The Christmas Truce

By Lawrence McConnell, Vestry Member

Christians at St. John’s and around the globe look forward again this year to the Christmas season as a time of peace, a joyful occasion for families and friends to celebrate God’s gift to the world in the birth of our lord and savior, Jesus Christ. 
   Perhaps unknown to many in our generation is a remarkable story of how 108 years ago, the peace of one Christmas season came to unite opposing troops just six months into World War I. It came to be known as the Christmas Truce, a spontaneous occasion that began on Christmas Eve, 1914, and spread along the front lines of trench warfare in western Europe that stretched hundreds of miles. 
   It ultimately involved an estimated 100,000 British, French, Belgian, and German soldiers as it spilled over into Christmas Day. 
    Multiple accounts from British soldiers related hearing the Germans singing familiar Christmas carols in their native language on Christmas Eve, prompting the Brits to sing back the same carols in English. It wasn’t long before each side climbed out of their respective trenches and met in No Man’s Land, to trade songs, wine, and tobacco, and even in some instances, to play a friendly game of soccer. 
   The History Channel’s website has this account of one British soldier’s experience: 
    J. Reading, a British rifleman, wrote to his wife that “my company happened to be in the firing line on Christmas Eve, and it was my turn…to go into a ruined house and remain there until 6:30 on Christmas morning. During the early part of the morning the Germans started singing and shouting, all in good English. They shouted out: ‘Are you the Rifle Brigade; have you a spare bottle; if so we will come halfway and you come the other half.’ Later on that day they came towards us. And our chaps went to meet them. …I shook hands with some of them, and they gave us cigarettes and cigars. We did not fire that day, and everything was so quiet it seemed like a dream.”
    Another British soldier’s recollection observed: “Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill.”
   Some three years after that remarkable Christmas Truce, America entered the war. The declaration of war was triggered by Germany’s announced resumption of submarine attacks on U.S. merchant and passenger ships. It was also precipitated by revelations that the Germans had sought an alliance with Mexico, seeking its support in the war and pledging in exchange to help that country recover territory it lost to the U.S. in the Mexican-American War.
   The United States’ declaration of war against Germany would prompt 81 parishioners from St. John’s to step forward in service to the war effort, which ultimately killed an estimated 8.6 million soldiers on both sides. Today, at the Elm Avenue entrance to St. John’s church, there is a large plaque listing the names of those 81.
   One of those on that list was G.A. Crueger, who became a lieutenant in Company D, 114th Infantry of the American Expeditionary Force. A Virginia Tech website has the text of a letter Crueger wrote from France amid the final year of the conflict. In the document, posted “from Somewhere in the Ditches,” he told his aunt that “…we were on the front line for a good while and had no tobacco or cigarettes, so the chaplain saw the Red Cross and we had cigarettes, tobacco and can you imagine it, chocolate on the front line!”
   Undoubtedly for Crueger and the other 80 parishioners then, as well as all Christians everywhere now, the Christmas Truce story captures a true meaning of the day, regardless of politics, nationality, or any other perceived differences. 
   It is a vivid reminder that, truly at Christmas, the peace of the Lord passes all understanding.

Photo Caption: On Dec. 31, 1914, the story of the Christmas Truce was front page news for the Daily Mail, one of Great Britain’s most widely read newspapers
Photo Credit: Depositphotos

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