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 The 1914 Christmas Truce

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Meles meles
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PostSubject: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Wed 24 Dec 2014, 09:58

Britain seems to be milking this event for all its worth this centenary year, with repeated allusions to it in the Christmas messages of the nation's great and good, monuments en-veiled by royalty, symbolic repeat football matches staged ... it's even being used to sell groceries!

But itsn't it all mostly a bit of a myth? There were instances of the fighting stopping for a bit, but there was certainly no general cease-fire and no support or encouragement was given by any senior officers, other than for men to use the opportunity to do a bit of sneaky reconnasisance of the enemy trenches.

Are we not at risk of making these isolated incidents, of what was effectively insubordination by a few groups of individual soldiers, into folklore ... are we not building the whole thing up into a symbol of what we, in the 21st century, want to believe it says about Christmas being a 'special' time. I was speaking to a German couple, both interested and informed about history, and while they were aware of the story, they said it is virtually unknown in Germany, has certainly never been mythologised to the same degree, and as far as they were aware is not being commemorated this year in any way whatsoever. And in France virtually no-one has any knowledge at all of the event.

So how widespread was this 1914 Christmas Truce that we are being encouraged to accept at face value? How was it seen at the time: by common soldiers, by officers, by government, and by the British public and press? Was it really of any significance and is it wise to make a modern myth out of a mole-hill?
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Wed 24 Dec 2014, 10:44

There was no one interested enough to do the counting at the time so no one knows, or has ever known, how significant or typical individual reports of unofficial "truces" that emerged (mostly after the war) might have been. If we are to accept uncorroborated but personal eye-witness accounts as fact then there is ample evidence that events such as the one sentimentally depicted in Paul McCartney's "Pipes of Peace" video did take place on the western front between rival armies composed largely of people for whom a stalemate of juxtaposed trench systems and a war still ongoing at Christmas were both unanticipated events. This was still largely warfare conducted by professional soldiers with distinct rules of engagement and chains of command as yet intact (concepts that would be utterly abandoned, mutated or destroyed in the year that followed) so it is very understandable and believable that locally organised and respected ceasefires could occur. The nature and the extent of the fraternisation, even by the extant accounts, varied considerably and were by no means universal, the most credible accounts relating to areas of the front which at that moment in time were not the scenes of recent concerted military action.

However, while I agree completely that too much is being made today of the nature and significance of these sporadic incidents, I do think that this glimpse of humanity that emerged in an otherwise barbaric and prolonged period of brutal slaughter should be recognised. It had no historically military significance as such - what followed the truce was an immediate descent into hell for those who might have enjoyed it - but it has a significance of sorts nonetheless. Even if it has been grossly exaggerated and over-interpreted by later generations it undoubtedly occurred and as such is one of the last times in a major war that a spontaneous display of mutual decency based on "old fashioned" military concepts such as honour and respect has been known to happen. It is as much a commemoration of the uselessness and irrelevance of such concepts in modern times as it is a commemoration of humanity.

Those who wish to mark the event now, a hundred years later, should emphasise this aspect to it as much as they emphasise the other. As the hundred-year commemorations roll on however, and they will for the next four years, this will become as evident to those following the story of the war as it must have been to those who lived through it. If the spontaneous truces at Christmas 1914 engendered hope it was a hope very quickly and quite thoroughly dashed, never to reappear for that generation, even after armistice. That is the real historical lesson to be taken from the event - the brutal extinction of hope as a feature, if not indeed a priority, of modern warfare, and the even more brutal legacy such extinction leaves in its wake.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Wed 24 Dec 2014, 12:46

Just an addendum to the above - two unrelated comments I heard recently while listening to Radio 4 which touch on this topic and have some significance;

The first was from the veteran BBC journalist and historian Peter Snow who remarked in the context of modern day reportage in a multi-media world of instant transmission and global reach that if such had been available at the time of the spontaneous truces at Christmas 1914 then it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, for the war to restart. Or at least had it restarted then the course of events that followed would have been completely different from those that occurred, an incredibly strong dynamic of external social attitudes being applied that could not form or find expression at the time, let alone influence events, but can and often does now.

The second was from a young boy who had just witnessed a brief commemoration of the event at a premiership football match and was asked what he thought "it was all about". The boy said it was obviously important to mark the event as "that football match ended the war, didn't it?"

