There are ways in which we are (ALL of us) already a Family. Our connection with each other through Collective Consciousness … is one.
I spent four years at Maharishi International University (1976 – 1980). It’s a Liberal Arts school where everyone (staff, students, faculty) participates regularly in the Transcendental Meditation Technique. (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought TM to the west. The school is now named Maharishi University of Management)
Those years were among the ‘best’ in my life. Wonderful people. A VERY uplifting environment.
And during those (4) years I was impressed (on numerous occasions) with the power and efficacy of the spiritual practices, which in that place, are made use of by all.
And – I learned some things. One of which is – that (not only is consciousness a Real Thing, but) Collective Consciousness is also.
I was (it seems to me) forced to this conclusion by the research that was done then (on consciousness). It was during that time when I was a student there – that a group of Governors of the Age of Enlightenment (that’s someone who is a TM teacher who is also a practitioner of the TM Sidhis Program.) Anyway, during those days, a group of Governors went off to Atlanta, Georgia. When they arrived, they went to the Police Department and inquired as to what district of the city was experiencing the most crime. Then they found (and rented) a facility (where they could, together, do their Program) and they simply DID their spiritual practices for a time (a week or two). Then again checked in with the Police. And they were told that crime in their area had gone down. They inquired – “Where is crime the worst NOW?” And they were told. Then they found a new facility (in that new district) and again (simply) did their practices. And the crime (again) lessened in THAT district. They did this several times. And always with the same result.. And from THIS report, I felt I MUST conclude – that Collective Consciousness is REAL. (And the fact that it is evidently distance sensitive makes me wonder if it is also, like Newton’s “strength of gravitational force” subject to the “inverse square law” [that the force will vary inversely with the square of the distance … which, by the way, is simply how the intensity of light or sound will vary, farther from its source – according to the geometry of Expanding Spheres. That’s all that is.])
Later I spent 17 years in a Religious Order in Arizona (Global Community Communications Alliance < gcca.org > ) where I happened to learn that (while this IS a Fallen World) we nonetheless (every year, for a day or two, at Christmas time) shift into a categorically higher level of consciousness. The ENTIRE planet. At that time, people (MANY people) are thinking of Others. They are thinking of God, and how God CAME to us (rascals). During those (perhaps two) days – we are living in the First Stage of Light & Life. The Consciousness of the Whole of Humanity … SHIFTS onto a higher level.
And THAT is what contextualizes (makes sense of) the phenomena which have been mythologized and known as the Christmas Truce.
(And, while I doubt that it occurred only in the First World War … I am so far unsuccessful in finding reports from other wars. Reports then [especially in 1914, early in the war] are numerous.)
Most of the time, we are able to believe we have Enemies; and War somewhat makes sense to us. But NOT AT CHRISTMAS. Christmas does not know : “Enemies & Hatred”. It knows Love. It IS Love.
These Christmas Truces happen – because, at that time – WE are different. Part of a Higher level of consciousness. Mmm ?
We are now two weeks away from Christmas. We’re well into Advent. But NOT because it’s a ‘church matter’ … it seems to me a good thing – that we prepare ourselves spiritually. So that we can contribute to our being (even briefly) in the First Stage of Light & Life … and so that we can enjoy it. (And perhaps, by and by … we’ll be able to sustain it.)
You may want to watch (besides “It’s a Wonderful Life”) … the film “Joyeux Noël” (2005), which is a fictional depiction of a 1914 Christmas Truce.
And you may wish to read a bit about the Christmas Truces –
[As a courtesy, I’ll include much from these articles at the end of this essay.]
Also, you may want to look at what I’ve written before on these matters –
I should warn you that in the film Joyeux Noël (early in the movie) there is a sex scene … which I would not let my kids watch. For adult viewers, I think it’s quite okay. Good even. But sex is not for kids. To sexualize them prematurely would be unkind and irresponsible. (Humans have Mirror Neurons, you know. We empathize well. Probably don’t let your kids watch that particular bedroom scene.)
You may want to make use of the ritual … and/or the songs published with last year’s blog.
Joyeux Noël (”Merry Christmas”) is a 2005 epic war drama film based on the Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish, and German soldiers. It was written and directed by Christian Carion, and screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
The film, which includes one of the last appearances of Ian Richardson before his death, was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards. It is a fictionalised account of an actual event that took place in December 1914, when Wilhelm, German Crown Prince, sent the lead singer of the Berlin Imperial Opera company on a solo visit to the front line. Singing by the tenor, Walter Kirchhoff, to the 120th and 124th Württemberg regiments led French soldiers in their trenches to stand up and applaud.
