The Christmas Truce

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 22, 2006

To the Editor:

Strange as it may sound, there actually was a Christmas truce during World War I. British and German troops serving on the front lines during Christmas 1914 stopped shelling and taking pot shots at one another long enough to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

As the story goes, the truce took place where British troops faced off against German troops along a line stretching south from Ypres, Belgium 27 miles to the La Bassee Canal. The two opposing trenches were very close together in this section sometimes only 30 yards apart. Not only could you hurl objects of destruction at each other, but you could also hurl verbal insults.

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For the most part, the trenches were hastily dug to provide protection from enemy artillery. They were poorly constructed and poorly drained making life miserable during rainy cold weather. The trenches would cave in resulting in a soupy slush on the trench floor. Compounding the discomfort was the partially decomposing bodies in the half frozen mire.

Since the modern day version of decorating a tree began in Germany, it is recorded German soldiers began decorating their parapet (fortifications) on the Eve of Christmas 1914. The decorations included small trees decorated with whatever was available on the front lines of a war. They began singing Stille Nacht (Silent Night), a song very familiar to the British.

They yelled out across the no man’s land for the British to join in the singing. Soon both trenches were singing Christmas carols to each other. The incessant artillery even stopped as a show of solidarity with the truce.

No doubt both trenches were miserable living like pigs in an overcrowded pig’s sty with the added concern of having your head blown off if exposed. So the overture to meet up in no man’s land was a welcomed relief from the horrible conditions in the trenches. At first, two or three at a time would go forward and exchange gifts with each other. Christmas goodies from packages they received from home or a government sponsored Christmas program were the type things they exchanged or shared including cigarettes and beer.

According to legend, there was even a soccer match in no man’s land with the Germans winning 3 to 2. However, British reports has the winner reversed.

The truce held up until the day after Christmas when three shots were fired and a British and German officer came forward, saluted, turned back to their trench and fired two more shots. At this point, the war was back on. It is reported that the truce held up until January 3, 1915 in some areas along this line.

The truce gave each side time to retrieve their dead comrades and provide a proper burial. As mentioned, some of the bodies were exposed to the elements for much too long and were rather putrid.

Military commanders on both sides weren’t very happy about the spontaneous truce and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. Each Christmas Eve following was filled with artillery and light weapons fire to prevent such a re-occurrence.

It is highly unlikely a Christmas truce would occur in the War on Terrorism, therefore even more reason to remember those who are on the front lines. Fortunately, most aren’t hunkered down in trenches fighting cold, hunger and diseases. Theirs is a different kind of war with different kinds of danger to be confronted. They need our unwavering support, prayers and gratitude for serving.

There is no place like home and no place like America to call home. God Bless this great land and those willing to defend it. Merry Christmas.

James G. Smith

Public Relations Officer

The American Legion Post 20