Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On Earth, Peace, Good Will Towards Men

Even men on the Western Front.  100 years ago today, 100,000 soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front stopped shooting each other, at least for a little while.  Instead, moved by the spirit of the season, they met in No Man's Land to exchange greetings and brandy and to play soccer.

Image from the Illustrated London News, 9 Jan 1915
The Generals were less than amused, and cracked down in following years.  Sir Iain Colquhoun was Court-marshalled for his participation.  After they convicted him someone recalled that he was related to the British Prime Minister, and so they swept it all under the carpet.

The notion is somewhat controversal:
Mark Connelly, Professor of Modern British History at the Center for War, Propaganda and Society at the UK's University of Kent believes the entire episode has been romanticized in the intervening years.
The notion of two sets of soldiers simply laying down their arms and waltzing out of the trenches ready to play an organized game of football is not one he subscribes to.
In fact he says "there is no absolute hard, verifiable evidence of a match" taking place and says the event has been glorified beyond recognition.
Historians occupy the field of battle because all the eye witnesses are now long dead.  All that we have are stories from those who remember those witnesses.

This Christmas Eve, remember those caught up in the killing fields of Flanders, and the Ardennes, or Khe Sanh.  And remember those who still stand post far from home and family tonight.

1 comment:

Archer said...

From what I've seen/read of Mark Connelly's account, his rendition is ridiculous because it's missing something.

I'd agree it's unreasonable to say that British or German troops would spontaneously just "stand up" and come out of the trenches. That's crazy talk.

But what if, as told in other accounts, the Germans sang the carol "Stillnacht" (Silent Night) unintentionally loud enough for the British to hear, and the British sang it back? That's a significant change to the mood and setting of the scene/story, and makes coming out of the trenches somewhat less unreasonable. I'd even say it's a key part of the legend.

I'll concede it's been romanticized and possibly exaggerated, but that's not enough to rule it out entirely. Part of me thinks Connelly wants so much to be right in saying this miraculous event didn't happen, that he's cherry-picking his data.

Just my $0.02.