On the evening of 24th December 1914 hundreds of thousands of British, French and German soldiers left their trenches and came together in No-Man’s-Land to celebrate Christmas. That night a ceasefire was observed across much of France and Belgium, in blatant disregard of the official German and Allied policies of non-fraternisation. It was a time for men to swap cigarettes, food and souvenirs; to mingle and sing carols; to collect and bury the dead.
The First World War had been raging for 5 bloody months. It would continue for another 47. What had begun as a nationalist movement in Serbia finished as the world’s first global industrialised conflict. By the end of hostilities on 11th November 1918, nearly 20 million people had been sacrificed to the fallacy that war ends war.
Viewed in such a context the Christmas truce becomes a defining moment in human history. Men, who in November had been hacking each other to pieces for control of the Belgian town of Ypres, risked everything to wish each other a Merry Christmas just one month later.
When I reflect upon those extraordinary events, I am reminded of a line from John Sullivan Dwight’s carol, ‘Oh Holy Night’ – “A thrill of hope; the weary world rejoices.”
The world is weary, now as it was then. There is hate and there is violence; this may never change. Yet there will always be a case for hope.
So as we celebrate Christmas this year, perhaps we might spare a thought for the soldiers in the trenches, who somehow found a sense of fellowship in the bitter depths of war. Perhaps we might remember 24th December 1914, and rejoice that the guns of the Western Front fell silent, at least upon the night the Angels sang.
Merry Christmas everybody.
I’m sorry I haven’t been around this past year and I hope to get back into blogging soon.