The boy's ignorance of what really happened (in itself an indictment of how it has been portrayed this year in the popular media) is an easy thing to correct and probably already has been. But his naive optimism, hopefully, will not be damaged in the process. It is his generation which will grow up in the media age that Snow described and, if such optimism and faith in the power to dictate events "from the bottom up" remains intact, then Peter Snow's seemingly equally naive comment which could also be dismissed as sentimentality might in fact be quite profound and true. If there is any hope to be gleaned from commemorating this nebulously historical event then this is where it must lie, I feel.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Thu 25 Dec 2014, 03:49

We had a man talking on the radio yesterday who has written about this truce, and he said that when the truces were first reported in Britain they were praised, but within a short time sentiment turned and people were writing letters to the editor etc angry that people were fraternising with an enemy they were supposed to be deadly opposed to.  There was huge support for the war at the time, so I don't think reporting this more widely would have changed things at that time.  Something similar might now, but although photos like the young girl burning from napalm might have repelled people and turned them against the Vietnam War, it hasn't stopped governments turning to war to solve problems, sometimes against the will of their people, and sometimes with their support.  It's not hard to find the words and actions to stir up the public, unprepared to see things from another viewpoint.

The researcher and writer on the radio did say that some people did not understand there was supposed to be a truce and shot people anyway, and in other places there was nothing like it in place, and there was still considerable battle deaths in the timeframe.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Thu 25 Dec 2014, 10:04

Just seen this interesting article on today's BBC News site:

How France has forgotten the Christmas truce soldiers


Note that it is a BBC article ... I've still yet to see anything about the 1914 Christmas truce in any of the mainstream French press.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Thu 25 Dec 2014, 15:01

It is being mentioned in several German newspapers and on news websites this year, but primarily as a "British" phenomenon - a few editorials refer to the puzzlement felt in Germany as to why such an ultimately meaningless event in the overall context of the war deserves such emotional commemoration at all. They also point out that in the recorded instances of this "Weinachts-Waffenruhe" the British soldiers' letters and taped testimony all point out that the gesture originated with the German soldiery, and that while the British media chooses for some reason to focus on the football playing, it was the opportunity to bury fallen soldiers in no-man's-land that was the prime motivation in almost all the recorded cases.

The news website focus.de has reproduced this letter from Alfred Dougan Chater to his mother:

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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Fri 26 Dec 2014, 05:47

Haven't had time to read this article, it may be nothing be emotive rubbish, but I'm posting the link because there are some really interesting photographs 

http://io9.com/the-real-story-behind-the-1914-christmas-truce-in-world-1674671558?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

For some reason, Britain (and Australia too for that matter) have an obsession with war that is now bordering on myth and it is a trend that seems to be unique to just a couple of countries. Can't think why, war is certainly nothing to celebrate.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Fri 26 Dec 2014, 14:09

The article and the photographs offered little new to what we already know about the subject, though, with the amount of media saturation to which this event has already been subjected, such would probably be a very difficult thing to do.

There is a whole other story of course concerning fraternisation throughout the war, often fuelled by socialism within the ranks, something that the high command in every army identified, quite rightly, as a very serious threat to their chances of success. This subject however is a much more difficult one to research, so vehemently were records of its occurrence suppressed by all concerned (Russia being the notable and obvious exception). It is much easier however to "package" for public consumption these days a heartwarming tale of a "truce" motivated by a desire to celebrate Christmas, have an innocent kick-about and to bury the dead (all very noble and innocent sentiments indeed) than to highlight the numerous other incidents on all fronts motivated by sentiments very well summed up in one Canadian conscript's words "It is the officers on all sides who are all our enemy". 

