One hundred years ago this week thousands of young men found themselves not at home with their families but at the ‘Front’ in a war that everyone had believed would be over by Christmas.
Instead they found themselves becoming increasingly entrenched in their positions as the fluidity of the first battles turned into a stand-off between the Allies and the Germans. In hastily dug trenches, sometimes only a hundred yards from the enemy, voices singing Christmas carols and the smell of cigarette smoke would have been in the air – a clear reminder of the humanity of the soldiers on each side.
It took great bravery, and perhaps more than a dash of foolishness and faith, for one brave soul to step out into that desolate no-man’s land to wish a happy Christmas to the people he had been trying to kill only hours earlier. Whether it happened quite as it has been presented in a television advert is open to debate. Experts claim that whilst there is very real evidence in letters sent home of unofficial truces amongst different regiments all along the Front, the detail depicted is often misleading.
But arguments over whether or not football was played and whether it was a ball or an old bully beef can miss the point for the majority of us. What matters is the extraordinary bravery of those men who at at time of great crisis and stress remembered the real message of Christmas whatever your belief or background – that we should celebrate joy and peace.
We should be inspired by those brave young men who climbed out of from their positions with an open hand. Although within days the fighting began again, and probably all of those who enjoyed a few days of peace were killed, their actions remain with us a hundred years later.
Best wishes to all the readers of this column for a very happy Christmas.