The Christmas Truce of 1914 desiringGod.org
Each soldier had a distinct family, laugh, voice, name, and soul. They were sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, fiancés. In another life, some had been clerks, shopkeepers, students, ministers, teachers. Beyond the heart’s capacity to reason, 6,046 were killed every day in the Great War — a war that lasted 1,566 days. If we gave each fallen soldier thirty seconds of silence, we would be sitting still for nine unbroken years.
Unbroken — something that did not describe many of these men. A 19-year-old Irishman, serving as Second Lieutenant in the British army, gives one of the most chilling descriptions of what he observed as he fought on the frontline:
The frights, the cold, the smell of H.E. [high explosives], the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet. (Surprised by Joy, 240)
Men, horribly smashed, moved like half-crushed beetles. “Standing or sitting corpses.” The young Irishman, very different from the great C.S. Lewis he would later become, wrote poetry about seeing men’s stomachs “fall out on their knees.” Men, with someone waiting for their return; men, made in the image of their Creator; men, some of whom were not much more than children — reduced to twitch and tremor like dying insects. Physically on the battlefield, or psychologically when traumatized, they were carried home.
Amidst humankind’s greatest parody of hell on earth to date, a song broke into the darkness of World War I. The war had not ended, but light had dawned for a night. Many present recounted it as one of the highlights of their lives. Soldiers wrote that they would not have preferred to celebrate anywhere else that Christmas Eve, 1914. The stoic Wall Street Journal would even report, “What appears from the winter fog and misery is a Christmas story, a fine Christmas story that is, in truth, the most faded and tattered of adjectives: inspiring.”
Josef Wenzl, a soldier in the German infantry that night, described it to his parents in a letter: “Between the trenches, the hated and bitter opponents meet around the Christmas tree and sing Christmas carols. This once in a lifetime vision I will not forget.” In a functional graveyard appropriately named “No-Man’s Land,” one of the most inspiring Christmas stories of the century unfolded.
Five months earlier, the curtains of war opened, unveiling combat machines the world had never seen. Mobs of soldiers marching side by side in traditional fashion were systematically mowed down by machine guns and devoured by hailstorms of artillery fire.
To escape the barrage of bullets and explosions, men burrowed into the ground. Thousands of miles of zigzagged ditches lined both Eastern and Western fronts, making the trench the symbol of the First World War. Both sides held trenches paralleling the other, usually about 100 to 400 yards away.
What was trench life like? Dan Carlin suggests imagining yourself going out in your backyard, digging a hole, and living there day after day. Then add decaying bodies and rotting limbs. Also, flood them with constant rainfall which would make your boot-wearing feet balloon and ache (trench foot) and the decomposing bodies “float to the surface.”
Finish it off with rats “that were the size of cats,” an endemic of fever-spreading body-lice, never-ending mud, moans and whimpers from mostly-dead men, and a stench that allowed you to smell the front line long before you could see it — never forgetting that thousands of men, paid to kill you, squatted a football field away and possessed the most lethal weapons known to man at that time. In cold, wet holes in the ground lived millions of soldiers at war.
Leading up to Christmas Eve on the Western front, the weather started the truce: it got colder. The frost not only brought an idyllic, “fictional Christmas,” but more importantly, it hardened the liquefied mud of the trench floors.
As the sun began to set, Albert Moren of the Second Queen’s Regiment described what happened next:
It was a beautiful moonlit night, frost on the ground, white almost everywhere; and . . . there was a lot of commotion in the German trenches and then were those lights — I don’t know what they were. And then they sang “Silent Night.” I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.
“Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent night, holy night”) danced past putrefying corpses lying in “No-Man’s Land” to crouch in enemy trenches. The lights lining the top of German trenches, which Albert failed to discern, were thousands of candled Christmas trees.
Private William Quinton, of the Second Bedfordshire Regiment, described it this way:
Something in the direction of the German lines caused us to rub our eyes and look again. Here and there, showing just above their parapet, we could see very faintly what looked like very small colored lights. . . . We were very suspicious and were discussing this strange move of the enemy, when something even stranger happened. The Germans were actually singing!
