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I need an emblematic, inspiring, not-too-long quote or image from the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914. It should be historically accurate, but (in an appropriate context) it should be fairly easy for a reader to recognize it for what it is.

For example, it could be a quote in broken English from a German solder or officer. It could be a quote in any of the three languages. It could be the lyrics of a song that was sung, in the language the song was actually sung. It could be a short sentence about lighting of candles or about playing soccer.

I see things on the web, but I have no way of judging if what I see is historically accurate, so I thought I would ask the people who would know!

It would be helpful to know the geographical location of the majority of the "Christmas Truce" activities that occurred in 1914. (I realize that they didn't all happen on Christmas itself, that's okay.)

Edit: So what I need is song lyrics or a quote, either from the time, or something emblematic that was written later; and the primary geographic locations, e.g. "Belgium."

  • I seem to remember that it is well-documented what the first song or two was. If nobody pipes up, check out its Wikipedia page, and perhaps some of the references it contains. – T.E.D. Dec 27 '16 at 19:04
  • @T.E.D. - I already did some preliminary reading, but as I said, I have a hard time judging what is authentic and what isn't. I was thinking of quoting "Silent Night" in German, but I wanted to see what the historians think. – aparente001 Dec 27 '16 at 19:08
  • This is not of the 1914 truce, but of the 1915 truce exactly one year later. Here is a song about the 1915 truce: Celtic Thunder - 'Christmas 1915' (YouTube) and a little history to go with it: The forgotten Christmas truce the British tried to suppress. – Ken Graham Dec 28 '16 at 12:22
  • @KenGraham - Frustrating that the diary does not seem to have been fully transcribed yet. I even went to the museum's website. // Interesting that the Celtic Thunder song quotes from "Silent Night". – aparente001 Dec 28 '16 at 16:20
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So, the most important thing to bear in mind about the "Christmas Truce" was that it was not a single event. Truces broke out independently at many different locations - they shared many common characteristics and in some cases the participants may have been aware of truces elsewhere, but in general, you're looking at a lot of independent activity more-or-less invented on the spot. There is a good scholarly survey of different aspects of this in Meeting in No Man's Land: Christmas 1914 and Fraternization in the Great War (ed. Malcolm Brown, 2007). I haven't yet read The Christmas Truce: Myth, Memory, and the First World War (Terri Blom Crocker, 2015) but it looks solid as well.

The second most important thing is that it wasn't just on Christmas - although that was the highest-profile bit and one of the few explicitly talked-about ones. Localised truces occurred right throughout the war, though as time went on, they were more commonly tacit rather than explicit - think "oh, we never shoot when they're washing" - Trench Warfare 1914–1918: the live-and-let-live system (Tony Ashworth, 1980) is an excellent survey of this. I cannot recommend the Ashworth book strongly enough - really eye-opening and worth reading for anyone with an interest in the lived experience of WWI.

Hopefully you've picked these up from background reading, but if not, never hurts to set the groundwork :-)

As a result, there wasn't a very clear geographic focus, and single events that characterised some truces (eg football, songs, burial, souvenir exchanges) were not present at others. This probably helped the growing belief in the late 20th century that it was a myth, as various accounts of it contradicted others, or came from different places, etc.

For a series of eyewitness accounts to pick from, the first chapter of Brown 2007 or one of the recent popular histories like Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas truce (Stanley Weintraub, 2001) are pretty good. (Weintraub has some interesting comments of the truce as experienced by Indian units, I think, though I can't find a copy to hand).

One of the most widely-used accounts is from RJ Ames, an officer in the (British) 1st Staffordshires, and something like this would work well -

I was in my dugout reading a paper, and the mail was being dished out. It was reported that the Germans had lighted their trenches up all along our front. We started calling to one another Christmas wishes. I went out and they shouted 'no shooting' and then somehow the scene became a peaceful one. All our men got out of the trenches and sat on the parapet, and the Germans did the same, and they talked to one another in English and broken English. (...)

For an image, the canonical photo is this one (IWM Q.11745), and you could do a lot worse than reuse it.

  • Thanks for adding to my knowledge of the topic. My impression is that some of these impromptu short truces occurred in Belgium. Were there an extensive number in other places as well? I'm writing a persuasive document which will be dated and submitted on December 29 or 30. A key image running throughout the document is trench warfare à la WWI, figuratively speaking. For example, "it is true that, in the circumstances, the parents were glad to achieve even the meager results the hearing officer listed in his decision; but each inch of ground defended required a pitched battle. ... – aparente001 Dec 28 '16 at 11:13
  • ... It seems doubtful that trench warfare was quite the type of 'meaningful participation' Congress intended when it enacted the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act." So when I get to the end, I want to wrap the whole 20 pages up with an understandable, emblematic quote from the Christmas Truce (Truces). Proposal: the first for little lines of "Silent Night", in German? Would that work? Is there something else that might work better? // I all or most of these truces occurred in Belgium, it might be nice to refer to that, e.g. if it could happen in Belgium, it could happen in ... – aparente001 Dec 28 '16 at 11:16
  • ... (name of my town). // Should I mention candles? One account I came across mentioned candles. // I'm not going to write an explanation. I just want to give a quote in italics at the end, with this poetical, historical image mentioned in the last sentence of my petition, as a simple way of expression my proposed remedy, after explaining it more precisely (either "facilitated IEP meeting" or a professional mediator). I want to give it a little touch of courtroom drama at the end. I want to make the state review officer cry. (Of course it only works if he's heard of the Christmas Truce,... – aparente001 Dec 28 '16 at 11:16
  • ... but that's a risk I'd like to take. Even if he doesn't, the word "truce" is clear enough. // With the availability of Google Images these days, finding images was the easy part. But I can only use text. // In my reading, one article that hit me hard was the interview with the last participant alive at the time of the article. He describe the truce as he experienced it, and it was remarkable and all that, but what came through the strongest was the overwhelming sadness he still felt about his war experiences, after so many years. – aparente001 Dec 28 '16 at 11:27
  • I'm finding it hard to nail down an exact map of where anyone was, but I believe that at this point about half the British units were in France rather than Belgium. And, of course, it happened (rarely) in some French sectors as well! You might find "on the Western Front" a more evocative phrase than "in Belgium", as it conveniently draws in a lot of the associations you're looking for. – Andrew Dec 28 '16 at 12:00

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