Silent Night: The Remarkable Christmas Truce of 1914 by Stanley WeintraubIt was one of historys most powerful,yet forgotten,Christmas stories. It took place in the improbable setting of the mud, cold rain and senseless killing of the trenches of World War I. It happened in spite of orders to the contrary by superiors; it happened in spite of language barriers. And it still stands as the only time in history that peace spontaneously arose from the lower ranks in a major conflict, bubbling up to the officers and temporarily turning sworn enemies into friends.
Silent Night, by renowned military historian Stanley Weintraub, magically restores the 1914 Christmas Truce to history. It had been lost in the tide of horror that filled the battlefields of Europe for months and years afterward. Yet in December 1914 the Great War was still young, and the men who suddenly threw down their arms and came together across the front lines to sing carols, exchange gifts and letters, eat and drink and even play friendly games of soccer naively hoped that the war would be short-lived, and that they were fraternizing with future friends.
It began when German soldiers lit candles on small Christmas trees, and British, French, Belgian and German troops serenaded each other on Christmas Eve. Soon they were gathering and burying the dead, in an age-old custom of truces. But as the power of Christmas grew among them, they broke bread, exchanged addresses and letters and expressed deep admiration for one another. When angry superiors ordered them to recommence the shooting, many men aimed harmlessly high overhead.
Sometimes the greatest beauty emerges from deep tragedy. Surely the forgotten Christmas Truce was one of historys most beautiful moments, made all the more beautiful in light of the carnage that followed it. Stanley Weintraubs moving re-creation demonstrates that peace can be more fragile than war, but also that ordinary men can bond with one another despite all efforts of politicians and generals to the contrary.
WW1 Christmas Truce: Silent Night - Extra History - #1
Christmas Truce of 1914
S ome say they never happened, while others assert that the football matches and kickabouts rumoured to have taken place during the Christmas truce up and down the Western Front during the First World War were conjured up — a byproduct of a quickly fading romanticism that had been shell-shocked into a state of reality revealing the lengths that humans will go to destroy one another. The fact is we will likely never know the truth about what took place along the Western Front in relation to football, but we do know the effects of it, which are worthwhile. For the uninitiated, the story undulates between mythology and detailed circumstance and because of that, the truth is likely lost somewhere in between. Even if the fraternization did not commence with the Germans singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve or nobody really remembers bringing a football to the front lines, the story remains one draped in mystery, heartbreak and hope at Christmas time. From the first shots fired during the German invasion of Belgium in August to the Battle of the Frontiers, the Battle of the Marne, fighting in Ypres, and countless other conflicts on a truly global theatre, the innocence of the 20th century had been destroyed; new boundaries of turmoil and suffering were established daily; thresholds for pain and loss of life must have read like misprints and still do in periodicals on the home front as the multifarious reports indicated this was a different type of war. This was hell on Earth. Thumbing through old and out-of-circulation history textbooks on the subject of the First World War, one finds a historical wormhole of stories within the story.
The Christmas truce occurred during the relatively early period of the war month 5 of Hostilities had entered somewhat of a lull as leadership on both sides reconsidered their strategies following the stalemate of the Race to the Sea and the indecisive result of the First Battle of Ypres. In the week leading up to the 25th, French , German , and British soldiers crossed trenches to exchange seasonal greetings and talk. In some areas, men from both sides ventured into no man's land on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to mingle and exchange food and souvenirs. There were joint burial ceremonies and prisoner swaps, while several meetings ended in carol-singing. Men played games of football with one another,  giving one of the most memorable images of the truce. Peaceful behaviour was not ubiquitous; fighting continued in some sectors, while in others the sides settled on little more than arrangements to recover bodies.
It has become one of the most iconic moments of the First World War, and was in chosen by Sainsbury's as the subject of their huge Christmas advertising campaign. But there is still some debate about whether football featured in the Christmas truce. Here, Professor Mark Connelly from the University of Kent, and Taff Gillingham, a military historian who worked on the Sainsbury's advert, share their verdicts. I have spent many years researching the Christmas truce, looking through war diaries, and papers at the Imperial War Museum. What I know from my investigations is that we just cannot find any conclusive evidence that a football match took place. There is lots of evidence of a match being discussed on the day — a number of letters from soldiers see them telling their loved ones about loose plans to play a game — but it seems they never got around to it. Plus, at least one letter suggests they could not actually find a football.
The Christmas truce statue at St. So we all get it: the British and German troops who participated in the Christmas truce played football. And those famous football matches are how we remember the armistice today—the disillusioned soldiers dropping their weapons to engage in a friendly kickabout, demonstrating their sense of comradeship with the men of the opposing side. In the popular version of the truce, the evil generals soon put a stop to the festivities, ordering the troops back to their trenches. The letters written home by British soldiers about the truce do often speak of football games—but they mainly reference rumors of matches that happened elsewhere.