Some assumed it was a sniper trap to get Allied soldiers to peer over their parapets. However, as spontaneous carols, banter, and shouts of “Merry Christmas” shot between the miles of trenches, suspicions soothed. Germans even threw boots full of chocolates and shouted out in the enemy tongue, “English soldiers! English soldiers!” “Happy Christmas! Where are your Christmas trees?” “No shoot tonight. Sing tonight!” “You no shoot. We no shoot!”
Emboldened by song and reciprocated joking, a few men took things further: they requested to meet in the middle of “No-Man’s Land.” Seemingly suicidal, a few soldiers began climbing from the safety of their trench, risking their lives to socialize with the mortal foe. Both sides watched, with their hands on their rifles. Slowly, the trenches began lightening. “The Christmas spirit” as historian Modris Eksteins described, began to “conquer the battlefield.”
After thousands of men gathered the night before, tens of thousands would gather in “No-Man’s Land” on Christmas Day. They gathered — illegally — to sing, exchange gifts of cigars and puddings, and talk (as best they could). One Brit gave a German a haircut. Some reportedly raced bikes they found in abandoned houses. They fought ferociously — on the soccer field, laughing hysterically at the Scots whose behinds shone as their kilts flapped in the wind.
They also took the opportunity to bury the festering corpses. They conducted some joint funeral services which moved both sides profoundly. The whole scene “was absolutely astounding,” Captain Sir Edward Hulse of the Scots guard commented, “and if I had seen it on cinematograph film I should have sworn it was faked!”
The truces ended as mysteriously as they began. Sentiments were shared, such as, “Today, we have peace. Tomorrow, you fight for your country; I fight for mine. Good luck!” Although a good number of sectors extended the truce through New Year’s Day, one way or another, the carnage inevitably resumed. This was a truce, not peace. Many of the soldiers who celebrated the Christmas Truce of 1914 would not survive the war.
Too often, this story concludes with humanist commentary upon the goodwill of man shining amidst utter barbarity. Vague colors of hope and peace shine above parapets. We forget that the miraculous truce dawned on the celebration of a child’s birthday — not Muhammad’s, Buddha’s, Darwin’s, Nietzsche’s, or Gandhi’s — but Jesus Christ’s.
This is fitting, not only because angels speak of peace on earth at his birth (Luke 2:14), nor merely because his is the only name given among men by which they must be saved (Acts 4:12), but because he himself is the Great Terms of Christmas Truce for all mankind. What appeared from the winter fog and misery of a world submerged in darkness is a Christmas story, that is, in truth, the most faded and tattered of adjectives: redeeming.
This story found humanity, since Genesis 3, standing upright in his trench, not minding his God or his warnings. He sang, “Peace, peace,” to his neighbor where there was no peace. And God’s response: more scandalous than meeting for a soccer game. His gift: costlier than cigars or plum pudding. He had more than chocolates to throw or haircuts to give.
To us a child was born; to us a son was given (Isaiah 9:6). “And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:5). As Spurgeon heralded, “The swaddling band with which he was wrapped up was the white flag of peace. That manger was the place where the treaty was signed.” And that treaty was signed in his blood. Men emptied their wrath. Satan spent his ammo. Christ drank damnation under the doomsday device of the divine (Isaiah 53:10). In the No-Man’s Land of Calvary, he secured “peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
While all of heaven looked on, we have heard a commotion in God’s trench. He sang a gospel song on that silent night, that holy night: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). And he still sings, calling rebels from their rat-infested hole to meet his glorious Prince of Peace. Only through faith in him can we have “peace with God” (Romans 5:1). And this peace bestows adoption, a kingdom, and fullness of life with him forever.
By Mike Welsh
FROM MY CITY NEWS COLUMN “SEVEN DAYS” OCT 2019
YEAR out from the next election, ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe has candidly confessed it will take a miracle to loosen Labor’s almost two-decade grip on power in the capital.
Miracles aside, all the party needs is to appoint Mark Parton leader. The former radio man is ready made for the role, principally because he is the exact opposite of the string of dry, beige, awkward Canberra Liberal leaders who have spectacularly failed to pressure successive Labor governments.
He is genuinely enthusiastic about politics, people like and respond to him and, tellingly, he’s had a career outside politics endowing him with that rare but essential gift – the common touch.
