Festivities

2 Apr

German troops prepare for Christmas in the trenches, 1915:

Glad Tidings

Much has been said and written about the famous Christmas Truce(s) of 1914 — and filmed, too, whether in the profoundly serious Joyeux Noël (2005) or the children’s animated short War Game (2001) — and much in those materials has been made of how illustrative it was of the better intentions of the men over their barbarous, war-mongering generals, the shared humanity of those in the trenches, the cruelly snuffed possibility of Finding A Better Way, etc. etc.  I have my own views on all that, which I fully intend to expound upon in this venue at a later date, but for now I’ll draw attention to the fact of the above image being from 1915.

The official discouragement that was the major consequence of the truces of 1914 took some of the spring from the step of those looking to indulge in sentimental affection in the middle of a war.  A rather different approach to the matter can be discerned in 1915, in spite of the efforts of those in the photo above.

For the sake of interest, let’s take a look at how Christmas 1915 played out in the memoirs of two somewhat notorious participants in the war.

From Michael Hoffmann’s translation of Ernst Jünger’s Storm of Steel (1920):

We spent Christmas Eve in the line, and, standing in the mud, sang hymns, to which the British responded with machine gun fire.  On Christmas Day we lost one man to a ricochet in the head.  Immediately afterwards, the British attempted a friendly gesture by hauling a Christmas tree up on their traverse, but our angry troops quickly shot it down again, to which Tommy replied with rifle-grenades.  It was all in all less than a merry Christmas.

And from A.O. Pollard’s Fire-Eater: Memoirs of a V.C. (1932):

We spent Christmas Day in the front line.  At midnight on Christmas Eve we sang all the carols we could remember; the whole company in one huge chorus.  After we had exhausted our repertoire there was a lull.  Then the Bavarians started in their trenches.  Christmas Day was uneventful.  There was no shelling and both sides were unusually quiet.  At noon [we] decided to let Fritz know we were on the alert and contemptuous of him.  We climbed on to the fire-step and fired off five rounds rapid.  There was no reply.

While modest gestures towards a repeat of the previous year’s festivities are apparent, nobody seems keen to get into it again.  I’ll have more to say about why this might be the case in a future post.

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