The story about the Christmas truce during WWI is one of the most heartwarming in history, but some parts of it just don’t match and aren’t talked about that often.
You've probably heard about the Christmas miracle that occurred in WWI when British and German soldiers who were stuck in a trench on Christmas Eve decided to make a peace truce to celebrate the festivity. In case you didn't know about it, it goes like this.
It was Christmas Eve 1914. Both sides of the western front were tired from the war and melancholic about having to spend another Christmas apart from their families. All of a sudden, on one side of the line, soldiers started singing Christmas carols to warm their hearts. They were heard on the enemy trench, and to everybody’s surprise, they joined in. Then, one thing led to another, and suddenly, soldiers from both sides came out and gathered in no man's land to celebrate the holiday together, thus starting one of the most heartwarming Christmas stories of all time. But how did this happen, and is the story actually true?
There’s no solid evidence
Although it’s a story we all take for granted, the truth is there is no solid evidence to prove this ever happened. All we know about this Christmas peace truce comes from diary entries, letters, and newspapers from the time. However, almost all of these are third-hand accounts, meaning that most of it is merely rumors, which takes us to our next point.
The truce didn’t happen throughout the entire front line
Unlike what many would think, according to the evidence, the truce only happened in some bits of the front line. All along the line, there were officials in charge of their own battalions, and it all depended on their holiday spirit if they were to join the unexpected truce.
Though we remember the peaceful part of the truce, it also sparked a lot of violence
According to various accounts, in some places, officials saw it as treason and shot those who left the trenches to make contact with the enemy. In some parts of the front line, the distance between both sides was so short, that some officials saw it as a threat, since it allowed their subordinates to hear the enemy and realize they were merely pawns in other people’s game. This was extremely dangerous for the war efforts because soon many soldiers embraced an attitude that came to be known as the “live and let live system.”
It wasn’t as spontaneous people like to think
In September of that year, the recently anointed Pope Benedict XV asked the leaders of the world powers to make a peace truce during Christmas to give soldiers and their families the chance to be together during the holidays. Everybody thought that the war was going to last only a couple of months, so he was sure that this peace truce would finally help them see reason and stop the conflict. It didn’t happen, of course, and the bloodshed lasted about four more years.
The duration of the truce depended on each battalion
As the story goes, this unusual peace truce was only for Christmas Day. However, according to some diary entries and letters, it’s believed that the duration of the truce varied along the front line. For instance, in some spots, it was only a matter of hours, during which both sides allowed the other to bury their dead on no man’s land. For others, the truce was extended until New Year’s Day, giving the soldiers time to rest and celebrate in peace.
There’s no significant evidence of the famous football match
One of the most famous parts of the Christmas truce story is the football match that took place between both sides. In England, there’s even a memorial statue in honor of the alleged match. However, even with the third-hand evidence available, there isn’t a single account that talks about this match in particular. There are letters that talk about matches happening in their own trenches, or even stories of promised matches between the Germans and the British, but these are just suppositions and rumors. The story was in the press, but not in direct accounts.
We can say that there was definitely a peace truce during that cold winter of 1914, but it wasn’t as magical as we've been led to believe. The question here is, if it was such heartwarming proof of humanity, why wasn’t this an annual thing during the four years the war lasted? There are many answers to this question. The first one is what we talked about before: these friendly interactions were seen as threats to the war effort, and leaders knew this was something that couldn’t happen again.
Another fact that we must keep in mind is that this was the first Christmas of this horrible war, and the war was supposed to be over in a couple of months. But technology and the trench system helped make this event a long and violent war that took the lives of millions throughout Europe. The longer the soldiers stayed down in the trenches not really gaining anything, the more they realized they might never go back to their loved ones. We can see in their letters and accounts that, as the war progressed the spirits and hopes of the soldiers were gradually shattered. Who wants to celebrate when all you see around you is devastation and death?
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