By Georgina M. Coates
They told them that the war would be some grand thing. They painted it as the sort of glorious, noble and beautiful fight that is prominent in those stories. Nobility and righteousness would win out, the wicked and malevolent would be defeated and if there happened to be any bloodshed along the way, then it would ultimately be redeemed by the promise of a happy ending for those that deserved one. The Great War to end all wars. But there is an insidious aspect to stories of that particular class.
At heart, they are naught but lies.
Picture in your minds a flock of birds soaring off south for the winter. Their minds are filled with joy for what lies ahead, their focus on little else than sweet paradise and seeking shelter from the bitter chill of winter. But then, without warning, tranquility is crudely interrupted by the deafening bang of a gunshot (perhaps followed by several more). Those slain by that cruel event are dead, those that survived are forever marked by what they went through and idealism is shattered either way. That is what The Great War was like for the many that endured it; dreams crushed by bitter reality.
However, let it not be said that there were no bright spots to be found. Even in such dark times, there were a few cheery moments that gave people some hope for the future. On the 24th of December in the year of our lord, 1914, German troops near Ypres decorated their trenches and sang carols, which led to responses from the British troops. It wasn’t long before soldiers from all sides of the conflict met up in the desolate area known as No Man’s Lands, laid down their weapons and declared a truce. They played games of football, exchanged friendly greetings, wondrous gifts and even sang songs together. Both sides also held joint burials where they mourned the dearly departed, united in grief for a comrade’s passing. In general, the different sides of the bloody conflict formed strong rapports with one another and when the time came for them to part, they parted as dear friends.
I would like to tell you that this sort of thing lasted through out World War I and that everything was all sunshine and rainbows. The idealist that lives inside me with very much like to say that the superiors let this sort of thing go on without any problems at all. But that would be another case of the story becoming a lie. As the war progressed and the violence increased, suspicion grew between the two sides and superiors were stricter about ‘fraternization with the enemy’ and so less truces were held.
Nevertheless, the Christmas truces of 1914 serve as a powerful example of camaraderie, humanity and peace. If you can forgive me for indulging in a bit of cheese, it was a bright ray of hope in a dark and bleak period in human history. Stories like that make life worthwhile and that kind of story is never a lie.