended when the ball struck a strand of barbed wire and deflated... no joke.) In one or two places, soldiers who had been barbers in civilian times gave free haircuts. One German, a juggler, gave a performance in the center of "No Man's Land". In many areas along the fronts, the truce lasted until midnight on Christmas Night; others lasted until New Year’s Day. British Captain J.C. Dunn recorded how hostilities re-started:
"At 8:30pm, I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with 'Merry Christmas' on it. The Germans put up a sheet with 'Thank you' on it. The German captain fired two shots in the air, and the war was on again."
The Christmas Truce has often been characterized as the last twitch of the 19th Century... the last example of chivalry in warfare. It would never happen again.
Not everyone was thrilled by the Christmas Truce. In fact, stories circulated about one German soldier who, while singing Christmas carols, put an illuminated Christmas tree between the trenches. He was, however, shot dead by the English. Later, when German soldiers found his body, they notice that English snipers had shot off every Christmas candle that was on the tree.
Commanders for both the Allies and Central Powers vowed that no such truce would happen again. For the rest of the war, artillery
bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve. One German soldier that strongly advocated for this increase in holiday violence was... Adolf Hitler (no shocker there).
The events of the truce were not reported around the globe for a week, when the unofficial press embargo was broken by the New York Times. The British papers soon followed, printing numerous first-hand accounts from soldiers that were there. Coverage in Germany was more hush-hush, with many newspapers criticizing those who had taken part; no pictures were published. In France, meanwhile, the greater level of press censorship ensured that the only word that spread of the truce came from soldiers at the front. The French Government quickly reminded their troops that fraternization with the enemy constituted treason.
On November 21, 2005, Alfred Anderson of the English Army died in Scotland at the age of 109. He was the last remaining WWI veteran to have been present at the truce. Concerning the truce, Anderson wrote:
"I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking, and whining of bullets in flight, machine gun fire, and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted 'Merry Christmas', even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war."
In a recent survey, 92% polled said a truce during a "modern" war to celebrate a religious holiday, much like they did during WWI, is unthinkable.