World War One, Christmas 1914

One of the saddest Wars ever fought, World War I, saw the destruction of human beings in mass numbers.  When it was over, no one knew why it was ever fought.  It caused more then 11 million dead and brought about the end of four empires.  The story that follows is from Christmas 1914 and represents the end of an age of innocents.

During World War I, on a battlefield in Belgium, English soldiers were facing German soldiers along a front that extended 12 miles. During the weeks preceding December 24, 1914, both sides had suffered close to one million casualties on this very battlefield.  The constant slaughter was so fierce that the dead bodies lay across the field stretching from the Allied lines all the way to the German lines and neither side was able to bury their dead. 

Even during Christmas Eve, the fighting continued all day.  Then, at midnight, during the silence of that cold, moonlit night, a church bell in a town not far away began to ring out, heralding the arrival of Christmas day.  Suddenly, lights began to appear all along the German trench lines.  The English assumed that the Germans were preparing a nighttime attack.  The bugles rang out sounding the alarm and the English grabbed their weapons and rushed to the edge of the trenches. “Please God, not today as well,” an English soldier was overheard to say.   A still hush fell over the battle field when out of the cold night air the English heard a most beautiful voice coming from the German lines singing "Silent Night, Holy Night".  When the German soldier had finished the first verse, one brave English soldier stood and began singing the second.  One by one, men rose up from their frozen entrenchments and began to join in until almost every soldier, German and English were singing.  

When the chorus had stopped, one German officer started to walk towards the English line while waving a white flag before him.  "Please do not shoot me, we do not want to fight this day", he called out.  "I am bringing you presents of beer and meat."  An English officer then left his trench and walked toward the German.  They met at the center of this horrid, body laid, field and saluted one another.  They shook hands, then each turned toward their own men calling aloud that it was safe to come out.  Slowly at first, the bravest men came out of the trenches and walked toward one another.  Then, it became a rush of men.  The two sides crashed into their enemies but not to fight.  They cried and hugged one another.  For these men had a bond that only those who had shared the incommunicable experience of war could understand.  

For the rest of Christmas day they spent the time together, sharing what little food and clothing they had with one another.  They sang and laughed and for that one-day were friends.  At some points on the battle field both sides aided in burying the dead despite the great difficulty of digging into the frozen ground.  They prayed and sang hymns over the newly dug graves.

“Though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil”.  “For thy rod and thy staff hearten me”.  

When the day was finished, each side returned to their trenches.  A German officer stood up from his position and called out "Merry Christmas and thank you". His English counterpart returned the salutation.  Then he fired three shots into the air.  The war was back on.

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