December 1914 was grim for the thousands of soldiers who had dug into the frozen trenches on either side of Flanders Field. What lay between them in the early months of the First Great War was a field of sorrow -- No Man's Land -- littered with barbed wire and decaying corpses.
But somehow, amid the fear and anger, a miracle occurred. As Christmas Day approached, the weapons of war fell silent, men ventured out of the trenches, gifts were exchange, and the sober duty of remembering the dead commenced. For two days, the spirit of Christmas filled the air, and a remarkable "Christmas Truce" brightened spirits. Whn night fell, and that memorable Christmas slipped into the past, one last sound broke that silence: a chorus, from either side, singing in native tongue, "Silent Night."
Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared by both sides of the fight
And as we lay there in our trenches, the silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing a song that we all knew
Though I did not know the language, the song was Silent Night
Then I heard my buddy whisper "All is calm and all is bright"
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me because I'd die if I was wrong
But I stood up in my trench and I began to sing along
Then across the frozen battlefield another's voice joined in
Until one by one, each man became a singer of the hymn
Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier beneath the falling flakes of white
Then he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say "Here's hoping we both live to see us find a better way"
Then the devil's clock struck midnight and the skies lit up again
And the battlefield where heaven stood was blown to hell again
But for just one fleeting moment the answer seemed so clear
Heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's just beyond the fear
No, heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's for us to find it here
**Belleau Wood, Garth Brooks, Sevens**
Throughout December, gifts -- English puddings and German chocolate -- were heaved from trench to trench. A German boot exploded in an English trench, stuffed with sausages, chocolate, and cigars. There were soccer games in No Man's Land. A British soldier captured a rabbit, and soldiers from both sides contributed tins of vegetables and meat to make a batch of Christmas stew. It hardly seemed possible at the time that the war would last so long.
But the squabble turned into a long, brutal war. The industrial revolution spawned machinery capable of killing thousands at a time. In the end, not only would ten million die but the tenuous peace would also foster a bitterness that festered until the Second World War began.
Still, for a time, young Londoners who had befriended German waiters and German patrons of French operas saw the war as something temporary. They didn't really hate each other in the first few months. It was only out of duty that they fought. So when an opportunity to celebrate a common holiday arose, so did the men from their trenches.
The guns were silent for a day. And when soldiers from both sides returned to their trenches after Christmas and the command to resume was issued, they would fire only at the clouds. The war would not continue until replacements were rotated in.
**prose taken from Silent Night, Holy Night: The Story of the Christmas Truce **
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