It was a still Christmas Eve, in the year 1914. German and English soldiers were huddled in there trenches, thinking about loved ones and their homes on this, one of the most, holy holidays in Christendom. Perhaps it was because of this holiday, or maybe it was a sense of chivalry; but on that night, the men stopped fighting, the bombs stopped falling from the skies, and these soldiers came out of their bunkers to celebrate the birth of Christ.
What occurred that night is commonly known as the “Christmas Truce”. There were many factors which led up to the temporary halt of the slaughter of man on a battlefield.
Before the truce occurred there were several instances of trying to negotiate a peace for the holiday season. An “Open Christmas Letter” was a public message signed by a group of over 100 British woman suffragettes. Pope Benedict XV had begged for the fighting to stop, stating; “…the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang”
Another factor was that both sides now were dug into their trenches. Movements by the British and Germans were repulsed, and both sides had now reinforced their positions, causing a standstill between both.
Perhaps one of the most important, but rarely mentioned aspects of why the truce occurred was the romance of war. World War 1 was the modern implementation of warfare; there were machines guns, planes and tanks involved in the fighting. Even with this modern technology to kill one another, there was still the concept of a romantic heroic war, perhaps the last; where mercy could be given to your enemy, who would be perceived as a noble person fighting for his cause.
For whatever reason, an unofficial truce began to occur in the week leading up to Christmas. This cumulated in the Christmas Truce. It began as German soldiers erected Christmas Trees, and began singing carols. The British soldiers countered with their own singing. Soon men appeared unarmed in the “no man’s zone” between the trenches.
In this area where bombs and gunfire had killed so many, the men exchanged good wishes, and then exchanged gifts of food or cigarettes. The next day, many of these men participated in friendly games of soccer. Many did not participate in the games or exchanging gifts, they used this time to retrieve and bury the bodies of their fallen comrades.
Not all areas had seen the truce, some continued the fighting. In other areas, the men did not engage with each other, they merely stopped fighting.
Whatever occurred that night, man’s compassion for others, or even perhaps some force of divinity, it would not happen on a wide spread scale again during the war. The generals of both sides warned their soldiers that any more fraternization would be dealt with severe consequences.
By 1916 the casualties on both sides increased as the fighting escalated, and now there was the introduction of poison gas. Even if a truce was allowed, the good will felt by soldiers before were now filled with malice toward their enemy.
The Christmas Truce was one of the last examples of chivalry in modern combat. For a brief time, in the midst of blood and death, mankind had found its humanity.