Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Truce - reality or just a myth?

The Christmas time is coming, so please check our Facebook fan page and the photoalbum related to the Christmas during the Great War. 

One of the most known tales from the Great War is the one regarding the Christmas Truce. Was the truce real? There are some interesting facts from Thomas Löwer's article.

The Christmas Truce happened in 1914. Bruce Bairnsfather, an English soldier has remembered that "The soldiers exchanged gifts, sometimes addresses, and drank together. The truce started with a request to bury the dead comrades lying between the trenches."

Many war diaries report a football match occurring during the 1914 truce, but whether or not a match was really played is unclear. Historians are still debating if a match was really played or if the soldiers just dramatized the truce. Contrary to in 1914, it is certain that a match between German and English soldiers occurred in 1915.

Armistice Day football match at Dale Barracks between german soldiers and Royal Welsh fusiliers to remember the famous Christmas Day truce between germany and Britain  

Alfred Anderson, the last known survivor of the 1914 “Christmas Truce” who died in 2005: “I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas,’ even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again"

There were no truces in following years, and 1914 truce was mystified as an act of humanity in an inhuman war. Jorgensen and Harrison-Lever published a picture book for children with the Christmas Truce as the background.

But the war went on and the thing has changed... A German officer wrote in his letter:  “...such a proposal in the past would have been accepted with pleasure, but at the present time, when we have clearly recognized England’s real character, we refuse to any such agreement. Also we do not doubt that you are men of honor, yet every feeling of ours revolts against any friendly intercourse towards the subjects of a nation which for years has, in underhand ways sought the friendship of all other nations, so that with their help annihilate us, a nation also which, while professing Christianity, is not ashamed to use dum-dum bullets; and whose greatest pleasure would be to see the political disappearance and social eclipse of Germany.[…] But all the same you are Englishmen, whose annihilate we consider as our most sacred duty. We therefore request you to take such action as will prevent your mercenaries, whom you call soldiers, from approaching our trenches in future.”

The same was at the other side of the trenches. Captain Billy Congreve from the 3rd division noticed that the Germans did try to make a truce for Christmas.

“We have issued strict orders to the men not to on any account allow a truce, as we have heard rumours that they will probably try to. The Germans did. They came over towards us singing. So we opened rapid fire on them, which is the only truce they deserve.”

That this example of humanity did not occur again has several reasons. One was definitely the change in warfare. Poison gas was used in 1915 for the first time and British cities were bombed by German Zeppelins. Furthermore, the hatred for the German inhumanity increased with the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine. Moreover, the conventional warfare became crueler and the causalities on every side were much higher than in 1914.

Another reason was that the headquarters were better prepared and used precautionary measures to prevent a truce. The punishment was on both sides more or less the death penalty.

Western front, Christmas 1914