John Mitchell, the author of these words written in a letter home which had somehow escaped the extremely rigorous censorship to which such communication was subjected, escaped punishment and served his country well, paying the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy Ridge in 1917. His son, Humphrey Mitchell, would become a prominent Labour politician in Canada who, as minister for labour during World War Two, oversaw the mobilisation of the labour force there. The line between "radicalism" and apparent behaviour in support of the establishment in the first half of the 20th century was a vague one indeed, something that in itself made it all the more scary for those with the greatest stake in maintaining the latter. The ruthlessness with which even suspected socialist sympathies were suppressed and their owners often callously eliminated is not a subject that will pop up very much at all, I reckon, as these hundred-year commemorations progress.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 04:17

Well, that might be part of the reason conscientious objectors in New Zealand like Archie Baxter were so cruelly treated (he was sent to the front, refused to take part and was strung up on a tree in the searing sun for hours).  He came from a religious socialist family. But I suppose it was more to set an example. Such a lot of punishments are for deterrent purposes rather than actual punishment for the crime or to keep others safe.

I think it must have been Dan Hill who was talking on our radio.  The article in our local paper about the truce focussed on Percy Huggins (mentioned in the article ID posted) and Tom Gregory. They were part of the brigade of Guards "the British Army's most professional troops, for whom the idea of fraternisation was inconceivable". They were two of the 149 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed on 25th December 1914, many of pre-received injuries. It said Gregory from Watford was a veteran of the Boer War and had been a postman.  He and his wife had 7 children, the last born a week before he died.  I am wondering how she managed to bring up seven children on her own.  I don't know what soldier compensation was in Britain at the time, but suspect not that much. I suppose the older kids might have been getting near working age.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 09:01

@Caro wrote:
....  He and his wife had 7 children, the last born a week before he died.  I am wondering how she managed to bring up seven children on her own.  I don't know what soldier compensation was in Britain at the time, but suspect not that much. I suppose the older kids might have been getting near working age.


For British servicemen the compensation terms were not generous ... a man's widow and/or other dependents could apply for a pension but as the official guidelines
(War Pensions and Allowances, publ 1918, JM Hogge MP & TH Garsidestate) state:

Pensions to the widows, children, and dependants of deceased soldiers, cannot be claimed as a right, and no pension is granted or continued to a widow or dependant who is unworthy of favour, and it is in the power of the Minister of Pensions to terminate or suspend any pension that may have been granted to such persons or to provide for its administration under such conditions as he may determine, and his decision in any case shall be final. He may deduct from any pension or allowance the cost of any benefit which it may hereafter be decided to substitute, provided that no deduction made shall be at a greater rate than one penny for each full half-crown of the pension or allowance.

Widows' Allowances. The widow of a soldier who is killed while in the performance of Military duty, or dies as a result of wounds or injuries received, or dies of disease due to or aggravated by active service, within seven years of his removal from duty on account of such disease or injuries, may be granted a minimum pension at the following rates weekly. s. d.
Warrant Officer, Class I . . . . ..........................................................21/3
Warrant Officer, Class II, or Non-Commissioned Officer, Class I . . . . ..18/9
Non-Commissioned Officer, Class II . ..............................................17/ 6
Non-Commissioned Officer, Class III . .............................................16/ 3
Non-Commissioned Officer, Class IV . . ............................................15/-
Private, etc. (Class V) . . . . ............................................................13/ 9
The pension granted to the widow of a soldier who held
paid acting rank may be at the rate appropriate to that
rank.

Children's Allowances. A widow pensioned may be granted a further allowance at the following weekly rates for each child under the age of 16 maintained by her. s. d.
For a first child .....................5/-
For a second child. . . .  .........4/2
For a third child ....................3/4
For each child after the third . .2/6

Don't forget also that a man's wartime pay (very often less than he'd been getting from his peacetime job) was stopped immediately he died. His widow could apply for a one-off emergency payment if his pension payment was delayed, but usually she just had to wait until the system coughed up. Much the same applied in WW2 and I recall reading of one poor woman whose husband was killed aboard HMS Sheffield. Initially he was listed as missing, then was reported as having been rescued.  Eventually two months later it emerged that he had been mixed up with someone else and had actually died on the day his ship sank. So along with the telegram giving her the news of her husband's death was a demand for the repayment for two months pay she'd received after his death!

EDIT : Just to put those figures in context, in 1914 wages for a working man would be typically between 26 shillings and 34 shillings a week, and one could buy a family house for about £1,000. In 1916 (as prices were rising sharply due to the war and rationing was already in force) typical retail prices were:
1 lb meat ..... 1s/6d
1lb sugar .....  -  6d 
1lb Bacon ......1s/4d
1 lb Cheese ...1s/2d
pint milk ....... -/ 4d
pint beer ....... - 3d 
loaf of bread...- 10d



....... But I'm digressing from the OP.


