orld war I (WWI) is known as one of the worst wars to be fought because of the mustard gas that was used as well as unbearable conditions in trenches that would get soldiers killed by diseases rather than bullets or projectiles. Near the end of 1914, the first year of the war, something amazing happened, something that had never taken place in human history.
Befriending the enemy for nine hours
Christmas Eve was right around the corner, and as most of the men and children that fought were exhausted, they decided to have an armistice, or a ceasefire, for what has been recorded as nine hours to try and celebrate Christmas. This truce was suggested by Pope Benedict XV, who wanted both sides to acknowledge the importance of Christmas Eve, especially during times of war. Both sides have agreed to lay down arms during this day.
The soldiers from both parties decided to slowly meet in no man’s land (the battlefield between two trenches) and meet each other to exchange gifts and have a more joyful Christmas. Everyone worried that they could not trust their enemy until they shook hands and smiled as both parties agreed to the ceasefire.
The Western front had suffered the most casualties, so the first thing that they did was to help one another bury their comrades in arms. At that moment, all the soldiers were bonded by their comradery and by the service they shared of being soldiers, no matter for what country they were fighting for. For that moment, life was normal. However, no one questioned why they were fighting since it was their duty.
It is this simplistic mentality that made life seem more beautiful back in the day, even if life itself was crueler. It is imperative to remember that even 14-year-olds were enrolled in the army as every nation was desperate to protect their country and nation against the enemy.
The Christmas spirit was in the air, and I think that this may have been what called upon the humanity within these men. The soldiers shared whatever food and provisions they had as gifts to keep the traditions going. Many talked, told jokes, and even helped each other to shave. It was as if they had never been enemies in the first place. Just as one WWI British veteran said on that day:
“It is not us, but our countries that are enemies”
Like all soldiers in different wars that have taken place in history, they were just following orders. It really goes to show that a soldier that is serving his country does not have much of choice, or at least didn’t back in the 1900s. Any men that were over the age of 18 were obligated to fight in the war, a cruel war that has left many scarred to this day.
It was exhilarating for those back at home to see such humanity during such a savage war, even for just a few hours, this gave them hope that the war would end soon, as well as giving them a glimpse of the less grim side of the conflict. Sadly, the war lasted another three bloody years.
The reporter that took the picture you can see depicted in the newspaper clipping above said that he asked the soldiers from both sides what do they thought of this truce, and one response from Cpl. Leon Harris, 13th (Kensington) Battalion London Regiment, left the audience in awe:
“This has been the most wonderful Christmas I have ever struck.” (Cpl. Leon Harris)
The boys approached the end of the truce with a nice football game that really lifted their spirits and brought them closer as human beings. It was a wonderful match, and with it, many people came back to the idea of how football brought the soldiers some peace, at least for a short span of time.
At that moment, the truth was that there were no Axis but only Allies, as they all felt like Allies. I presume that many of the soldiers saw this moment as a dream, and they also knew that soon they would be waking up to reality. It was very different to actually hear laughter and joy around rather than just screams of pain and gunfire non-stop.
Back to killing each other
The truce was ended when they heard the sound of artillery firing from far away, they shook hands one last time, and everyone went back to their trenches. After 20 minutes, the fire started again, and was all back to “normal.”
Now the question is, what have we learned about ourselves as humans? That even under such circumstances, we find love in our hearts for our enemies. War today may be very different, but death is a factor that will never change, brought about by the hatred of the ones in charge who are able to bring the worst out of humanity.
Remember that, for some, that was the best Christmas they had in their lifetime. No, they were not in a warm and peaceful environment, but at that moment, they were beside their own kind, mankind.