- Critical reception
- External links
The story centres mainly upon six characters: Gordon (a Lieutenant of the Royal Scots Fusiliers); Audebert (a French Lieutenant in the 26th Infantry and reluctant son of a general); Horstmayer (a Jewish German Lieutenant of the 93rd Infantry); Father Palmer (a Scottish priest working as a chaplain and stretcher-bearer); and two famous opera stars, German tenor Nikolaus Sprink and his Danish fiancée, mezzo-soprano Anna Sørensen.
The film begins with scenes of schoolboys reciting patriotic speeches that both praise their countries and condemn their enemies. In Scotland, two young brothers, Jonathan and William, join up to fight, followed by their priest, Father Palmer, who becomes a chaplain. In Germany, Sprink is interrupted during a performance by a German officer announcing a reserve call up. French soldier Audebert looks at a photograph of his pregnant wife, whom he has had to leave behind (in the occupied part of France, just in front of his trench), and prepares to exit into the trenches for an Allied assault on German lines. However the assault fails, with the French and Scottish taking many casualties while William loses his life.
In Germany, Anna gets permission to perform for Crown Prince Wilhelm, and Sprink is allowed to accompany her. They spend a night together and then perform. Afterward, Sprink expresses bitterness at the comfort of the generals at their headquarters, and resolves to go back to the front to sing for the troops. Sprink initially opposes Anna’s decision to go with him, but he agrees shortly afterward.
The unofficial truce begins when the Scots begin to sing festive songs and songs from home, accompanied by bagpipes. Sprink and Sørensen arrive on the German front line, and Sprink sings for his comrades. As Sprink sings “Silent Night“, he is accompanied by Father Palmer’s bagpipes from the Scottish front line. Sprink responds to Palmer and exits his trench with a small Christmas tree, singing “Adeste Fideles“. Following Sprink’s lead Audebert, Horstmayer, and Gordon meet in no-man’s-land and agree on a cease-fire for the evening.
The various soldiers meet and wish each other “Joyeux Noël”, “Frohe Weihnachten”, and “Merry Christmas”. They exchange chocolate, champagne, and photographs of loved ones. Horstmayer gives Audebert back his wallet containing a photograph of his wife, which was lost in the attack a few days prior, and they connect over pre-war memories. Father Palmer celebrate a brief Mass for the soldiers (in Latin as was the practice in the Catholic Church at that time), and the soldiers retire deeply moved. However, Jonathan remains totally unmoved by the events around him, choosing to grieve for his brother. The following morning, the Lieutenants agree to extend the truce to allow each side to bury their dead, followed by cordial fraternisation for the rest of the day.
In the meantime, Horstmayer learns that Anna and Sprink left without the German superior’s assent to entertain fellow front soldiers and informs both that Sprink is going to be arrested for disobedience. Anna and Sprink then ask Audebert to take them as captives, in order to avoid separation.
Father Palmer is being sent back to his own parish and his battalion is disbanded as a mark of shame. Despite emphasising the humanity and goodwill of the truce, he is rebuked by the bishop, who then preaches an anti-German sermon to new recruits, in which he describes the Germans as inhumane and commands the recruits to kill every one of them. Father Palmer overhears the sermon and removes his cross as he leaves.
Back in the trenches, the Scots are ordered by a furious major (who is angered by the truce) to shoot a German soldier who is entering no-man’s-land and crossing towards French lines. All of the soldiers deliberately miss in response, except the bitter Jonathan, whose shoots the targeted German soldier. Audebert, hearing the familiar alarm clock ringing outside, rushes out and discovers that the soldier is a disguised Ponchel, his batman. With his dying words, Ponchel reveals he gained help from the German soldiers, visited his mother, and had coffee with her. He also informs Audebert that he has a young son named Henri.
Audebert is punished by being sent to Verdun, and he receives a dressing down from his father, a general. In a culminating rant, young Audebert upbraids his father, expressing no remorse at the fraternisation at the front, and his disgust for civilians and superiors who talk of sacrifice but know nothing of the struggle in the trenches. He also informs the general about his new grandson Henri. Moved by this revelation, the general then recommends they “both try and survive this war for him”.
Horstmayer and his troops, who are confined in a train, are informed by the German Crown Prince that they are to be shipped to the Eastern Front, without permission to see their families as they pass through Germany. He then stomps on Jörg’s harmonica and says that Horstmayer does not deserve his Iron Cross. As the train departs, the Germans start humming a Scottish carol they learned from the Scots, “L’Hymne des Fraternisés/ I’m Dreaming of Home”.
