The story of the Christmas truce

Published 8:56 pm Thursday, December 21, 2017

The centennial anniversary of World War I, July 28, 1914 – Nov. 11, 1918, is underway and a wonderful Christmas story is recapped here in observance of that period. There are many things of interest from the war, but none so riveting as this one.

The oddest of things happened about five months after World War I began in Europe. It is worthy of remembrance due to the reverence shown of the Christ child’s birthday during the hostilities of war.

A Christmas truce occurred along several areas of the front lines between British and German soldiers in 1914. Needless to say, it was not an official truce ordered by the warring countries. The soldiers took matters into their own hands and observed an unofficial truce of their own making.

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On Dec. 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary cessation of hostilities between the combatants to observe Christmas.

Of course, the warring countries disregarded the suggestion and refused to adopt an official temporary truce. However, the soldiers in the trenches were cold, wet and miserable living in subhuman conditions.

What occurred on that Christmas Eve night was all quite by chance, unprecedented in warfare, and strictly unofficial. It illustrated the humanity that exists even on the battlefield when the focus is on the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

There was a lull in the fighting along the front on this Christmas Eve night in 1914. The guns were mainly quiet along the lines and no-man’s-land lying between the two warring countries was blanketed in heavy frost on top of the mud.

Out of the night, a British sentry on duty heard singing coming from the opposing trenches. He quickly alerted his countrymen to the event. One British bloke, fluent in German, identified it as a Christmas carol.

After it subsided, the British decided to return fire with a rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman,” a song they all knew. The Germans followed with Stille Nacht, Silent Night in English, of which the British recognized and joined in singing along.

As the story is told, at dawn on Christmas morning there was movement from the German trenches. At first, an unarmed soldier appeared with a white flag waving his arms saying Merry Christmas in English.

As he walked out into no-man’s-land, more soldiers joined him waving and offering Merry Christmas in English. The Brits, thinking at first it may be a trick, but seeing they were unarmed, soon began coming out of their trenches in return offering Merry Christmas in German. The opposing soldiers met in the middle of no-man’s-land each greeting the other and even exchanging small gifts of whatever they had. It is said someone had a ball and a friendly game of soccer broke out. They also joined together singing Christmas carols and songs familiar to each of them. The two opposing combatants were civil and cordial until all too soon it was time for each side to retreat into their trenches to continue the war. The soldiers actions that day were at great peril to themselves since consorting with the enemy was a punishable offense even up to death. It was a first and last time event.

The officers and government officials saw that it never happened again issuing strict orders and threats of punishment.

However, it did happen once and for a brief period of time on Christmas Eve and Day of 1914 there was reverence, respect and cordiality shown on the front lines of World War.

God Bless and Merry Christmas.