A REFRESHING PAUSE

This a re-post from several years ago. I am not a christian, but I do have a spiritual side, and this story is as close to a modern-day miracle as I have ever read….

 

Something akin to a miracle happened on Christmas Eve in 1914.  I am posting an article written by the Rev. Kevin Stanley, of the Carmelite order of Catholic Priests and Nuns. Merry Christmas, everybody!!

                 THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE OF 1914

                   by Rev Kevin Stanley, O. Carm.

Europe some 80 years ago was a tinder box awaiting for a spark that
would ignite it into a terrible conflict known as World War I. Since the
turn of the century the French had been enjoying what they dubbed “La
belle Epoque” (the beautiful era). Great scientific progress and human
exploration had been made. But still the mood was ominous and the clouds
of war hung sullenly over Europe.

The assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria on June 28,
1914, at Sarajevo provided the spark that plunged Europe and much of the
world into the greatest war known up to that time.

Shortly after, the “guns of August” boomed and the mighty armies of
British, French, German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian empire began a
relentless war that would claim millions of lives before peace was
restored.

But in spite the shelling, gunfire, smoke, blood, mud and earth, a
little-known miracle took place on Christmas day 1914. It was a miracle
of human kindness and love.

In November of that year, Pope Benedict XIV called for a cessation of
hostilities on Christ’s birthday. “Impossible.” Was the reply from both
sides.

Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German high Command admonished their troops to
“let their hearts beat to God during the coming season and keep their
fists on the enemy”. Meanwhile, at home, folks wondered, “How will the
troops in the trenches fare?” French officers shrugged their shoulder
and predicted that the sniper and gunner would be active as usual.

“Judging by present portents,” the Times of London added, “It is
probable that the plum pudding will be eaten under fire, perhaps in the
intervals of fierce action.

When the German artillery, on Christmas Eve, mounted one of the most
violent bombardments on the British Lines, the stern prediction seemed
likely to prove correct. But what seems impossible to those in high
places, is possible for ordinary soldiers, who often long only for peace
and for home. The thousands of soldiers facing each other in the mud
filled trenches that stretched from the Swiss border to the North
Atlantic decided to call off the war themselves.

At sundown on Thursday, a cold and frosty Christmas Eve, the firing died
slowly until every gun was silent. The silence was almost eerie. What
was happening?

According to reports, it was a young British soldier who first sensed
that a miracle had occurred. Standing guard at midnight in an isolated
outpost in Flanders, Peter Goudge suddenly heard the German troops
singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (Silent Night, Holy Night). Goudge
started singing too. Before long British and Irish troops of the British
Expeditionary Forces began singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” to the
cheers of the Saxon Infantry. The singing continued till all along the
Western Front, former enemies were singing Christmas carols with joy and
peace in their hearts.

English and Irish troops then began to notice hundreds of coloured
lights strung up by the German soldiers along the barbed wire in front
of their trenches. And at intervals, along the trenches brightly
coloured Christmas trees brought the solemnity of the season to the
war-ravaged battle ground. Private Goudge was even more startled to see
a lone German soldier picking his way across the desert of barbed wire
and shell holes while holding aloft a tiny Christmas tree bright with
flickering candles. Leaning over the barbed wire of the British trenches
he shouted in English “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas to you”, shouted back the soldiers. Soon the air was
filled with shouts of Merry Christmas and “Froeliche Weihnachten.”

The Germans then shouted: “Come out. We will not shoot for Christmas.”
Timidly at first, troops of the BEF climbed out of their trenches and
advanced unarmed to greet yesterday’s enemies.

When they met, on a line drawn halfway between opposite trenches, the
soldiers regarded each other with curiosity. Officers saluted stiffly
then shook hands. The Germans clicked their heels and they bowed. Some
laughed, others were tears as they embraced.

The Christmas spirit caught up quickly along the hundreds of miles of
trenches. French troops shouted “Joyeux Noel!” and a French regiment
band serenaded the German troops with classical music.

Belgian and German troops exchanged gifts of cigars and cheese, presents
from their loved ones at home.

Christmas day dawned to the strange sight of formerly hostile soldiers
exchanging gifts, good wishes and songs on the once bitterly contested
battle fields. Despite the language and other barriers the spirit of
Christmas overcame all. Soccer matches took place between teams from
opposite armies and the Germans beat the English, 3-2. Minor officers
and ordinary soldiers had photos taken with their opponents. It was
difficult to tell that war had raged between these armies for five
months.

Toasts with beer and wine, or tea or coffee were offered for home and
family and friends.

The most popular toast though was for peace.

Soldiers on both sides agreed not to take advantage of the lull in
fighting to repair barbed wire on the trenches and if a shot were fired
accidentally it would not be regarded as an hostile act.

The only serious business on this day involved burying the dead. Both
sides dug graves for those who had fallen, and the British supplied some
wooden crosses. Then a party of Germans moved toward the British line,
heads bare carrying the body of a British officer who had fallen behind
their lines.

As the early Friday darkness of cold Christmas day fell on Flanders the
strange mix of former enemies gathered for a sing-along. British and
German forces entertained each other by singing in turn. Allied
contributions ranged from “It’s a long way to Tipperary” to “Home Sweet
Home.”

A fine German baritone overcame the difference of nationality with
Schumann’s “Two grenadiers” which was familiar to all. And a German
cornet player warmed the soldiers’ heart with popular sentimental airs.

The troops applauded each other. At times a flare would illuminate the
Christmas night sky and was greeted with a new round of cheering and cap
waving.

But as evening fell soldiers began to trickle back to their trenches to
reluctantly resume the bitter business at hand. Tears and embraces
marked the parting of thousands of soldiers who at last had found “peace
on earth and good will to all men,” if only for a day. The next flares
shed light on a deserted “No Man’s Land’.

The barbed wire looked sinister and menacing again. Death was about to
replace peace.

A very young British soldier later wrote home, “They, the Germans, were
really magnificent and jolly good fellows.” But he ended the letter
saying, “Both sides have started the firing and are enemies again.
Strange, it all seems, doesn’t it?”

The Christmas miracle of 1914 had ended.

The military high commands of both sides took severe measures to ensure
that the warring troops would not repeat such an event in the future.
There were no more Christmas miracles. But to those soldiers who took
part in it, the day that war stopped for Christ’s birthday, remains a
cherished memory of peace on earth.

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One response to this post.

  1. There’s a movie too on the same subject. Joyeux Noel
    here’s the link
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/

    Reply

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