In November 2017 “minister for greyhounds’ MLA Mark Parton stood in persistant rain, soaked to the skin through his business shirt , passionately vowing to hundreds of angry local greyhound owners and trainers assembled that he would “keep on fighting” for them after a cruel ban was placed on their sport by the Barr government.
Also on the podium that day in Garema Place was Liberal leader Alistair Coe who told the irate placard waving mob that in Parton “they had no greater champion in the assembly”. Coe also pledged to “stand side by side with you”.
The Canberra Times (Friday Sept 25) reported the while ACT libs “had previously vowed to overturn the greyhound ban and cannabis legislation if elected in 2020” leader Coe declared “neither would be a priority in government”.
On the greyhound issue Parton told me “I don’t believe there’s actually been a change of position here”. When pressed he added “our position has not changed”. What that position/policy “actually” is remains ambiguous. Might be clearer afterthe election.
FROM SEPT 2016
You know its footy season in Melbourne when……
…at the end of the off ramp outside the Richmond Railway station a small, animated man, decked out head to toe in the instantly recognisable red and black colours of his team rapidly approaches.
And as he propels himself past you, you dressed in the unmistakeable navy blue strip of your team, this deliriously happy Bombers fan lets fly with ….”eat sh*t you f***ing c***s”…..
No explanation was required – the essence of the wheelchair wordsmith’s message was abundantly clear. Nor was any personal offence taken by we three Canberrans wearing the “offending” apparel of the “blue baggers”, who had just suffered an humiliating defeat at the nearby MCG, bringing to an end four long seasons of horror for the Red and Black brigade. Only momentarily stunned, we quickly recovered and pissed ourselves laughing once the spray from the colourful gobfull had subsided. Unexpected, but after all to be expected in Melbourne in the shadow of the MCG late in Winter.
Of course people in wheelchairs are perfectly entitled to get excited when their football team wins, particularly when that team has been to hell and back. Of course wheelchair bound people have a perfect right to heckle rival fans outside the Richmond Railway Station and any place they so desire. But when “eat sh*t you f***ing c***s” is hurled in your direction at close range and the giver of the “directive” is a disabled person, apparently you just have to wear it. There appears to be no choice but to wear it.
Abuse of this nature from an able bodied person in the same location and under similar circumstances would almost certainly be returned with interest and potentially end up in a “blue”. And if there’d been a member of the constabulary nearby there may have been an “awkward” situation. Not to mention the women and children among the scores of fans streaming away from the “G”.
The abuse wasn’t aimed at our weight, skin colour, sexuality or age, but rather our football team and therefore, in some circles of society, more than likely considered far less offensive.
A Google search of ‘how to respond to strong abuse from a disabled person in a public space’, returns virtually nothing.
Sydney’s nastiest feud over as Jones comforts Laws in his time of need
March 7, 2020 — 12.00am
Alan Jones and John Laws were at the centre of one of Sydney’s great feuds in 2004, but it appears even the deepest wounds can heal, especially in grief.
Theirs was a headline-grabbing cat fight, sparked after Jones left his old 2UE stablemate and jumped ship in 2001 to join 2GB in a mega-buck deal orchestrated by then owner John Singleton.
Jones took most of 2UE’s listeners and advertisers with him. Laws was furious – with his radio star already waning, Jones had delivered a lethal blow and before long Laws was gone.
He famously called Jones “a vicious old tart” on air. Jones remained silent, saying he would not comment on “rubbish”.
Laws added further salt into Jones’ already raw wounds by going on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope to say Jones would be a “gold medallist” if “hypocrisy were an Olympic sport”.
Laws, who along with Jones had been embroiled in the cash-for-comment saga, also revealed on his radio show that not long after the scandal, Jones had instructed former prime minister John Howard to reinstate David Flint as boss of media watchdog the Australian Broadcasting Authority.
Laws – who to this day remains unrepentant over his “loyalty” to sponsors – labelled Jones, Flint and Howard as “an unpleasant little troika”.
By that point it appeared Laws had burnt any remaining pylons still standing under his old, rickety bridge with Jones.
Or so it seemed.
On Tuesday Jones joined a cavalcade of VIPs to support his old foe during the funeral of Laws’ wife, Caroline, at Darling Point’s St Mark’s.
