Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 24, 2011

The Christmas Truce

Something remarkable and unexpected happened on the first Christmas of the first World War, only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe. Allied and German troops were engaged in trench warfare on the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium along the Western Front. In some places the trenches were less than 60 yards apart with the no-man’s land between them littered with the bodies of dead soldiers.

In the days leading up to Christmas, men on both sides had received gifts from home. Many of the Germans, who had a direct line from home to the front, received table-top trees with candles clamped to the branches — a German tradition. Just after midnight on Christmas Day, the German soldiers placed their trees along the parapets of their trenches and lit the candles.

Christmas Truce
Then, the Allied troops heard the familiar sound of Silent Night coming from the German trenches. They feared this might be a trick until unarmed German soldiers climb out of their trenches and called out Merry Christmas. Soon soldiers from both sides gathered and met between the trenches. They exchanged Christmas greetings and gifts, retrieved and buried their dead, and even competed in a soccer match.

Those who were there and survived wrote to their loved ones about the spontaneous and extraordinary Christmas Truce of 1914. Percy Jones of the Queen’s Westminster Regiment wrote, “Altogether we had a great day with our enemies, and parted with much hand-shaking and mutual goodwill.”

Corporal John Ferguson of the Seaforth Highlanders captured the irony of the truce, “What a sight; little groups of Germans and British extending along the length of our front. Out of the darkness we could hear the laughter and see lighted matches. Where they couldn’t talk the language, they made themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.”

Captain R. Armes of the 1st North Staffordshire regiment reported, “It was a curious scene – a lovely moonlit (Christmas) night, the German trenches with small lights on them, and the men on both sides gathered in groups on the parapets. It is weird to think that tomorrow night we shall be at it again. If one gets through this show it will be a Christmas time to live in one’s memory.”

In 1984, musician John McCutcheon wrote a ballad entitled Christmas in the Trenches, telling the story from the viewpoint of Francis Tolliver, a fictional British soldier from Liverpool. The last stanza of the ballad is a great reminder that the men on both sides of the trenches were the same — a lesson worth remembering at Christmas and throughout the year.

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell,
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well,
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame,
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

I leave for India the day after Christmas to dedicate our boys home — The Diane Patterson Bethany Home — in the state of Orissa. This state has the worst record of persecution against Christians in recent years. As I was writing this post I received an email from the director of our boys home. His email is a reminder that in some places on the planet there is still much tension at Christmas. Please pray for me as I escort the Patterson family and Sean, our KBC videographer, to India to dedicate the boys home. And please pray for peace on earth this Christmas. Below is what our director wrote to me this morning. I will post updates along the way as I have opportunity.

“We as Christian community in our District were under great tension and mentally tortured till today the 24th Dec. A strike was called by the group who did persecution in 2008 and most were scattered for months. It was called from 24th to 27th December so that Christmas celebration be disturbed. From our side we approached the District authorities requesting to take care of the situation. After several meetings, finally it was called off this morning. District authorities took uttermost pain to help us celebrating Christmas peacefully. Police forces are deployed to most of the churches to watch. Thanks for your continued prayers for us. Looking forward to see you after a few days. Wishing you happy Christmas and blessed New Year 2012.”

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