About 10 or 12 years ago, I started writing what I called "Today's Tidbits": little anecdotes and often unknown facts from history that I had learned over time that had always amused me. I wrote a couple hundred of them - usually while I was eating my lunch at school and would then send them to friends and family via email. I really enjoyed them - but stopped when I ran out of topics. When I began writing my blog, I included a few of them in it, but then stopped because I wanted my blog to include more original writings.
This morning a friend sent me a link to a British produced Christmas ad that is going viral. It reminded me of one of my most favorite tidbits and stories from history, so I decided to share it. The event happened 100 years ago this December. It is such a good reminder of what we as humanity are all capable of remembering, even in the darkest of moments. And it also reminded me of something else more personal.
Here is the link to the ad. It's well worth watching.
"The Christmas Truce of 1914" TV Ad
And here is the Tidbit I wrote to fill in the history of what actually happened.
As Christmas 1914 approached, World War I had been raging across Europe for 4 months - one million men had already died. In Northern France and Belgium, British and German troops were deeply dug into hundreds of miles of trenches, separated by a bloody "No Man's Land" which would be a killing ground for the next 4 years. What amazing event occurred on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914 in this "No Man's Land" where so many had already died, and millions more would die in the future?
Answer: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 1914 saw one of history's most amazing examples of open chivalry and the generosity of the human spirit in what became known as "The Christmas Truce". On Christmas Eve 1914, British Headquarters sent the following message to all of its units in France and Flanders: "It is thought possible that the enemy be contemplating an attack during Xmas or New Year. Special vigilance will be maintained during these periods.". But no attack came. Instead, spontaneous, informal truces broke out all up and down the trench-lines, and German and British soldiers who the previous day had been trying desperately to kill each, now joined to celebrate Christmas.
In most cases, it appears that the German soldiers were the ones who took the lead in making informal contact with the enemy, calling to the British troops to come out and stop shooting. The Germans had brought Christmas trees into their trenches and decorated them with candles - in some, Chinese lanterns were hung as decorations. The "rules" of the truce were negotiated by agreement among local officers.
Christmas Day saw the most fraternization between the two sides. Groups of 3-4 men on each side would wander out and meet each other in "No Man's Land". They would laugh and exchange small gifts (cigars, cigarettes, jars of jam, etc.) In one exchange, when a group of Royal Welsh Fusiliers refused to come out and meet the Germans, the Germans rolled out a keg of beer toward the British trench and said "Here! We have plenty!". In return the Fusiliers lobbed tins of bully beef and jam back at the Germans! One legend of the "Christmas Truce" is that in one spot along the lines, Germans and Scottish soldiers played a soccer match out in "No Man's Land", just outside of Armentieres. A German officer in the 133rd Royal Saxon Regiment describes such a game, following a gift exchange between the two sides (cigarettes, schnapps, chocolate). The game was played with great enthusiasm (though not a lot of skill!). The officer says the Germans howled with laughter when a gust of wind blew the Scots' kilts up - and revealed they weren't wearing any underwear! According to the officer, the game ended after an hour: the Germans won, 3-2.
As night fell on Christmas Day, the truces slowly ended and the men returned to their trenches. Soldiers on both sides sang Christmas carols in the night - sometimes the haunting sound of "Silent Night" could be heard at the same time as "Heilige Nacht" echoed from the other side. At 8:30 pm, a British officer stood on top of his trench and fired 3 shots into the air. A German captain appeared on the other side, and saluted. The next day, the war began again. By the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, approximately 9-10 million soldiers had died in the long, bloody conflict.
Stories like this remind me of how much I enjoyed teaching history: to both learn and share such stories. The best history teachers I ever knew were great "story-tellers".
It was that talent of theirs that made history "come alive" and inspired a young man to spend 30 years trying to do the same for his students.
|Me at my desk on my last day at school - June 2013|
That was me. So here's to remembering all the great history teachers who inspired me, and to all those I had a chance to work with at Glencoe and South Medford High Schools. Cheers!