- Benno Fürmann (singing voice: Rolando Villazón) as Private Nikolaus Sprink (German tenor)
- Guillaume Canet as Lieutenant Camille René Audebert (French 26th Infantry Regiment)
- Diane Kruger (singing voice: Natalie Dessay) as Anna Sørensen (Danish soprano, Sprink’s wife)
- Gary Lewis as Father Palmer (Scottish priest and stretcher-bearer)
- Alex Ferns as Lieutenant Gordon (Scots Fusiliers)
- Dany Boon as Private Ponchel (Audebert’s batman)
- Daniel Brühl as Leutnant (Lieutenant) Horstmayer (German 93rd Infantry Regiment)
- Christian Carion as British Medical Orderly
- Christopher Fulford as Royal Scots Fusiliers Major
- Mathias Herrmann as German Officer at Headquarters
- Neil McNulty as Scottish Soldier
- Lucas Belvaux as Gueusselin
- Steven Robertson as Jonathan
- Suzanne Flon as The Chatelaine
- Bernard Le Coq as Général
- Ian Richardson as the Bishop
Stephen Holden, film critic for The New York Times, liked the motion picture and wrote, “If the film’s sentiments about the madness of war are impeccably high-minded, why then does Joyeux Noël …feel as squishy and vague as a handsome greeting card declaring peace on earth? Maybe it’s because the kind of wars being fought in the 21st century involve religious, ideological and economic differences that go much deeper and feel more resistant to resolution than the European territorial disputes and power struggles that precipitated World War I… Another reason is that the movie’s cross-section of soldiers from France, Scotland and Germany are so scrupulously depicted as equal-opportunity peacemakers that they never come fully to life as individuals.”
Critic Roger Ebert also wrote about the sentimentality of the film, “Joyeux Noël has its share of bloodshed, especially in a deadly early charge, but the movie is about a respite from carnage, and it lacks the brutal details of films like Paths of Glory …Its sentimentality is muted by the thought that this moment of peace actually did take place, among men who were punished for it, and who mostly died soon enough afterward. But on one Christmas, they were able to express what has been called, perhaps too optimistically, the brotherhood of man.”
- “Ave Maria”, performed by Natalie Dessay, The London Symphony Orchestra
- “Bist du bei mir“, performed by Natalie Dessay and Rolando Villazón
- “I’m Dreaming of Home”, performed by Griogair Lawrie, David Bruce, Ivan MacDonald and Calum Anthony Beaton (Bagpipe Ensemble)
- “The Braes of Killiecrankie“, traditional
- Piobaireachd – “The Cloth of Gold”, traditional
- “Piobaireachd of Donald Dubh”, traditional
- “Silent Night“
- “Adeste Fideles“, traditional, performed by Rolando Villazón (vocals), Griogair Lawrie (bagpipes)
- “Auld Lang Syne“, Scottish traditional
- “L’Hymne des Fraternisés/I’m Dreaming of Home”, performed by Scala & Kolacny Brothers, Natalie Dessay, The London Symphony Orchestra
- Leeds International Film Festival: Audience Award, Best Feature, Christian Carion; 2005.
- Valladolid International Film Festival: FIPRESCI Prize, Christian Carion; 2005.
- Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, France; 2006.
- Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Foreign Language Film, France; 2006.
- British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film not in the English Language, Christophe Rossignon and Christian Carion; 2006.
- César Awards, France: César, Best Costume Design (Meilleurs costumes), Alison Forbes-Meyler; Best Film (Meilleur film), Christian Carion; Best Music Written for a Film (Meilleure musique), Philippe Rombi; Best Production Design (Meilleurs décors), Jean-Michel Simonet; Best Supporting Actor (Meilleur second rôle masculin), Dany Boon; Best Writing – Original (Meilleur scénario original), Christian Carion; 2006.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An artist’s impression from The Illustrated London News of 9 January 1915: “British and German Soldiers Arm-in-Arm Exchanging Headgear: A Christmas Truce between Opposing Trenches”
A cross, left in Saint-Yves (Saint-Yvon – Ploegsteert; Comines-Warneton in Belgium) in 1999, to commemorate the site of the Christmas Truce. The text reads:
“1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget”
The truce occurred during the relatively early period of the war (month 5 of 51). Hostilities had lulled as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to the 25th, French, German, and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man’s land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another, creating one of the most memorable images of the truce. Fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.
