Christmas Day 1914: Soldiers all together in no man’s land

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By German Army [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

German soldiers (wearing distinctive pickelhaube helmets with cloth covers) on the front at the First Battle of the Marne during World War I, taken in September 1914. Possibly staged for the camera due to the wearing of medals, which according to the source was not common practice in battle.

A century ago, English and German troops stopped fighting for the “Christmas Truce” – an impromptu ceasefire and celebration in the no man’s land between the trenches. They exchanged cigarettes and even played a game of football. The next day, they were returned to the dehumanizing trench warfare that defined World War I.

In 2014, it is an event that still inspires, a moment that points to the how peace can break through, even in the worst of warfare.

It is a story that has taken on the air of myth, but it really happened. Soldiers called out to each other and decided to trust each other for a moment. And when a football appeared from one of the trenches, they held one of the most famous, most bizarre football matches in history.

The truce was led by common soldiers who acted in defiance of their officers, some of whom threatened soldiers with a firing squad if they participated. The kings and kaisers made sure it never, ever happened again. Fraternizing with the enemy was a major no-no. It’s much easier to kill people you don’t know.

In the U.K., the event is being remembered in a new Christmas single “All Together Now,” a cover of the The Farm’s 1990 hit. The new version is performed by The Peace Collective, a collection of U.K. rock and pop stars; the proceeds benefit the British Red Cross. It is one of this year’s “charity singles,” an annual part of the U.K. Christmas season in which songs compete on the charts to raise funds for charities.

Charlie Reid of the Proclaimers told the Daily Record that he and his brother joined the project in part to raise awareness for workers who volunteered for the war.

“These guys, who died on an industrial scale were not soldiers.” Reid said. “The idea of mass murder and the first global war, in the truest sense, and then, in the middle of it, there was that humanity. That’s the future, not slaughtering each other; it’s the guys who shared a cigarette and a joke and kicked a ball about.”

In the hundred years since the Christmas Truce, millions and millions have died because of war. The idea of warring sides being all together for a moment of peace is a welcome idea indeed.

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