Look at the following images, what do they make you think of?
What is in your opinion of the Christmas Truce? Why do you think it took place? How did it take place? What did the soldiers do?
Now look at this video and listen to the background ballad.
“Christmas in the Trenches” is a ballad from John McCutcheon’s 1984 Album Winter Solstice. It tells the story of the 1914 Christmas Truce between the British and German lines on the Western Front during the Great War from the perspective of a fictional British soldier. Although Francis Tolliver is a fictional character, the event depicted in the ballad is true. John McCutcheon met some of the German soldiers involved in this Christmas story when he toured in Belgium.
How did the take a break from the war to celebrate Christmas? What did they do?
What do you think they sang?
What do you think they gave one another as presents?
Read the following and see whether you were right.
The ballad is a first person narrative by Francis Tolliver, a fictional British soldier from Liverpool. He is relating the events that happened two years prior, while he was a soldier in the trenches of the Great War. He and his fellow soldiers are dug in to their trench, where, as Tolliver relates, “the frost so bitter hung,” while their German enemies occupy the trench at the opposite end of No Man’s Land. The scene is one of quiet and cold; “the frozen fields of France were still; no songs of peace were sung.” The men are reflecting on how their families back in England are making “their brave and glorious lads so far away” the subject of their Christmas toasts, when from the German lines they suddenly hear a young German voice singing out clearly. He is soon joined by his comrades, and the sound of their carol fills the empty fields devastated by war. When they finish, some of the British soldiers from Kent sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” after which the Germans sing “Stille Nacht.” The British soldiers accompany them, singing in English, “and in two tongues one song filled up the sky.” The British troops are startled when their front line sentry cries out that a lone German figure has left their trench and is marching alone across No Man’s Land, unarmed and with a truce flag. Though all of the men aim their rifles at him, nobody fires, and soon all of the men on both sides are leaving their trenches and meeting their enemies unarmed in No Man’s Land. There, they trade chocolate and cigarettes and exchange photographs of their families back home, at which all of the men are struck by how similar their enemy is to themselves. One of the Germans plays his violin while a British soldier plays his squeezebox, and the men launch flares to light up the field in order to play a game of football. Later, with the first signs of daylight, Tolliver relates that “France was France once more; With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.” But, McCutcheon sings, “the question haunted every man who lived that wondrous night; ‘whose family have I fixed within my sight?'” It ends with the fictional Tolliver’s lessons gleaned from the experience; that “the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame- and on each end of the rifle we’re the same.”
See Christmas Truce (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Truce) or (http://www.firstworldwar.com/features/christmastruce.htm)
Inspired by a back-stage conversation with an old woman in Birmingham, AL, this song tells a story that is not only true, but well-known throughout Europe. Now read the lyrics of the ballad.
Watch the 3-minute video and answer the questions below. You will watch the video twice.
1 Why are the British surprised on Christmas Eve?
2 What did the British do?
3 Why were the British afraid at first?
4 What did the British and Germans do when they met?
5 What did they have in common?
6 What did they both risk?
7 Why did the soldiers go back to fighting the day after?
8 Why was it difficult to pick up rifles again?
Watch the 5-minute video and answer the questions or complete the sentences:
1 What appeared all across the German lines?
2 What did the British think?
3 Instead of rifle fire _______________________________________________________________
4 What did the soldiers do? (mention of all the activities)
5 What did Captain Charles Stockwell do?
6 What did the soldiers know?
7 What was the unofficial Truce a chance for?
8 The Christmas Truce was the last public moment ______________________________________
9 What happened on December 26th? (Be specific)
Read a short article on the Christmas Truce and fill in the blanks with the words given in the box:
|enemies, soccer, warfare, combatants, truce , quashed , troops, the lines, shells, cease-fire , firing, destroy , trenches, no-man’s-land, unarmed, retrieval, outbreak, clash of weapons|
During World War I, on and around Christmas Day 1914, the sounds of rifles _____ and _____ exploding faded in a number of places along the Western Front in favor of holiday celebrations in the _____ and gestures of goodwill between _____ .