The following year, a few units arranged ceasefires but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting truces. Soldiers were no longer amenable to truce by 1916. The war had become increasingly bitter after devastating human losses suffered during the battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the use of poison gas.
The truces were not unique to the Christmas period, and reflected a mood of “live and let live“, where infantry close together would stop overtly aggressive behaviour and often engage in small-scale fraternisation, engaging in conversation or bartering for cigarettes. In some sectors, there were occasional ceasefires to allow soldiers to go between the lines and recover wounded or dead comrades; in others, there was a tacit agreement not to shoot while men rested, exercised or worked in view of the enemy. The Christmas truces were particularly significant due to the number of men involved and the level of their participation—even in very peaceful sectors, dozens of men openly congregating in daylight was remarkable—and are often seen as a symbolic moment of peace and humanity amidst one of the most violent events of human history.
- Christmas 1914
- Public awareness
- Later truces
- Legacy and historical significance
- Further reading
- External links
During the first eight months of World War I, the German attack through Belgium into France had been repelled outside Paris by French and British troops at the Battle of the Marne in early September 1914. The Germans fell back to the Aisne valley, where they prepared defensive positions. In the subsequent Battle of the Aisne, the Allied forces were unable to push through the German line, and the fighting quickly degenerated into a stalemate; neither side was willing to give ground, and both started to develop fortified systems of trenches. To the north, on the right of the German army, there had been no defined front line, and both sides quickly began to try to use this gap to outflank one another. In the ensuing “Race to the Sea“, the two sides repeatedly clashed, each trying to push forward and threaten the end of the other’s line. After several months of fighting, during which the British forces were withdrawn from the Aisne and sent north into Flanders, the northern flank had developed into a similar stalemate. By November, there was a continuous front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier, occupied on both sides by armies in prepared defensive positions.
In the lead up to Christmas 1914, there were several peace initiatives. The Open Christmas Letter was a public message for peace addressed “To the Women of Germany and Austria“, signed by a group of 101 British women suffragettes at the end of 1914 as the first Christmas of World War I approached. Pope Benedict XV, on 7 December 1914, had begged for an official truce between the warring governments. He asked “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” This attempt was officially rebuffed.
Main article: Live and let live
Fraternisation—peaceful and sometimes friendly interactions between opposing forces—was a regular feature in quiet front-line sectors of the Western Front. In some areas, it manifested as a passive inactivity, where both sides would refrain from overtly aggressive or threatening behaviour, while in other cases it extended to regular conversation or even visits from one trench to another.
Truces between British and German units can be dated to early November 1914, around the time opposing armies had begun static trench warfare. At this time, both sides’ rations were brought up to the front line after dusk, and soldiers on both sides noted a period of peace while they collected their food. By 1 December, a British soldier could record a friendly visit from a German sergeant one morning “to see how we were getting on”. Relations between French and German units were generally more tense, but the same phenomenon began to emerge. In early December, a German surgeon recorded a regular half-hourly truce each evening to recover dead soldiers for burial, during which French and German soldiers exchanged newspapers. This behaviour was often challenged by junior and senior officers; the young Charles de Gaulle wrote on 7 December of the “lamentable” desire of French infantrymen to leave the enemy in peace, while the commander of 10th Army, Victor d’Urbal, wrote of the “unfortunate consequences” when men “become familiar with their neighbours opposite”. Other truces could be enforced on both sides by weather conditions, especially when trench lines flooded in low-lying areas, though these often lasted after the weather had cleared. On the Eastern Front, Fritz Kreisler reported incidents of spontaneous truces and fraternisation between the Austro-Hungarians and Russians in the first few weeks of the war.
The proximity of trench lines made it easy for soldiers to shout greetings to each other, and this may have been the most common method of arranging informal truces during 1914. Men would frequently exchange news or greetings, helped by a common language; many German soldiers had lived in England, particularly London, and were familiar with the language and the culture. Several British soldiers recorded instances of Germans asking about news from the football leagues, while other conversations could be as banal as discussions of the weather or as plaintive as messages for a sweetheart. One unusual phenomenon that grew in intensity was music; in peaceful sectors, it was not uncommon for units to sing in the evenings, sometimes deliberately with an eye towards entertaining or gently taunting their opposite numbers. This shaded gently into more festive activity; in early December, Sir Edward Hulse of the Scots Guards wrote that he was planning to organise a concert party for Christmas Day, which would “give the enemy every conceivable form of song in harmony” in response to frequent choruses of Deutschland Über Alles.
Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the unofficial cessations of hostility along the Western Front. The first truce started on Christmas Eve 1914, when German troops decorated the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium and particularly in Saint-Yvon (called Saint-Yves, in Plugstreet/Ploegsteert – Comines-Warneton), where Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather described the truce.
The Germans placed candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man’s Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, continuing until New Year’s Day in others.
On Christmas Day, Brigadier-General Walter Congreve, then commanding 18 Infantry Brigade, stationed near Neuve Chapelle, wrote a letter recalling the Germans initiated by calling a truce for the day. One of his brigade’s men bravely lifted his head above the parapet and others from both sides walked onto no man’s land. Officers and men shook hands and exchanged cigarettes and cigars, one of his captains “smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army”, the latter no more than 18 years old. Congreve admitted he was reluctant to personally witness the scene of the truce for fear he would be a prime target for German snipers.
Bruce Bairnsfather, who served throughout the war, wrote:
I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…. I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons…. I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange…. The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.
Dear Mother, I am writing from the trenches. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. Beside me is a coke fire, opposite me a ‘dug-out’ (wet) with straw in it. The ground is sloppy in the actual trench, but frozen elsewhere. In my mouth is a pipe presented by the Princess Mary. In the pipe is tobacco. Of course, you say. But wait. In the pipe is German tobacco. Haha, you say, from a prisoner or found in a captured trench. Oh dear, no! From a German soldier. Yes a live German soldier from his own trench. Yesterday the British & Germans met & shook hands in the Ground between the trenches, & exchanged souvenirs, & shook hands. Yes, all day Xmas day, & as I write. Marvellous, isn’t it?
Captain Sir Edward Hulse reported how the first interpreter he met from the German lines was from Suffolk, where he[who?] had left his girlfriend and a 3.5 hp motorcycle. Hulse described a sing-song which “ended up with ‘Auld lang syne‘ which we all, English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Württenbergers, etc, joined in. It was absolutely astounding, and if I had seen it on a cinematograph film I should have sworn that it was faked!”
Captain Robert Patrick Miles, King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, who was attached to the Royal Irish Rifles recalled in an edited letter that was published in both the Daily Mail and the Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News in January 1915, following his death in action on 30 December 1914:
Friday (Christmas Day). We are having the most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable. A sort of unarranged and quite unauthorized but perfectly understood and scrupulously observed truce exists between us and our friends in front. The funny thing is it only seems to exist in this part of the battle line – on our right and left we can all hear them firing away as cheerfully as ever. The thing started last night – a bitter cold night, with white frost – soon after dusk when the Germans started shouting ‘Merry Christmas, Englishmen’ to us. Of course our fellows shouted back and presently large numbers of both sides had left their trenches, unarmed, and met in the debatable, shot-riddled, no man’s land between the lines. Here the agreement – all on their own – came to be made that we should not fire at each other until after midnight tonight. The men were all fraternizing in the middle (we naturally did not allow them too close to our line) and swapped cigarettes and lies in the utmost good fellowship. Not a shot was fired all night.
Of the Germans he wrote: “They are distinctly bored with the war…. In fact, one of them wanted to know what on earth we were doing here fighting them.” The truce in that sector continued into Boxing Day; he commented about the Germans, “The beggars simply disregard all our warnings to get down from off their parapet, so things are at a deadlock. We can’t shoot them in cold blood…. I cannot see how we can get them to return to business.”
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (24 and 25 December) 1914, Alfred Anderson’s unit of the 1st/5th Battalion of the Black Watch was billeted in a farmhouse away from the front line. In a later interview (2003), Anderson, the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war, vividly recalled Christmas Day and said:
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, machinegun 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.
Nor were the observations confined to the British. German Lieutenant Johannes Niemann wrote: “grabbed my binoculars and looking cautiously over the parapet saw the incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy.”
General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, issued orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops. Adolf Hitler, then a young corporal of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry, was also an opponent of the truce.
In the Comines sector of the front there was an early fraternization between German and French soldiers in December 1914, during a short truce, and there are at least two other testimonials, from French soldiers, of similar behaviours in sectors where German and French companies opposed each other. Gervais Morillon wrote to his parents: ‘The Boches waved a white flag and shouted “Kamarades, Kamarades, rendez-vous.” When we didn’t move they came towards us unarmed, led by an officer. Although we are not clean they are disgustingly filthy. I am telling you this but don’t speak of it to anyone. We must not mention it even to other soldiers.’ Gustave Berthier wrote: ‘On Christmas Day the Boches made a sign showing they wished to speak to us. They said they didn’t want to shoot. … They were tired of making war, they were married like me, they didn’t have any differences with the French but with the English.’