Jones magnanimously stood by Laws’ side as the radio star, wracked with grief, bade farewell to the love of his life, the woman he endearingly called his “Princess”.
Following the funeral, a clearly moved Jones told PS: “The grief endured by the legendary John Laws was both visible and beyond what anyone could be expected to endure.”
“I felt it was important to be there so that he knew, at this time, he would not be on his own. It was moving and inspiring that a 44-year relationship could mean so much as to produce such an overwhelming sense of loss at Caroline’s passing.”
And it appears the rapprochement will endure.
“I have indicated to John that I am here for a cup of tea if it would help,” Jones revealed.
Last November, at Laws’ former agent John Fordham’s funeral in Paddington, PS observed that old rivalries between Laws and Jones were buried, for just a few hours at least, as the radio titans cheekily traded jibes outside the church.
For many years it was Fordham who was the meat in the sandwich between the pair, who for decades waged battles over egos and ratings.
Jones had initially walked right by Laws to say hello to someone else, apparently not seeing the shock of snow white hair as Laws hovered around the crowd, his not inconsequential frame stooped over a walking stick.
But Laws’ pride was hardly feeble, and he was having none of it, shouting out to Jones somewhat incredulously: “Alan, you did not say hello to me!”
Jones, looking mortified, turned and shook hands. Smiling at each other the old radio titans spoke of their respective health issues and Jones said: “It’s good to see you.”
And no doubt it was again for Laws when he clapped eyes on Jones at St Mark’s on Tuesday.
From Valentine’s Day 2015
By Mike Welsh
What’s the difference between erotic and perverted? Erotic is using a feather, perverted is using the whole chook. Apparently.
What is the difference between “racy” and pornographic? There is no difference between porn and racy. Not anymore.Apparently.
A local Pink Ladies Valentine’s Day fundraising screening of the porn flick “Fifty Shades of Grey”, has been promoted as “racy”. When did this happen? It’s a slippery slope . How long before “racy” becomes respectable?
The word pornography has been successfully sanitised, homogenised and almost normalised. “Food Porn” “Mummy Porn” ….Shane Warne.
It’s just not natural. A trench coat should be stained with other unmentionable matter not Choc Tops and Popcorn.
This is what happens when you start messing with nature. Wholemeal Pizza, Low cal Coke and Porn with a Plot. It’s just wrong.
Pardon my pathetic porn puns but it’s hard, sorry difficult to be serious when you are talking about not talking about Pornography. I’m probably flogging a dead whores (last one I promise) but if it looks, smells and sounds like PORN, and “FSG” does, then FFS call it PORN.
“FSG” has aroused “serious” discussion and pricked some serious feminist consciences even on the commercial couches of our TV breakfast shows. “Today” co-host Lisa Wilkinson was completely underwhelmed with FSG. Worst movie she’d seen she said. But over at Mamamia, Mia Freedman sturdily disagreed. Ms Freedman could not see anything wrong with the flick.
The book by E L James sold by the pallet load at “all good book stores” like Big W and even scored a book deal for her husband, Niall Leonard, a serious writer before the chick lit hit the fan.
Another serious writer, Nikki Gemmell is probably regretting hiding behind anonymity when she published her porn piece “The Bride Stripped Bare” in 2003. A woman before her time it would appear.
I haven’t read or seen FSG and I won’t, but I know pornography when I hear it. Anyway I am far too busy knocking out my own piece of “racy” lit ….“Dirty Davina’s Kiss My Whip Message Parlour” in the hope of selling a pallet load……Page One Chapter One..
…“It was still dark outside when Irish Backpacker Davina Donnelly slovenly dragged herself off the filthy mattress she’d drunkenly slumped onto only hours before. She clumsily put on the red underwear she’d randomly scooped up from a pile of clothes scattered across the floor of the dank and dingy apartment. But as she clumsily pulled his carefully faded 301s up over her long slender legs she heard a spine-chilling scream from the mattress below her. It was Oscar… “you can take my jocks but you can never take my Levis”
Happy Valentine’s Day
PEOPLE with too much time on their hands irritate me. Tourists, window shoppers and tyre kickers have the annoying knack of getting under the feet of the busy people around them, some of whom are unfairly judged as being prickly.
But when I’m on holiday and in a new city, the rules change. Sue me.
