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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

41. ANZAC Day

 
One of the most amazing stories is that of the first Christmas of WWI. On the the eve of Christmas 1914. John McCutcheon's ballad, Christmas in the trenches depicts the moods of the soldiers, on both sides of the front lines, during the first Christmas of World War I. It was hailed as the "Amazing Truce" where German and British soldiers took a respite from the War. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his history of 1914, called the Christmas truce "An amazing spectacle, one human episode amid all the atrocities which have stained the memory of war".

His phrase, indeed, sums up the attraction of the truce; it is the human dimension which means that this relatively obscure event in the fifth month of a fifty two month war is still remembered and will continue to catch the imagination. In a century in which our conception of war has been on the Exocet, the Cruise Missile and the Neutron Bomb, the fact that in 1914 some thousands of the fighting men of the belligerent nations met and shook hands between their trenches strikes a powerful and appealing note. It is perhaps the best and most heartening Christmas story of modern times.

A young German voice was heard singing "Stille Nacht" and it floated over No Man's Land. Then an English voice sent back "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and soon the night was filled with voices of men, some of them as young as 16 or 17. Over the stretch of land which separated both sides appeared a white flag as a young German soldier held it high and slowly approached. And from the British side came a soldier who walked forward to meet him. Then the others followed.

These men met on a battlefield as friends and equals. They shared cigarettes, some chocolate and a rare camaraderie, they looked at photos of sweethearts, mothers and loved ones. They sang Christmas carols together. They even played a game of football. And for a short time, they were ordinary people meeting in friendship.

But time does not stand still, and as the first rays of morning light came and the sun peeked its faint pale rays, they shook hands for the last time. And went back to the business of war.

 


They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years comtemn,
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.
 
 
"And when he gets to heaven,
To St. Peter he will tell,
Another soldier reporting, sir -
I've served my time in hell."

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