Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Joyeux Noel

Royal Artillery Memorial-London

Rudyard Kipling and his fellow warmongers worked overtime at the beginning of World War I trying to convince the British people that due to the superiority of the Royal Navy the war in Europe would be over by Christmas 1914. They were horrifically wrong.  By the time trench warfare began late in 1914 it was clear the war would extend beyond Christmas.

Christmas is always hard on soldiers. To those entrenched in Flanders, London was a mere 60 miles away, the German border not much further.  Governments on both sides had prepared small holiday gift-boxes for the troops, with snacks, sweets and tobacco. Queen Victoria had set the precedent in 1899, ordering small tin boxes of chocolates shipped to soldiers in distant South Africa for a Boer War Christmas. German troops in Flanders, accessible from home by land, received, along with their wooden gift boxes, tabletop-size Christmas trees with candles conveniently clamped to the branches.

On Christmas Eve 1914 the Germans placed their trees atop trench parapets and lit the candles. Then they began singing carols, and though their language was unfamiliar to the British Tommies, the tunes were not. After a few trees were shot at, the British became more curious than belligerent, and crawled forward to watch and to listen, and soon they too began to sing. By Christmas morning, no man’s land between the trenches was filled with fraternising soldiers, sharing rations, trading gifts, singing, and – more solemnly – burying the dead between the lines. Fraternizing with the enemy is criminal offense in wartime, and when word of the Christmas Truce reached headquarters local commanders were severely punished. War began the next morning.

Several mostly unsuccessful attempts were made in 1915 to continue a Christmas truce tradition, to little avail. No war since has had a successful Christmas truce.



Scale Worm said...

War leads to the death of soldiers on both "good" and "bad" sides. Being a sap, with a heart, I think of dead young adults as someone's child, that indeed were once "just children". Are not adults biologically just children, with reproductive ability?
Thanks Toad.

Shelley said...

I've never been a soldier so I'm just guessing here. Seems like when both sides are walking around on the ground looking at each other, it's harder to forget that both sides are just people. In the days of short distance firearms even ships had to get pretty close. Now that it's all about machines and long range, I would guess it's a bit easier to forget the human aspect of it all. I sort of understand how some war are fought but the longer I live the more insane it all seems.

Martha said...

This was a great movie! As I recall, after the fraternizing, the soldiers had a hard time fighting and had to be moved.

Anonymous said...

The movie was adapted from a great book called Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub, should be available on Amazon or your local library.

Main Line Sportsman said...

See my post for the Trailer for "Joyeux Noel" the movie.

GP said...

Regarding those ships that never were used, read the greatest spy novel ever written: "Riddle of the Sands." It is old, and so you'll not likely find it at your local bookstore. There are free online editions, Kindle apps for PC (if you're like me and don't have a Kindle or really want to give up physical books).