Christmas Eve Service Reading
By Sheila Stewart Glover
Christmas Eve at Borderlands UU gave us an idea of the mindset of our country during World War I. We were able to read the diaries of a few German and British soldiers recorded from the trenches of the war that stretched from the Swiss border to the North Sea beginning in the summer of 1914. In December of that year, Pope Benedict XV appealed to the leaders in Europe to declare a truce with no success.
The fighting troops had contrary feelings. As Christmas approached, British officers advised their men not to fire unless fired upon. This became the “live and let live” ad hoc policy. Christmas eve brought a soaking rain and the battlefields of Flanders were blanketed with a dusting of snow. German emperor Wilhelm II sent Christmas trees to the front to bolster morale and the German soldiers began placing them outside their trenches.
According to scripted accounts: Bruce Bairnsfather (Mary Arrigoni), “There didn’t seem the slightest chance of leaving – except in an ambulance.” Josef Sewald (Bruce Sillers), “I shouted to our enemies that we didn’t wish to shoot and that we make a Christmas truce. Then a man came out of the trenches and I on my side shouted, “No shooting! We came together and we shook hands – a bit cautiously. Colin Wilson (Con Nadeau), “We heard a German singing Holy Night, of course in German. They shouted, “What about you singing Holy Night?”
Graham Williams (Jean Sillers) account, “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours. This is really a most extraordinary thing. ” Robert Miles (Carol Hoy), observed, “We are having the most extraordinary Christmas Day imaginable. A sort of un-arranged truce existed between us. Soon after dusk the Germans started shouting ‘Merry Christmas, Englishmen’. Not a shot was fired all night.” Frederick Heath (Barbara Lund), “All down our trenches there came greetings unique in war: ‘English soldier, a merry Christmas!. ”
Night wore on to dawn with piping’s of piccolos, broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.” J. Reading (Jeanne Macauley), “My company happened to be in the firing line on Christmas eve. I shook hands with some and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything seemed like a dream.” Henry Williamson (Joanna Brunso), from a writing to his mother, “Yesterday the British and Germans met and shook hands and exchanged souvenirs. Yes, all day Christmas Day. Marvelous, isn’t it? Johannes Niemann (Tanya Leighton) ,“I saw an incredible sight of our soldiers exchanging cigarettes, schnapps and chocolate with the enemy.
George Jameson (Martha House), “What do you know, the Jerries are out on the top; they’re walking about, they’re dishing out drinks and cigarettes – there’s no fighting going on!” Bruce Bairnsfather (Mary Arrigoni), ” I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.” Johannes Niemann, (Tanya Leighton) “The mist was slow to clear and suddenly my orderly threw himself into my dugout to say that both the German and Scottish soldiers had come out of their trenches and were fraternizing along the front.
A Scottish soldier appeared with a football and later a real football match got underway. We Germans roared when a gust of wind revealed that the Scots wore no drawers under their kilts.” Ernie Williams (Con Nadeau), “Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. “ Kurt Zemisch,(Bruce Sillers) “ Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.”
From Britain’s Daily Mirror editorial in 1915: “The soldier’s heart rarely has any hatred in it.” Mr. Rickner (Nancy Turner), “I remember very well Christmas Day when the German and the French soldiers left their trenches, went to the barbed wire between them with champagne and cigarettes and had feelings of fraternization and shouted they wanted to finish the war. That lasted only 2 days. 1½ really and then came the order that no fraternization was allowed.” George Ashurst (Sheila Stewart Glover), “Everybody back in your trenches. They gave orders for a battery of guns behind us to fire. Course that started the war again.” Eve H. Williams(Beth Dingman), “There’s a drunk German in our trenches and he won’t go back.. Tell him he’s got to go back. If he stops here, he’s got to be made prisoner.”
The Christmas Truce of 1914 is one of the most remarkable incidents of World War I and perhaps of all military history.
Please enjoy the videos below that were taken of the BUU 2023 Christmas Eve service.