In sections of the front where German and Belgian troops faced each other in December 1914, there was at least one such instance when a truce was achieved at the request of Belgian soldiers who wished to send letters back to their families, over the German-occupied parts of their own country.
Richard Schirrmann, who was in a German regiment holding a position on the Bernhardstein, one of the mountains of the Vosges, wrote an account of events in December 1915: “When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines… something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over.” He was separated from the French troops by a narrow No Man’s Land and described the landscape as: “Strewn with shattered trees, the ground ploughed up by shellfire, a wilderness of earth, tree-roots and tattered uniforms.” Military discipline was soon restored, but Schirrmann pondered over the incident, and whether “thoughtful young people of all countries could be provided with suitable meeting places where they could get to know each other.” He went on to found the German Youth Hostel Association in 1919.
Many accounts of the battle involve one or more football matches played in no-man’s land. This was mentioned in some of the earliest reports, with a letter written by a doctor attached to the Rifle Brigade, published in The Times on 1 January 1915, reported “a football match… played between them and us in front of the trench”. A wide range of similar stories have been told over the years, often naming specific units or a precise score. Some accounts of the game bring in elements of fiction by Robert Graves, a British poet and writer (and an officer on the front at the time) who reconstructed the encounter in a story published in 1962; in Graves’s version, the score was 3–2 to the Germans.
However, the truth of the accounts has been disputed by some historians; in 1984, Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton concluded that there were probably attempts to play organised matches which failed due to the state of the ground, but that the contemporary reports were either hearsay or refer to “kick-about” matches with “made-up footballs” such as a bully-beef tin. Chris Baker, former chairman of The Western Front Association and author of The Truce: The Day the War Stopped is also sceptical, but says that although there is little hard evidence, the most likely place that an organised match could have taken place was near the village of Messines: “There are two references to a game being played on the British side, but nothing from the Germans. If somebody one day found a letter from a German soldier who was in that area, then we would have something credible.” In fact, there is a German reference. Lieutenant Kurt Zehmisch of Germany’s 134th Saxons Infantry Regiment said that the English “brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was”. In 2011, Mike Dash concluded that “there is plenty of evidence that football was played that Christmas Day—mostly by men of the same nationality, but in at least three or four places between troops from the opposing armies”.
A wide variety of units were reported in contemporary accounts to have taken part in games; Dash listed the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment pitched against “Scottish troops”; the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders against unidentified Germans (with the Scots reported to have won 4–1); the Royal Field Artillery against “Prussians and Hanovers” near Ypres; and the Lancashire Fusiliers, based near Le Touquet, with the specific detail of a bully beef ration tin as the “ball”. One recent writer has identified 29 separate reports of football, though does not give substantive details. Colonel J. E. B. Seely recorded in his diary for Christmas Day that he had been “Invited to football match between Saxons and English on New Year’s Day”, but this does not appear to have taken place.
A separate manifestation of the Christmas truce in December 1914 occurred on the Eastern front, where the first move originated from the Austro-Hungarian commanders, at some uncertain level of the military hierarchy. The Russians responded positively and soldiers eventually met in no man’s land.
The events of the truce were not reported for a week, in an unofficial press embargo which was eventually broken by The New York Times, published in the then-neutral United States, on 31 December. The British papers quickly followed, printing numerous first-hand accounts from soldiers in the field, taken from letters home to their families, and editorials on “one of the greatest surprises of a surprising war”. By 8 January pictures had made their way to the press, and both the Mirror and Sketch printed front-page photographs of British and German troops mingling and singing between the lines. The tone of the reporting was strongly positive, with the Times endorsing the “lack of malice” felt by both sides and the Mirror regretting that the “absurdity and the tragedy” would begin again.
Coverage in Germany was more muted, with some newspapers strongly criticising those who had taken part, and no pictures 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 or first-hand accounts told by wounded men in hospitals. The press was eventually forced to respond to the growing rumours by reprinting a government notice that fraternising with the enemy constituted treason, and in early January an official statement on the truce was published, claiming it had happened on restricted sectors of the British front, and amounted to little more than an exchange of songs which quickly degenerated into shooting.
