Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Christmas Truce

Silent Night is famous for being one of the hymns that was sung by the soldiers during the Christmas Truce during the First World War. Though World War I had been raging for only four months, it was already proving to be one of the bloodiest wars in history. Soldiers on both sides were trapped in trenches, exposed to the cold and wet winter weather, covered in mud, and extremely careful of sniper shots. Machines guns had proven their worth in war, bringing new meaning to the word "slaughter."

In a place where bloodshed was nearly commonplace and mud and the enemy were fought with equal vigour, something surprising occurred on the front for Christmas in 1914. The men who lay shivering in the trenches embraced the Christmas spirit. In one of the truest acts of goodwill toward men, soldiers from both sides in the southern portion of the Ypres Salient set aside their weapons and hatred, if only temporarily, and met in No Man's Land.

What caused this? British troops thought they heard music some described as "from the heavens." It was, some laughed, Christmas Eve, so maybe a delusion for those who hungered to be home instead of on a muddy battlefield. Then the sound grew distinct. It was from the German trenches, which in some narrow spots were only 50 yards away. In a tongue foreign to most Britishers, voices across the way sang Stille Nacht – Silent Night.

When it ended there was a short time of silence. Then one of the British soldiers began singing The First Noel. Halfway through, the entire regiment joined in. When the British followed with Oh, Come All Ye Faithful, German soldiers joined in with harmony of the Latin version, Adeste Fideles, bringing two warring nations together in song. Later one soldier described it as “the most practical demonstration I have seen of Peace on earth and goodwill towards men”.

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