On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary hiatus of the war for the celebration of Christmas. The warring countries refused to create any official _____ , but on Christmas the soldiers in the trenches declared their own unofficial _____.
Starting on Christmas Eve, many German and British _____ sang Christmas carols to each other across _____, and at certain points the Allied soldiers even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn on Christmas Day, some German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across _____, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans _____ they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of_____.
Some soldiers used this short-lived ceasefire for a more somber task: the _____ of the bodies of fellow _____ who had fallen within the no-man’s land between the lines.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the _____ of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in _____. It was never repeated—future attempts at holiday ceasefires were _____ by officers’ threats of disciplinary action—but it served as heartening proof, however brief, that beneath the brutal _____, the soldiers’ essential humanity endured.
During World War I, the soldiers on the Western Front did not expect to celebrate on the battlefield, but even a world war could not _____ the Christmas spirit.
Write a short paragraph in which you express your feelings about the Christmas Truce. What do we learn from this historical event? Why should it be celebrated or remembered?
Do the following reading activity at home and be prepared to discuss it in class
The First World War truce – which saw British and German troops lay down their arms – has been immortalised by Poet Laureate and Mirror columnist Carol Ann Duffy.
On Christmas Day 1914 soldiers from both sides of the trenches on the Western Front in northern France met up in No Man’s Land for a game of football. As many as 100 troops took part and the game began after each side was heard singing Christmas songs in their trenches. As many as 100,000 soldiers were involved in a number of unofficial ceasefires staged at Christmas and other times during the conflict. Captain Bruce Bairnsfather wrote of the 1914 truce: “I wouldn’t have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything.”
Duffy’s poetry penetrates the detail of life in the trenches in order to fuse the reader’s feelings with the intensity of the suspended moments of the truce. She describes the men huddling together, lighting their pipes or waiting for sleep. A young soldier stares at the same star that his mother may be gazing at simultaneously. The poem goes on to describe the horror of war through its evocative imagery of the damage it inflicted on the soldiers. Can you substantiate this?
The poem describes the singing as a “sudden bridge from man to man” that elicited cheering. The fraternisation from this point onwards gathers pace like a snowball with French, German and English songs being sung through the night, followed by gifts and exchanges of food, alcohol and cigarettes at daylight. There is more translation from Duffy as she charts the fast-growing warmth and communication between the soldiers:
I showed him a picture of my wife
iche zeigte ihm
ein Foto meiner frau.
Sie sei schon, sagte er.
He thought her beautiful, he said.
The soldiers also buried their dead in a part of the war-torn landscape described by Richard Schirrmann (founder of the German Youth Hostel Association) as, “Strewn with shattered trees, the ground ploughed up by shellfire, a wilderness of earth, tree-roots and tattered uniforms.” This was the area known as “No Man’s Land” which became temporarily transformed by soldiers who allowed themselves to “Make of a battleground, a football pitch.”
Duffy’s skilful use of alliteration and listing is shown to full effect in the poem, which powerfully conjures the moods of alienation or sudden interaction. Can you spot a few examples?
Press censorship and military oppression ensured that little information regarding the truces emerged, so that much of the information came directly from soldiers at the front or those wounded in hospitals. One of those who took part in the Christmas truce, Alfred Anderson, who died in 2005, recalled, “I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas’, even though nobody felt merry.”
The Christmas Truce poem illuminates this silence but introduces into it:
Then flickering flames from the other side
danced in his eyes
as Christmas trees in their dozens shone,
candlelit on the parapets,
and they started to sing, all down the German lines.
Much has been written about World War One, and much of it by soldier poets—above all, the great Wilfred Owen. Carol Ann Duffy’s approach is fairly nostalgic, but very lyrical. Duffy has said of her own work, “I like to use simple words, but in a complicated way.” Owen, in contrast, who is not distanced by time or place, said of his own war poetry, “My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.”
Last but not least, I would like you to watch what some students prepared on the Christmas Truce.