|"An Historic Group: British and German Soldiers Photographed Together" The Daily Mirror|
Every year I show my students the award-winning film, Joyeux Noël. I would estimate that over the years, I've seen the movie about three dozen times. Despite the ridiculous number of times I have watched it, I never grow tired of it (not to mention the fact that I get choked up every time!)
Joyeux Noël (see the trailer below) is a film about the impromptu/unofficial Christmas Truce of 1914 when soldiers along the Western Front laid down their rifles on Christmas Eve in a gesture of peace and good will. According to The New York Times, it is estimated that about 100,000 men, predominately German and British, (but also some French) were part of this Christmas miracle.
It truly is miraculous when you consider that mere hours before this temporary truce occurred, these men were literally murdering one another. Then, almost as if a magical spell had been cast, the spirit of Christmas filled each man with Light and love. And I think this is why I love this story so much...because it again offers proof of my so-called Harry Potter life lesson (aka my Dumbledore Theory) - that the power of love IS stronger than hate. For what is more hateful than war?
I can only imagine what it must have been like to be present in one of the trenches in Flanders the night of December 24, 1914. What a sight it must have been to see the hundreds of Christmas trees lit up along the German trenches, and to hear the carols - songs of hope and home - resounding through the winter's night sky...
Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still, frosty air!...First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up "O Come, All Ye Faithful" the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war. ~Rifleman Graham Williams, Fifth Rifle Brigade, England
It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere: and about seven or eight in the evening, there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and there where these lights - I don't know what they were. And then they sang "Silent Night" - "Stille Nacht." I shat never forget it, it was one of the highlights of my life. I thought, what a beautiful tune. ~Pvt. Albert Moren, Second Queen's Regiment, England
I can feel the trepidation mixed with excitement as the first men ventured, unarmed, across No Man's Land to extend a hand to the enemy, and the joy that must have ensued upon the realization that for the next few hours, knowing they were safe...that, for just one night, Christmas had given the gift of respite from the horrors of war...
I shouted to our enemies that we didn't wish to shoot and that we make a Christmas truce. I said I would come from my side and we could speak with each other. First there was silence, then I shouted once more, invited them, and the British shouted "No shooting!" Then a man came out of the trenches I on my side did the same and so we came together and we shook hands - a bit cautiously! ~Capt. Josef Sewald, 17th Bavarian Regiment, Germany
We shook hands, wished each other Merry Christmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans - Fritz and I in the center talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying...What a sight - little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman's cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. ~Cpl. John Ferguson, Second Seaforth Highlanders
What I would give to witness the legendary soccer match that was played. No Man's Land, which until this point had served as a combined battlefield and graveyard, was now a soccer field. No longer was it the symbol of death and destruction, but of life and laughter. I wonder what our world would be like if we could work out the world's problems by kicking around a ball instead of slaughtering each other?
|The English & Germans Play Soccer in No Man's Land|
Eventually the English brought a soccer ball from their trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvelously wonderful, yet how strange it was. the English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time. ~Lt. Kurt Zehmisch, 134th Saxons Infantry Regiment, Germany
With the end of Christmas 1914 came the end of the truce. Both sides received orders to cease and desist in their fraternization with the enemy (how treasonous such behavior seemed to many, including one Corporal Adolf Hitler who wrote, Such things should not happen in wartime. Have you Germans no sense of honor left at all?)
I wonder how difficult it must have been to fight in the days following Christmas 1914. It is far easier to shoot a faceless enemy that propaganda has made into a monster than to shoot the chap you now know by name...the human being with whom you exchanged a smoke, shared photos and some laughs. We all know that the war did resume and raged on for nearly four more years and would ultimately claim the lives of 14 million young men. But Christmas 1914 along the Western Front still serves as a reminder that even in the darkest of times, the Spirit of Christmas can be a force stronger than war itself.
Joyeux Noël, mes amis! I wish you all a Bonne Année filled with peace, hope, and love!
All quotes are thanks to Thomas Vinciguerra's article in the New York Times, "The Truce of Christmas, 1914" published December 25, 2005