This letter appeared in the Yorkshire Post (Weekend Edition 28-29 December 2013) this week:
Beacon of Humanity
As your readers will be aware, 2014 will mark the 100th centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
By the end of 1914 a number of battles had been fought with significant losses on all sides, and as the year’s end approached it slowly dawned on the various participants that this war would most probably not be over by Christmas after all.
The set-piece battles of past conflicts were consigned to the history books and were replaced with the horrors of trench warfare. Though few could have guessed it at the time, the scene was set for a slaughter of Europe’s youth on an industrial scale that would shape the rest of the century to come.
Yet as Christmas Day in 1914 approached, the guns increasingly fell silent. In many sectors troops from opposing sides offered one another a hand of friendship. Soldiers erected makeshift Christmas trees, sang carols together, and exchanged cigarettes and chocolate and other gifts. Some played football.
I find it heartening and yet heart-breaking that such a spontaneous truce was possible. Heartening in that for this short time the youth of Europe could put aside their artificially imposed enmity and join together in the celebration of a common custom, and heart-breaking in that a short time later these young men who had been happily socialising with one another would be killing each other on a colossal scale once again.
I regard the Christmas Truce of 1914 as a beacon of humanity among the unimaginable pain and suffering of the Great War and think that this is a story worth reflecting on as we celebrate the festive season and see in the New Year which will mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of this tragic conflict.