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The Christmas Truce of 1914

War is never pretty but sometimes it leads to these interesting pauses in fighting that allow humanity to seep through and offer a return of sorts to normal life.

This was the case almost a century ago when on December 24th, 1914 when unplanned ceasefires broke out along a vast portion of The Western Front as over 100,000 British, German, Belgian and French troops simply stopped fighting.

The months and weeks leading up to The Christmas Truce were barbaric. Both sides had experienced heavy casualties. Cities and towns were ravaged and ghastly new methods of killing had emerged as the war progressed. This lead to a bloody stalemate where weary soldiers on each side simply wanted to go home.

The truce began early on Christmas week as fighting waned in some parts of the Western Front. Eventually soldiers from the Central Powers and Allied forces began to exchange greetings from across the trenches. This led, according to some eyewitness testimonies, to overtures from Germans who on December 24th lit Christmas trees with candles and placed them atop trenches along their side of the front. The allies on the other end of No Man’s Land, reciprocated by singing carols of their own.

Eventually a cessation of combat led to the unthinkable; fraternization. Soldiers climbed over the top of their trenches into the open air of No Man’s Land and met enemy troops to exchange holiday wishes, and stories. They also shared smokes and drank. Sides were drawn and the warring forces played rough soccer games. Along some parts of the front troops exchanged presents and visited each other’s trenches.

Armies quickly disappeared as the fraternization spread much to the consternation of many commanding officers. The spontaneous acts of peace caused troops to lay down their arms to throw up theirs.  In their wisdom they decided not to report these events to their citizens at home for several weeks to avoid fostering more anti-war sentiment.

The truce lasted, in most parts of the front, well into Christmas Day. In some parts of the front the truce held until New Years Day. No matter the duration the break was a respite form the horrors of the first modern war. This respite was also the largest mass desertion in history and in many cases strict discipline was delivered after combat resumed.

Many accounts lead you to believe that the Christmas Truce of 1914 happened in a limited area. In fact it was spread out along the front with varying degrees of success.  The sheer scope of the ceasefires is almost impossible to comprehend. The number of participants is staggering as is the fact that the truce actually paused the war long enough to create a moment where nations could clear their heads. Sadly the moment was squandered.

This is why the Christmas Truce remains so fascinating today.  It is a frozen moment in time that could never happen today. This was one of those rare moments in history where madness and insanity took a backseat for an interval of calm and rational thinking. Unfortunately it was just a hiccup as the sides involved spent four more years beating the hell out of each other with unabashed brutality.

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