It's the time of year when advent and advert are easily confused.
I've seen a lot of bloggers singing the praises of the John Lewis advert this year. Some of their posts are probably sponsored, some not. JL adverts have become the "thing" now - the sign that the year's biggest shopping occasion is nearly upon us, and that we must frantically buy stuff to show our loved ones how much we care about them (my Scrooge-esque opinions are nothing new, I've mentioned my disdain for Christmas gifts before. It's another entry on the Why I'm Not A Lifestyle Blogger list).
To say I was surprised by the Sainsbury's advert this year would be an understatement. No emphasis on bankrupting ourselves on a single meal - instead a simple, and incredibly poignant message.
No one knows for certain how or why the Christmas Ceasefire happened. It seems to have been spontaneous, perhaps triggered by Germans decorating trees with candles (after all, the habit is German in origin) or singing hymns on Christmas Eve. Silent Night is the most likely to have bonded the troops, as it's one of only a small number of carols commonly sung in English, French and German. Hundreds of small breaks in the war spontaneously erupted.
Maybe it happened because the lads had a moment of realisation that really, regardless of who they were or why they were there, they were all missing their families and trying to make the best of a pretty dire situation. Maybe it's because they were all volunteers, who had signed up early under the impression it wouldn't last long. They were not yet made bitter by the brutality and propaganda that was yet to come. Both sides had thought that it would all be over by Christmas.
|'Over The Top' 1st Artist's Rifles at Marcoing, 30th December 1918, John Nash. (Imperial War Museums)|
Christmas Day probably started in most places in a way typical to a ceasefire. In traditional battlefield combat (after all - World War I is often regarded as the turning point in warfare, when hand to hand fighting was overtaken by technology), ceasefires were often called to allow each side to safely collect their dead. 25th December 1914 started in the same way in many places. Anecdotal evidence tells of men from both British and German armies burying their men alongside each other just outside Lille.
|Burying those killed in the attack of 18th December. Imperial War Museum: Q50720|
|Men from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers with German soldiers, Boxing Day 1914. Imperial War Museum: HU 35801|
Makeshift football games cropped up - mostly as a kick-about between battalions on the same side, but again there's anecdotal evidence that Britain vs Germany matches took place. Sadly not the first example though, as many jokes claim. The rivalry had been alive and well since the first England vs Germany game in 1899.
As darkness descended, flares went up, a signal that the fighting was to restart.
|Wire, Paul Nash. (Imperial War Museums)|
The Christmas 1914 ceasefire was the only long break in fighting. A British press embargo was immediately arranged to stop any news getting back home, but it was broken after a week by the New York Times. The stories would have slowly got home in letters anyway. When public opinion began to turn against the war, and fears of refusals to fight increased, arrangements were made to prevent troops from fraternising with the enemy and to increase propaganda in the trenches themselves. But still - the sentiment remained on a small scale. Historian Tony Ashworth has described how the "live and let live" ethos developed in some areas, with an unofficial avoidance of attack during meal times. I find this incredibly poignant. A small act of rebellion, a small act of recognising that despite the fighting, they were all human.
"I wouldn't have missed that unique and weird Christmas Day for anything. ... I spotted a German officer, some sort of lieutenant I should think, and being a bit of a collector, I intimated to him that I had taken a fancy to some of his buttons. ... I brought out my wire clippers and, with a few deft snips, removed a couple of his buttons and put them in my pocket. I then gave him two of mine in exchange. ... The last I saw was one of my machine gunners, who was a bit of an amateur hairdresser in civil life, cutting the unnaturally long hair of a docile Boche, who was patiently kneeling on the ground whilst the automatic clippers crept up the back of his neck." - Bruce Bairnsfather