hen the First World War
began, British women suffragists sent an Open Christmas Letter “To the Women of Germany and Austria”
as the first Christmas of the war approached.
Pope Benedict XV, December 7, 1914, begged for a truce, asking: “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.”
These requests were officially rebuffed.
Nevertheless, on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1914, an estimated 100,000 British, French and German troops near Ypres in Belgium along the Western Front, ceased fighting.
The thunderous booming of artillery fell silent that night.
German troops started decorating their trenches with Christmas trees and candles in their branches.
They began singing “Stille Nacht”-“Silent Night.”
As this was one of the Christmas carols that soldiers on both sides knew, English, French and German troops began to sing along across the battle lines.
“Silent Night” was written a century earlier by the priest Father Joseph Mohr, with the melody composed by Austrian headmaster Franz Xaver Gruber.
The song came to be on December 24, 1818, at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria.
The organ had broken for their Christmas eve service, so they quickly composed the song to be accompanied by guitar.
“Silent Night” has been translated into over 44 languages.
“Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ the Savior, is born,
Christ the Savior, is born.
Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.”
The 1914 unofficial Christmas Truce continued as soldiers from both sides started shouting Christmas greetings to each other.
C. Ernest Furneaux of the British Rifle Brigade wrote in a letter to his parents:
“About five o’clock on Christmas Eve the Germans started lighting up Christmas trees in their trenches.
We took no notice of them until they began to sing. Then we began to cheer them and talk to one another as we are only about 80 yards apart.
So by the light of their searchlight our officers went across halfway and their officers came to meet them.
They shook hands and conversed for a while. It was agreed that we should have a day off and they would fire the first shot to start again.
So from five o’clock on Christmas Eve until ten o’clock this morning (December 26th) neither side has fired, only walked about.
Some of the Germans came across to us and we shook hands and had some chocolate and cigars from them.”
Venturing across “No Man’s Land,” they recovered bodies and held joint burial services.
Lance-Corporal Imlah of the Gordon Highlanders wrote in a letter to his father:
“Our padre then gave a short service, one of the items in which was Psalm XXIII.
Thereafter, a German soldier, a divinity student I believe, interpreted the service to the German party.
I could not understand what he was saying but it was beautiful to listen to him.
The service over, we were soon fraternizing with the Germans just as if they were old friends.”
The Hertfordshire Mercury, January 9, 1915, published a letter, January 9, 1915, from British rifleman C. H. Brazier:
“All through the night we sang carols to them and they sang to us…
On Christmas day we all got out of the trenches and walked about with the Germans, who when asked if they were fed up with the war said ‘yes, rather.’
They all believed that London had been captured, and that German sentries were outside Buckingham Palace. They are evidently told a lot of rot. We gave them some of our newspapers to convince them.”
Soldiers even played soccer together. The Germans won 3-2.
Bruce Bairnsfather, who served during the First World War, wrote:
“I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything…
I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons…
I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange…
The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck.”
In Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, they recorded:
“There was general handshaking; the dead were buried; cigars, cigarettes and newspapers were exchanged and a general celebration ensued.
Then the Frenchmen suggested that we shoot no longer, promised that they themselves would not resume hostilities in that event.”
When General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps, heard what was happening, he was irate and issued strict orders forbidding friendly communication with the opposing German troops.
Someone else who was opposed to the truce was a young corporal in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry named Adolf Hitler.
World War I went on for four years and cost the lives of 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians – one of the deadliest conflicts in history.
Historical facts and pics reblogged from American Minute