The press of then-neutral Italy published a few articles on the events of the truce, usually reporting the articles of the foreign press. On 30 December 1914, Corriere della Sera printed a report about a fraternization between the opposing trenches. The Florentine newspaper La Nazione published a first-hand account about a football match played in the no man’s land. In Italy, the lack of interest in the truce probably depended on the occurrence of other events, such as the Italian occupation of Vlorë, the debut of the Garibaldi Legion on the front of the Argonne and, finally, the earthquake in Avezzano.
British and German troops burying the bodies of those killed in the attack of 18 December.
After Christmas 1914, sporadic attempts were made at seasonal truces; a German unit attempted to leave their trenches under a flag of truce on Easter Sunday 1915, but were warned off by the British opposite them, and later in the year, in November, a Saxon unit briefly fraternised with a Liverpool battalion. In December 1915, there were explicit orders by the Allied commanders to forestall any repeat of the previous Christmas truce. Individual units were encouraged to mount raids and harass the enemy line, whilst communicating with the enemy was discouraged by artillery barrages along the front line throughout the day. The prohibition was not completely effective, however, and a small number of brief truces occurred.
An eyewitness account of one truce, by Llewelyn Wyn Griffith, recorded that after a night of exchanging carols, dawn on Christmas Day saw a “rush of men from both sides… [and] a feverish exchange of souvenirs” before the men were quickly called back by their officers, with offers to hold a ceasefire for the day and to play a football match. It came to nothing, as the brigade commander threatened repercussions for the lack of discipline, and insisted on a resumption of firing in the afternoon. Nevertheless, another member of Griffith’s battalion, Bertie Felstead, later recalled that one man had produced a football, resulting in “a free-for-all; there could have been 50 on each side”, before they were ordered back. Another unnamed participant reported in a letter home: “The Germans seem to be very nice chaps, and said they were awfully sick of the war.” In the evening, according to Robert Keating, another eyewitness, “The Germans were sending up star lights and singing – they stopped, so we cheered them & we began singing Land of Hope and Glory – Men of Harlech et cetera – we stopped and they cheered us. So we went on till the early hours of the morning.”
In an adjacent sector, a short truce to bury the dead between the lines led to official repercussions; a company commander, Sir Iain Colquhoun of the Scots Guards, was court-martialled for defying standing orders to the contrary. While he was found guilty and reprimanded, the punishment was annulled by General Haig and Colquhoun remained in his position; the official leniency may perhaps have been because his wife’s uncle was H. H. Asquith, the Prime Minister.
In the Decembers of 1916 and 1917, German overtures to the British for truces were recorded without any success. In some French sectors, singing and an exchange of thrown gifts was occasionally recorded, though these may simply have reflected a seasonal extension of the live-and-let-live approach common in the trenches.
At Easter 1915 there were recorded instances of truces between Orthodox troops of opposing sides on the Eastern front. The Bulgarian writer Yordan Yovkov, serving as an officer near the Greek border at the Mesta river, witnessed one such truce. It inspired his short story “Holy Night”, translated into English in 2013 by Krastu Banaev.
Legacy and historical significance
British and German descendants of Great War veterans
Although the popular tendency has been to see the December 1914 Christmas Truces as unique and therefore of romantic rather than political significance, they have also been interpreted as part of the widespread spirit of non-co-operation with the war and conduct by serving soldiers. In his book on trench warfare, historian Tony Ashworth describes what he calls the ‘live and let live system’. Complicated local truces and agreements not to fire at each other were developed by men along the front throughout the war. These often began with agreement not to attack each other at tea, meal or washing times, and in some places became so developed that whole sections of the front would see few casualties for extended periods of time. This system, Ashworth argues, ‘gave soldiers some control over the conditions of their existence.’ The December 1914 Christmas Truces then can be seen as not unique, but as the most dramatic example of spirit of non-co-operation with the war that included refusal to fight, unofficial truces, mutinies, strikes, and peace protests.
- In the 1933 play Petermann schließt Frieden oder Das Gleichnis vom deutschen Opfer (Petermann makes peace: or, the parable of German sacrifice), written by Nazi writer and World War I veteran Heinz Steguweit [de], a German soldier, accompanied by Christmas carols sung by his comrades, erects an illuminated Christmas tree between the trenches, but is shot dead by the enemy. Later, when the fellow soldiers find his body, they notice in horror that enemy snipers have shot down every single Christmas light from the tree.
- The 1967 song “Snoopy’s Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen was based on the Christmas truce. It is the Red Baron, Germany’s ace pilot and war hero, who initiates the truce with the fictitious Snoopy.