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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 10:21

Baxter represents a different phenomenon of which we will also never know the true numbers involved. Conscription law allowed for objection to fighting on the basis of conscience only on extremely restrictive grounds so, by definition, was designed to force all others who had decided not to enlist into uniform. In England, Wales and Scotland alone that accounted for about 75% of men of serviceable age (initially between 18 and 41). The figures are hazy but, even if we assume that about a third of these were subsequently deemed to be working in jobs essential to the nation's survival in wartime or were married, then we are still left with a number from three to five million in March 1916 who were not exempt from active service, even greater when married men were also included in the May 1916 amendment. The army needed these men as soldiers but it also knew that there were a myriad reasons why they were not soldiers already and equated most of these reasons with basic cowardice by default. While most conscripts "knuckled down" and kept their private reservations very private indeed (and their sexual orientation too in many cases) this was not a satisfactory situation for the army high command who came more and more to regard these "untrustworthy" soldiers as a huge liability. For over a year after conscription was introduced one can see a pattern whereby the soldiery was used increasingly as cannon fodder, their generals displaying almost as much contempt for their lives as the enemy did.

Men like Baxter, and there were many, who were disposed to openly object to this system from the outset or who intelligently discerned the pattern after enlistment and openly opted out, therefore took the full brunt of the undisguised disgust in which they and their fellow conscripts were held by many of the top brass. Many were, like Baxter, "processed" under military rules governing desertion of duty but many more were subjected to much more arbitrary retribution. We will never know their true number.

While related to the top brass fear of political radicalism however the two phenomena should not be confused. This fear, if anything, was even greater, involved professional, volunteer and conscript soldier alike, and extended deep into the political core of the establishment - a real terror (vocalised often by Winston Churchill at the time) at the prospect of arming and training men in effective combat who not only had no objection to fighting but who were likely to use these skills against the establishment itself given the opportunity. And since "establishment" in socialist or communist terms covered the ruling classes and capitalist bourgeoisie in all the belligerent lands then such an opportunity during hostilities required, by definition, fraternisation between soldiers of like mind to create and avail of it.

During 1917, and especially after the Canadians proved at Vimy Ridge just how useful a conscript army could be when trusted to engage the enemy as effective fighters and not just fodder, the initial fears of "mass cowardice" abated. However simultaneous events on the eastern front only served to heighten fears of radicalism to even more neurotic heights in the same quarters.

"Fraternisation" (which in military terms covered absolutely all communication or attempted communication between soldiers of opposing armies), when it did occur or was deemed likely to occur, was always linked in military minds to this threat more than any other. If we have only skimpy knowledge of how non-willing conscript objectors were treated and the numbers involved, we have even less of cases where this fraternisation or attempted fraternisation occurred. In fact it was not until the 1970s, as a significantly large proportion of the combatants began to reach old age and die, that documentable material related to these cases began to become available, often from personal recollections and testimonies that the ex-combatants themselves feared to release in their own lifetime. Italian, Hungarian, Austrian, German and French cases came to light in unexpectedly high quantities before any British (as recently as the 1990s this was used by some historians to claim that somehow Britain had been immune from this "contagion"). However some serious evaluation of the documentation that originated in Thatcher's post-coal strike Britain and a heightened desire in some regions to explore Britain's actual socialist history finally began and continues to bring enough of these cases to light to raise questions about the official record in the UK. It certainly means these cases should be considered if, as the recent establishment-sponsored commemoration of the Christmas 1914 truces seems to condone, we are all being encouraged to examine where, when and why fraternisation during the First World War actually occurred.


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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 12:15

@Meles meles wrote:
There were instances of the fighting stopping for a bit, but there was certainly no general cease-fire and no support or encouragement was given by any senior officers

That's the point surely. It wasn't a ceasefire agreed by the high commands. Any fraternisation which took place was spontaneous and undertaken by the lower ranks on the front line. Whether it was in a football match or by exchanging of gifts or drinks or an aural (non visual) duel of carols between trenches or just Christmas greetings and banter - it was the spirit of of it which touched so many at the time and since.

