Saturday, December 24, 2016

Peace On Earth...May Christmas Hasten That Day

The first months of World War I had seen an initial German attack through Belgium into France, which had been repulsed outside Paris by French and British troops at the Battle of the Marne in early September 1914. The Germans fell back to the Aisne Valley and in the subsequent Battle of the Aisne, the Allied forces were unable to push through the German line, and the fighting quickly degenerated into a static stalemate with neither side willing to give ground. To the north, on the right of the German army, there had been no defined front line and both sides quickly began to try to use this gap to outflank one another. In the ensuing "race to the sea", the two sides repeatedly clashed, each trying to push forward and threaten the end of the other's line. By November, there was a continuous front line running from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. The action was swift and both sides were determined.

But, in December something unexpected happened: An unofficial truce involving about 100,000 British and German troops along the length of that front. The reason?  Christmas.  It began on Christmas Eve when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches in the region of Ypres, Belgium. The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across the 'No Man's Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently-fallen soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but it continued until New Year's Day in others.

Ironically, just days before Christmas a group of 101 British women suffragists wrote a letter to the women of Germany and Austria. Under the heading "On Earth Peace, Goodwill towards Men, the letter said, "The Christmas message sounds like mockery to a world at war. Is it not our mission to preserve life? 

The next Christmas, the two sides again observed an unofficial cease fire at the front but it was not as successful, thanks to strongly-worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternization.

My prayer is that one day we will have peace on earth...

"May Christmas hasten that day."

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