BROKEN BY THE TRAUMA
On Christmas Day 1914, the soldier, whose name for many had been lost to history, decided to make the first small gesture to restore a relationship that had been broken by the horrible and bloody trauma of the Western Front.
The soldier popped his head over the top of his trench and looked over pensively across no man’s land. Rather than throw a few grenades across the field of death now littered with barbed wire, he instead tossed a couple of tins of corned beef unto his enemy’s trench, knowing that both sides of the war lacked most of life’s basic essentials.
ARRIVAL OF A PACKET
Within a few minutes or so, he heard a dull thud in the patch of soil next to him which didn’t explode. It sounded the arrival of a packet of Turkish coffee and some sweets, courtesy of the ‘other side’. Soon, more dull thuds were being heard across the line. On their part, members of his troop began hurling back their own gift packets in exchange. It went on for good part of an hour.
Cautiously, men from both sides started to emerge from out of the relative safety of their mud coffins unarmed and walking towards each other. Not long after, jokes were being translated spontaneously from German to English and vice-versa. Soon food was being pooled together for a Christmas dinner, cards were hastily produced on makeshift tables and, finally, a game of soccer was played between the two warring parties, amid shouts of delight and good-humoured rivalry.
On both sides of no man’s land that day no bullets were fired other than the sound of banter between men. No grenades would explode other than the peal of laughter. The day ended with handshakes, smiles and even good wishes for each other.
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A REMARKABLE EPISODE
This event was certainly a remarkable episode in military history and a marvellous story of kindness, goodwill and peace considering the circumstances the men found themselves in at the time. But other men who were not present to witness the event as it was had other ideas.
On 26 December the commanding authorities on both sides outlawed the repetition of any behaviour displayed at the trenches the prior day under pain of death. They were ordered to resume the slaughter in earnest. The one ray of hope was wiped away from the war experience. Most of the participants of that event would be dead within a year.
TRAGEDY OF THE TRENCHES
World War I was the sixth-deadliest conflict in world history. Ultimately, more than 70-million military personnel, including 60-million Europeans, were mobil ised in one of the largest wars in mankind’s history. The tragedy of the trenches resulted in more than 9-million combatants killed, largely because of techno logical advancements that led to enormous increases in the lethality of weapons such as nerve gas without corresponding improvements in protection or mo bility.
Why did this unusual event happen on Christmas Day 1914 and why the con sequent reaction to it? Does the story tell us what we need to know? Are hope in the darkness and the triumph of the human spirit the sum total of the meaning of Christmas?