For German people to claim not to know of the 1914 Christmas truce is, perhaps, not that surprising. It's the Basil Fawlty syndrome after all. Just as the UK seems to be the state most obsessed with the world wars, similarly Germany is often to be found at the other end of that spectrum. That France should be unaware of the events, however, is something of an eyebrow-raiser. It was a French film Joyeux Noel (2005) about the Christmas truce which won an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and no fewer that 6 of France's own Cesar awards including meilleur film.

An intriguing phenomenon of the 1914 Western Front fraternisations is that they were seemingly unique. By comparison on the Eastern Front, the lack of synchronicity between the Orthodox calendar and the Western calendar, with the respective Christmases being 13 days apart, would preclude any such truce there. It has been suggested that the soldiers of 1914 were innocently observing an age-old custom and yet, at first glance, this theory doesn't seem to bear scrutiny. During the century before the First World War, for example, there doesn't seem to have been any Christmas truces recorded. The most likely candidates for such would perhaps have been during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and also the 4 Christmases which occurred during the American Civil War in the 1860s. One would have thought that the latter example in particular would have provided opportunity for such truces. Both sides, after all spoke the same language and worshiped in similar churches. But seemingly not and there were no known Christmas truces during the American Civil War and neither were there any Thanksgiving truces in the Novembers of those years.

Savage fighting continued on the 25th December during the American Civil War and also in France in 1870. In the latter case, there was the famous ‘Christmas menu’ at the restaurant Voisin, during the Siege of Paris, upon which were listed delicacies sourced from the zoo such as ‘consomme d’elephant’, ‘le chameau roti a l’anglaise’, ‘le civet de kangarou’ and most delightful of all ‘le chat flanque de rats’. But no ceasefire, and shelling continued (both incoming and outgoing) sporadically on that day both in Paris and elsewhere. Being far from the fighting, however,the German newspapers had time and space to comment of the strangeness, incongruity and juxtaposition of ‘Kriegsweihnachten’ (Christmas during war). This in itself is significant in that the idea of ‘Christmas’ and ‘war’ was seemingly something novel in Western Europe inthe 19th century. And this would lend credence to the later sentiments of John & Yoko, Jona Lewie and Paul McCartney etc.

Going further back in time, and before the age of railways and steam power, then historically the whole of winter was generally viewed as a ‘Christmas truce’. This was for obvious transportation and other logistical reasons. Hostilities would then begin or resume in the Spring. This, after all, is why the month of March is so named. That’s not to say that wars didn't occasionally take place in wintertime. During England’s Wars of the Roses, for example, a Yorkist army was holed up in Sandal Castle by a much larger Lancastrian army near Pontefract in December 1460. Some military historians interpret the subsequent events as the breaking of an agreed ‘Christmas truce’. The Yorkists made a sortie on 30 December and were wiped out at the Battle of Wakefield in which Richard, Duke of York himself was killed. One chronicler suggests that the Yorkists had been lured out of the castle by a Lancastrian envoy ‘under a false colour’ and that they had been led to believe that it was safe to forage outside of the castle walls during the 12-day Christmas holiday.


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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 12:22

@Vizzer wrote:
For German people to claim not to know of the 1914 Christmas truce is, perhaps, not that surprising. It's the Basil Fawlty syndrome after all. Just as the UK seems to be the state most obsessed with the world wars, similarly Germany is often to be found at the other end of that spectrum. That France should be unaware of the events, however, is something of an eyebrow-raiser. It was a French film Joyeux Noel (2005) about the Christmas truce which won an Oscar, a BAFTA, a Golden Globe and no fewer that 6 of France's own Cesar awards including meilleur film.

