'Silent Night' - the song that stopped a war

When World War I erupted in 1914 to launch the first great
European war of the 20th century, soldiers on both sides were assured they
would be home by Christmas to celebrate victory.


That prediction proved to be false.

When World War I erupted in 1914 to launch the first great
European war of the 20th century, soldiers on both sides were assured they
would be home by Christmas to celebrate victory.


That prediction proved to be false.


The men on the fronts did not get home for Christmas as the
war dragged on for four years. During that time, some 8,500,000 men were killed,
with hundreds of thousands more dying from injuries.


The "war to end all wars" took a horrific human toll
and transformed Europe.


However, on Christmas Eve in December 1914, one of the most
unusual events recorded in military history took place on the Western front.


On the night of Dec. 24, the weather abruptly turned cold,
freezing the water and slush of the trenches in which the men in both armies
bunkered.


On the German side, soldiers began lighting candles. British
sentries soon reported back to commanding officers that there seemed to be small
lights raised on poles or bayonets.


These lanterns clearly illuminated German troops, making them
vulnerable to being shot.


However, the British held their fire.


Even more amazing, British officers saw through their binoculars
that some enemy troops were holding Christmas trees over their heads with lighted
candles in their branches.


The message was clear - Germans, who celebrated Christmas
on the eve of Dec. 24, were extending holiday greetings to their enemies across
the way.


Within moments of that sighting, the British began hearing
a few German soldiers singing a Christmas carol. It was soon picked up all along
the German line as other soldiers joined in harmonizing.


The words heard were these: "Stille nacht, heilige nacht."


British troops immediately recognized the melody as "Silent
Night" quickly neutralized all hostilities on both sides.


One by one, British and German soldiers began laying down their
weapons to venture into no-man’s-land, a small patch of bombed-out earth
between the two sides.


So many soldiers on both sides ventured out that superior officers
were prevented from objecting. There was an undeclared truce, and peace had
broken out.


Frank Richards was an eyewitness of this unofficial truce.


In his wartime diary, he wrote: "We stuck up a board with
‘Merry Christmas’ on it. The enemy stuck up a similar one. Two of
our men threw off their equipment and jumped on the parapet with their hands
above their heads as two of the Germans did the same, our two going to meet
them.


"They shook hands and then we all got out of the trench,
and so did the Germans," Richards wrote in his account.


Richards also explained that some German soldiers spoke perfect
English, with one saying how fed up he was with the war and how he would be
glad when it was all done. His British counterpart agreed.


That night, former enemy soldiers sat around a common campfire.
They exchanged small gifts from their meager belongings - chocolate bars,
buttons, badges and small tins of processed beef.


Men who only hours earlier had been shooting to kill were now
sharing Christmas festivities and showing each other family snapshots.


The truce ended just as it had begun, by mutual agreement.


Captain C.I. Stockwell of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers recalled
how - after a truly "Silent Night" - he fired three shots
into the air Dec. 26 at 8:30 a.m. and then stepped up onto the trench bank.


A German officer who had exchanged gifts with Stockwell the
previous night also appeared on a trench bank. They bowed, saluted and climbed
back into their trenches.


A few minutes later, Captain Stockwell heard the German officer
fire two shots into the air.


The war was on again. (BP)

0