Waiting for a family member at a nearby hipster barber shop, I impatiently skulked outside a funky menswear store in what I assessed to be the heart of Auckland’s fashion district.
When the light rain which had been drizzling for much of the day began to fall more heavily, I entered the oddly named Strangely Normal store for a look. The store’s facade and colourful window display could easily have been the New Zealand bricks and mortar version of the J Peterman (of “Seinfeld” fame) fashion catalogue.
It was a cross between the result of someone getting over excited at a Peter Allen garage sale and the type of menswear store from my childhood where it was mandatory to display plastic male mannequin torsos encased in the iconic jockey brand of mens underwear. Thankfully I was not in the market for underwear that wet Wednesday in Auckland. My “boys” didn’t need “a house”.
Once inside this Aladin’s cave of haute couture (tho it may have just been funky fashion bazaar) my attention was immediately drawn to a large wall of hats. The impressive and comprehensive range of lids included straw, felt, woollen, high, low, square and peaked – suprisingly though, not a single Urban Sombrero in sight. Suprising because it was the type of men’s fashion store in which you’d half expect to spot the odd puffy shirt, and possibly the fabled Manssierre or Bro on proud display. Nor were there any velour tracksuits or belt-less trench coats for that matter. As I stood drinking in this colourful catalogue I spotted in my periphery a man of similar age to myself but vastly more flamboyantly attired. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I was ready with the universally accepted response, “No thanks, just looking” to the anticipated, “Can I help you sir?”.
Instead, he began a long, slow, judgemental scan down my person beginning at the faded black woollen beanie, featuring the East Berlin traffic light walk symbol Amplemann. He continued through my burnt-orange Kathmandu windbreak-with rain-hood and six generous pockets, my battleship-grey but extremely functional backpacked mid section, down my beige Vinnies sourced Country Road chinos. He finished with a scowl at the Vans Sports (black suede and again picked up at an Op shop) on my feet. I was speechless. I had no speech.
At this point he rolled his eyes superciliously and spat out something which may have been “bloody tourists” but was more likely “how could you possibly think we would stock anything the likes of you could afford or appreciate?”.
No service for you. He was a fashion nazi. A dictator of dapperness.
He then dramatically returned his focus to the chunky mahogany counter and the keyboard on which he was furiously tapping, one finger at a time, when I unwittingly entered his hallowed and tasteful turf, savagely assaulting his sartorial sensitivities.
It was a form of discrimination to which I had not been subjected before. I’ve weathered society’s cruel intolerance to short, Tasmanian, collapsed Catholic, recovered bed wetters, but to be judged on my fashion sense, in a menswear shop, was beyond the pale.
I “sarcastically” apologised and left the store. I could have gone harder but- given I was on holiday- my comeback locker was bereft of zingers apart from “the jerk store rang”.
I could have also pulled a “Vivian” from “Pretty Woman” and slipped around the corner, purchased an expensive hat and popped my head back into Mr Snooty’s den to show him he’d made “a big mistake”.
On reflection, at the very least I should have flounced out the door with a dramatic “well, I never” swirling in my wake, but the truth is I don’t flounce. No flounce.
Clearly this fashion nazi is years behind the edgy, “almost homeless, semi-retired over 60s Op shop loiterer with precious few fucks left to give” wave. I’ll wager he will one day kick his own arse when he twigs his dismissive and uppity behaviour cost him a ground floor fashion advantage offered by an authentic and visionary vintage trendsetter. Big mistake.
Later that day, my faith in the humans of Auckland was fully restored. Leaving a bar, heavy rain still falling, a man entering handed me the cheap black umbrella he was collapsing and shaking with a friendly: “You’ll need this”. The only caveat was: “If you’re still standing here when I finish my pint I’ll have it back”.
He may well have been taking pity on a homeless person loitering at the front of a bar for loose change, but I’d much rather believe he was a kind soul looking out for a fellow traveller.
And the day took a major upturn later with a high-grade celebrity spot. The Australian actress Rachel Griffiths was out doing a spot of shopping. I have no doubt if the stylish star of the Aussie classic “Muriel’s Wedding” and director of current hit “Rides Like a Girl” popped into crusty old mate’s gentleman’s emporium, he’d be gushing like the geysers at Rotorua for a month.