Actually this event is well referenced in German accounts of the period and has also been the subject of documentaries etc over the years. It is this year's sentimental importance that is being placed on it in Britain that is generally puzzling them. And, as stated by me already, there is also puzzlement as to why the obvious fact that the initiative - when it occurred - was from the German side is not being stressed in Britain amid all the hoo-ha.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 13:46

Another ceasefire worthy of dramatic reconstruction in this day and age, as well as its implications worthy of being properly assessed in light of new evidence, occurred in the Gallipoli campaign. After the failed Turkish infantry onslaught on the Australian-held Monash Valley Ridge which the Anzacs called the Battle of Johnson's Jolly (like "Passchendaele" one of those WWI names that so belie the carnage wrought there), the stench of rotting corpses prompted both sides to declare a truce in order to bury the dead. The initiative came from the Turkish side when Australian observers saw red crescent flags being waved enthusiastically from across the ridge. A British officer Captain Aubrey Herbert, there officially as liaison between Australian and British command, noticed troops waving white flags in response and fearing that this would be interpreted as surrender, on his own initiative fashioned a red crescent flag and approached the Turks. He was met by Turkish officers of low rank (his description) and between them they agreed a ceasefire between 7am and 4.30pm in order to bury the dead.

Herbert's deposition to his own commanders (who included T.E. Lawrence) after the event was considered so dangerous as to be made subject to official secrecy. In it Herbert, obviously moved by the occasion, recorded one Turkish officer's remarks upon seeing the valley filled with thousands of dead men; "At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage, and the most savage must weep." In 1919 Herbert felt he could publish his recollections, and in his book remarked that he had told his superiors;

"They [Turkish dead] fill the myrtle-grown gullies. One saw the result of machine-gun fire very clearly: entire companies annihilated – not wounded, but killed, their heads doubled under them with the impetus of their rush and both hands clasping their bayonets. It was as if God had breathed in their faces …".

Herbert's book was shunned by British publishers though eventually a reprint in 1930 enjoyed some success there. In it, his description of what happened when the burials had finished, with still some hours of the ceasefire remaining, reveal what initially what had been deemed so incendiary by his superiors;

"The burying was finished some time before the end. There were certain tricks to both sides. Our men and the Turks began fraternizing, exchanging badges, etc. I had to keep them apart. At 4 o’clock the Turks came to me for orders. I do not believe this could have happened anywhere else. I retired their troops and ours, walking along the line. At 4.17 I retired the white-flag men, making them shake hands with our men. Then I came to the upper end. About a dozen Turks came out. I chaffed them, and said that they would shoot me the next day. They said, in a horrified chorus: “God forbid!” The Albanians laughed and cheered, and said: “We will never shoot you.” Then the Australians began coming up, and said: “Good-bye old chap; good luck!”  And the Turks said: “Oghur Ola gule gule gedejekseniz, gule gule gelejekseniz” (“Smiling may you go and smiling come again”). Then I told them all to get into their trenches, and unthinkingly went up to the Turkish trench and got a deep salaam from it. I told them that neither side would fire for twenty-five minutes after they had got into the trenches. One Turk was seen out away on our left, but there was nothing to be done, and I think he was all right. A couple of the rifles had gone off about twenty minutes before the end but Potts and I went hurriedly to and fro seeing it was all right. At last we dropped into our trenches, glad that the strain was over. I walked back with Temperley. I got some raw whisky for the infection in my throat, and iodine for where the barbed wire had torn my feet. There was a hush over the Peninsula."

Herbert, much like his fellow Orientalist Lawrence, was a complex man whose war experiences reflected this complexity. After Gallipoli he was employed more and more in intelligence work in the Middle East, and in his accounts of that period one can begin to understand just how fluid and potentially incendiary the whole concept of "truce" was considered during the war, especially in that sector. Herbert was responsible for many such truces, none of which were of course "officially" sanctioned or recognised, let alone reported. Once the war was over his experience in gaining the trust of opposing belligerents despite his identification with one side was exploited by Sir Basil Thomson (British Intelligence chief) in his last military mission - using diplomatic cover to infiltrate the Berlin Bolsheviks and report possible implications for Britain's "home front" against such radicalism. The fears of this movement which had so animated the high command during the war had obviously not lessened in its aftermath, and the men deemed best equipped to counter it were those whose military careers had given them experience of truce negotiation during the conflict, therefore by default "exposing" them to this mentality that the establishment loathed and feared in equal measure.

Herbert died in very mysterious circumstances shortly afterwards. The official version is so fantastic as to defy belief but yet dares one to trust it as truth, so divergent from the norm is it - a tactic of course used much in intelligence and counter-intelligence disinformation ploys. His eyesight having rapidly failed he was "advised" by a Harley Street doctor to have all his teeth pulled as a remedy. From this he contracted blood poisoning and, conveniently for the British establishment who would not have welcomed another set of memoirs like the previous one, died.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 18:56

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Vizzer
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 19:07

@nordmann wrote:
It is this year's sentimental importance that is being placed on it in Britain that is generally puzzling them. And, as stated by me already, there is also puzzlement as to why the obvious fact that the initiative - when it occurred - was from the German side is not being stressed in Britain amid all the hoo-ha.

