Nontraditional Grad Student's Journey in Public History

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World War One Christmas Truce 1914 – A Gift For All Seasons

Christmas 2011, in a few short years we will be visiting the 100th anniversary of the Great War and now is the time for all good historians to point their research in this direction.  As a special Christmas gift, I am rerunning one of my favorite blog entries about the Christmas Truce of 1914.  Please take the time to listen to the music, and check out the excellent websites that are highlighted.  Be sure to listen to these moving songs in a place where no one can see you weep like a baby…or not, be proud of your tears and let the whole family see! 

As a World War One Historian, I would be remiss by not passing on the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914.   Although these truces have been observed throughout conflicts in history, the 1914 truce is unique in military history, due to the close proximity of the combatants in the trenches.  The  story of the World War One truce is noteworthy.   The Christmas Truce has been researched by WWI Historians trying to chronicle the true events and separating the myths.   In my Non Traditional Student History Major way, I was moved to publish this story by viewing a very emotional You Tube video posted by a friend on Facebook.   I urge you to take the few minutes to view this video called  “Christmas in the Trenches.” This song was written by a WWI soldier named Francis Tolliver, and it is very moving.  This started a research session as a History Major even during my Christmas Break from college.    My search also yielded a couple more  pieces dedicated to this Christmas event during the Great War.  “Christmas in no man’s Land” is another ballad about the Truce in 1914, well worth a listen.  And to my surprise, Paul McCartney wrote “Pipes of Piece” in 1983 and produced a wonderful video about the event.   Being a WWI historian,  and a child of the era, I still get a lump in my throat every Christmas when I hear “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron” by the Royal Guardsmen, I know, I’m a softie/geek!     These You Tube videos are my History Major gifts to all of you this season, I hope that they will make you stop and think of our troops in far away countries this holiday season.

The actual history of the Christmas Truce has been covered quite well on the internet.   I have found many wonderful sites that tell the story of this event.   Many of the sites have most of the information correct as we know it today.   One site in particular, “The Christmas Truce “ is probably the most complete and historically accurate.    Another description from a Scottish Blogger, Jimmy is well written and worth taking a look at:

The year is 1914 and World war 1 has been going on for 4 months,soldiers from Germany and Britain, living in mud filled trenches suffering from the cold weather,the chill of the icy rain pouring down on them, with the rain comes the constant shell bombardment from both sides,snipers picking off their targets death is everywhere hope is nowhere. Suddenly around 10pm after the guns had fallen silent,singing could be heard from the German trenches,

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!.

Christmas eve and the German soldiers were singing Carols,and after a while the British joined in singing in English, for the first time in four months there was hope in the air.  Day light came on Christmas morning, the soldiers from both trenches lay aside their arms got out of the trenches and walked into no man’s land, about half way between the trenches, they shook hands and exchanged cigarettes and chocolate whilst wishing each other a merry Christmas, a soccer ball was produced and both sides played soccer this went on for a while,slowly both sides dispersed back to their own respective trenches.  The next day the shelling started again and the war was back on. The miracle of peace and goodwill to all men never meant so much as it did on Christmas day 1914.

The website, “Eyewitness to History” has an excellent account by  British Soldier, Frank Richards of the events that day:

“On Christmas morning we stuck up a board with ‘A Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy had stuck up a similar one. Platoons would sometimes go out for twenty-four hours’ rest – it was a day at least out of the trench and relieved the monotony a bit – and my platoon had gone out in this way the night before, but a few of us stayed behind to see what would happen. Two of our men then threw their equipment off and jumped on the parapet with their hands above their heads. Two of the Germans done the same and commenced to walk up the river bank, our two men going to meet them. They met and shook hands and then we all got out of the trench.

Buffalo Bill [the Company Commander] rushed into the trench and endeavoured to prevent it, but he was too late: the whole of the Company were now out, and so were the Germans. He had to accept the situation, so soon he and the other company officers climbed out too. We and the Germans met in the middle of no-man’s-land. Their officers were also now out. Our officers exchanged greetings with them. One of the German officers said that he wished he had a camera to take a snapshot, but they were not allowed to carry cameras. Neither were our officers”

As a History Major and a Non Traditional Student, I never seem to stop researching.   My new focus on becoming a Public Historian directly relates to this posting.   Sharing history with the everyday viewer is what public history is all about.  I vow to be more diligent in my postings this coming year with updates on my Non Traditional Student journey.  I will finally reach a lifelong goal this Spring as I finally achieve the college degree that has evaded me all these 35+ years of working life.    I wish everyone peace and a happy holiday season.


4 Responses to World War One Christmas Truce 1914 – A Gift For All Seasons

  1. Congrats on your degree! My daughter is a history major and a senior. I’m not sure what she’ll do next year, but she loves studying history.

    Joyce
    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

  2. Avatar Cathy Young
    Cathy Young says:

    Christmas in the Trenches is my favorite Christmas song. It was written by my favorite folk singer, John McCutcheon. Francis Tolliver is the fictional narrator of the ballad. If you ever get the opportunity to hear the song in person at one of McCutcheon’s concerts, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it even more.

  3. This has always been a favorite story of mine.. It brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it and it has been years since I have heard it so thank you very much.

    *oh and I love Snoopy and the Red Baron as well.. every now and then I find myself humming it..

  4. I can’t imagine having a christmas on a chaotic world.