- The 1969 film Oh! What a Lovely War includes a scene of a Christmas truce with British and German soldiers sharing jokes, alcohol and songs.
- The video for the 1983 song “Pipes of Peace” by Paul McCartney depicts a fictionalised version of the Christmas truce.
- John McCutcheon‘s 1984 song, Christmas in the Trenches, tells the story of the 1914 truce through the eyes of a fictional soldier. Performing the song he met German veterans of the truce.
- The final episode of the BBC television series Blackadder Goes Forth references the Christmas truce, with the main character Edmund Blackadder having played in a football match. He is also seen being annoyed at having had a goal disallowed for offside.
- The song “All Together Now” by Liverpool band The Farm took its inspiration from the Christmas Day Truce of 1914. The song has been re-recorded by The Peace Collective for release in December 2014 to mark the centenary of the event.
- The 1996 song “It Could Happen Again” by country artist Collin Raye, which tells the story of the Christmas truce, is included on his Christmas album Christmas: The Gift, with a spoken intro by Johnny Cash giving the history behind the event.
- The 1997 song “Belleau Wood” by American country music artist Garth Brooks is a fictional account based on the Christmas truce.
- The truce is dramatised in the 2005 French film Joyeux Noël (English: Merry Christmas), depicted through the eyes of French, British and German soldiers. The film, written and directed by Christian Carion, was screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
- In 2008, the truce was depicted on stage at the Pantages Theater in Minneapolis, in the radio musical drama All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. It was created and directed by Peter Rothstein, and co-produced by Theater Latté Da and the vocal ensemble Cantus, both Minneapolis-based organisations. It has continued to play at the Pantages Theater each December since its premiere.
- On November 12, 2011, the opera “Silent Night”, commissioned by the Minnesota Opera, had its world premiere at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota. With libretto by Mark Campbell, based on the screenplay of the film “Joyeux Noel”, and with music by Kevin Puts, it won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music, and has been performed or scheduled for more than 20 productions around the world as of 2018’s 100th anniversary of the Armistice.
- Ahead of the centenary of the truce (December 2014), English composer Chris Eaton and singer Abby Scott produced the song, 1914 – The Carol of Christmas, to benefit British armed forces charities. At 5 December 2014, it had reached top of the iTunes Christmas chart.
- In 2014, the Northumbria and Newcastle Universities Martin Luther King Peace Committee produced resources to enable schools and churches to mark the December 1914 Christmas Truces. These included lesson plans, hand-outs, worksheets, PowerPoint slide shows, and full plans for assemblies, and carol services/Christmas productions. The authors explained that their purpose was both to enable schoolteachers to help children learn about the remarkable events of December 1914, but also to use the theme of Christmas to provide a counterpoint to the UK government’s glorification of the First World War as heroic. As the Peace Committee argues, “These spontaneous acts of festive goodwill directly contradicted orders from high command, and offered an evocative and hopeful – albeit brief – recognition of shared humanity” – and thereby, they argue, give a rereading of the traditional Christmas message of “on earth peace, good will toward men.”
- The grocery chain Sainsbury’s produced a short film for the 2014 Christmas season as an advertisement re-enacting the events of the Christmas truce, primarily following a young English soldier in the trenches.
- In the Doctor Who 2017 Christmas Special “Twice Upon a Time“, the First and Twelfth Doctors become unwittingly involved in the fate of a British captain who is seemingly destined to die in a confrontation in No Man’s Land before he is taken out of time, only for the Twelfth Doctor to bend the rules and return the captain — revealed to be an ancestor of his friend and ally Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart — to a point a couple of hours after he was taken out of time. This slight bending of the rules results in the captain being returned to history at the beginning of the Christmas truce, allowing the captain to live and request aid for his would-be killer, the Twelfth Doctor musing that such a truce was the only time such a thing happened in history but it never hurts to ensure that there will be a couple of fewer dead people on a battlefield.
A Christmas truce memorial was unveiled in Frelinghien, France, on 11 November 2008. Also on that day, at the spot where, on Christmas Day 1914, their regimental ancestors came out from their trenches to play football, men from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Welch Fusiliers played a football match with the German Battalion 371. The Germans won 2–1.
On 12 December 2014, a memorial was unveiled at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, England by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and the England national football team manager Roy Hodgson. The Football Remembers memorial was designed by a ten-year-old schoolboy, Spencer Turner, after a UK-wide competition.
The Midway Village in Rockford, Illinois has hosted re-enactments of the Christmas Truce.