The Basil Fawlty syndrome is, of course, a 2-way phenomenon. Just as it's a case of "don't mention the war" with some German people then similarly it's a case of "always mention the war" in the UK. And criticism of the UK media's overkill regarding the world war centenary is well justified.

That said, I don't think that the 1914 Christmas truce was particularly heavily covered. Unless, that is, there was something on the BBC World Service and/or News Channel that I'm unaware of. For those of us receiving UK domestic broadcasts, then the coverage of the Christmas truce commemorations could even be said to have been a case of blink-and-you've-missed-it.

For my part, I only caught a brief report on BBC One's Breakfast program on Christmas Eve which came from Ploegsteert in Belgium. That featured some shots of a few people in 2014 holding a lantern-lit, night-time vigil in a wood. This was then followed by a few seconds of archive material from the BBC's own Great War series from 1964 which did indeed state that it was German-initiated. And that was it. Neither was the film Joyeux Noel even listed for showing on any of the UK television channels that I noticed.

With regards to pragmatic truces such as that involving Aubrey Herbert in the Dardanelles, then as an Orientalist he would have been well aware of the long tradition of such truces in that part of the world. The British along with the French would also have been familiar with the need to stop fighting in order to bury the dead in such climes not least from their experiences 60 years earlier during the Crimean War. The Ottomans and the Russians had a long history of warfare interspersed with brief truces for the sake of burials. The Siege of Sevastopol was a case in point. Following the great storm of 15 November 1854 both sides were keen for a respite and a chance to bury the dead both human and animal. The latter were even towed out to sea and sunk in a grisly mockery of the tight naval blockade which was briefly lifted for that purpose. During the burial of the human corpses, British, French and Russian sentries would smoke pipes, exchange lights and briefly chat together. No doubt some of them were also conscious of neighbouring Feodosia (Caffa) where 500 years earlier another siege had witnessed the first arrival of the Black Death into Europe.

Good link that Gil regarding Churchill's experience outside Colenso on Christmas Day 1899: 'So no great shells were fired into the Boer entrenchments at dawn, and the hostile camps remained tranquil throughout the day. Even the pickets forbore to snipe each other'. It does indeed count as a Christmas truce but perhaps not one involving direct fraternisation. In neighbouring Ladysmith (then under siege) there is also an apocryphal story of the Afrikaners firing a defused shell containing a plum pudding into the town.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sat 27 Dec 2014, 20:53

Vizzer - I'd say that the fact that Churchill was fully aware of the Colenso affair may be significant - at least one of the political leaders in wartime Britain knew that such things could and did happen in time of war.
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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Sun 28 Dec 2014, 23:28

I came across this, it's brief and rather superficial but I've never seen the burial photo before. http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/12/25/370381693/a-century-ago-when-the-guns-fell-silent-on-christmas?sc=17&f=1001

The final paragraph interests me though, it's implied that the information comes from the IWM so is there any evidence of this reluctance to fire that any of you are aware of?

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PostSubject: Re: The 1914 Christmas Truce   Thu 01 Jan 2015, 15:23

ID wrote:

For some reason, Britain (and Australia too for that matter) have an obsession with war that is now bordering on myth and it is a trend that seems to be unique to just a couple of countries. Can't think why, war is certainly nothing to celebrate.


It's a long history, ID. Here I am on this New Year's Day, listening to Mozart's Requiem, getting rather tipsy and reading Milton (like you do):

"An old and haughty nation, proud in arms."  (Comus)

But you Australians are mostly British, you know. We owe a lot to the Australian dead.

PS I should add that Milton was actually talking about the Welsh.

PPS One of my friends mentioned the Sainsbury "Truce" ad during lunch on Christmas Day - she became quite emotional and said how she loved the idea behind the advert. I hadn't the heart to mention any of this discussion, or to point out that the idea behind the advert was for Sainsbury's to make more money.
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