12/24 – The Christmas Truce

A “Boche” and “Tommy” share a cigarette at a POW camp during the later years of the war. “Fraternisation” like this was generally discouraged by higher command after the 1914 Christmas Truce. (Reddit)

On Christmas Eve of 1914, nearly 100,000 soldiers on both sides laid down their arms in a series of informal ceasefires along the trenches of the Western Front in the first major truce of WWI. At Ypres in Belgium, the “truce” began organically as the Germans started singing Christmas carols and hoisting up makeshift trees adorned with lights above their trenches. The artillery stopped firing, and soon the British – a hundred metres away in their freezing trenches – were singing along with the Germans. Men began tentatively stepping out into No Man’s Land (the deadly zone between combatants’ trenches) and working together at burying their dead and holding joint funeral services. Many canned goods and souvenirs were exchanged. According to some sources, a game of football took place near Messines; the Germans apparently won 3-2, but no grudges were held.

Unfortunately, the Christmas Truce only really worked in 1914. As the years wore on, both sides became more cynical and massive, bloody clashes like Verdun reinforced everyone’s desire to end the war. Some attempts were made to replicate the success of the truce in 1915, but soldiers were forbidden from participating by higher command. WWI marked a real turning point in the history of war: from 1914 on, military training became more realistic with a focus on dehumanizing the enemy and ensuring soldiers were more likely to kill in combat. If the events of Christmas 1914 represent anything, perhaps it’s the last gasp of a more idealistic, innocent generation – before those more peaceful tendencies were trained out of them in boot camp, and beaten out of them in brutal, relentless combat.

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