Around Christmas 1914, my grandfather was given a small brass box, its lid embellished with an ornate coat of arms and the profile of a young woman. In it, he found pencils, chocolate and a card from Princess Mary, daughter of the British monarch.
The gift was one of more than 400,000 such tins given by Princess Mary to the soldiers of the British army and the Colonial forces fighting in the field as a Christmas present. It’s likely my grandfather didn’t get it until January 1915 because he was serving with the Duke of Cornwall Light Infantry, then in transit from their station at Hong Kong to Britain. as the British recalled all their overseas troops to meet the war emergency. His unit reached the front – one of the last pre-war professional forces the British had left by that stage – in early 1915.
That gift was not the only symbol of that Christmas a century ago. On 24 December 1914, as snow fell over the trenches and ground-works on the Western Front, soldiers began singing carols. At Ploegsteert Wood, British and German soldiers sang to each other across the trench lines – then made their way out of their trenches and walked towards each other in no-man’s land. Haltingly, cautiously, they shook hands.
Elsewhere, fighting continued. But in many places up and down the line, British and Germans who had been trying very hard to kill each other fraternised. Officers frowned upon it. Yet the soldiers swapped hats and coats, food, drink, even played ‘friendly’ soccer. Spontaneous truces happened at other times and places along the Western Front over the next three and a half years. But none had the scale – or feeling – of the Christmas truce of 1914.
As we look back on those times it is easy to think about the foolishness of war. And when I look at the world today I have to wonder, really, what we have learned. But there is hope, a lesson to be drawn from those events of 1914 and the spontaneous gestures of the men. We have within us have the power to be kind, to be peaceful, to remember kindness, if we only let ourselves.
Regular blogging will resume in the new year. There’ll be more writing tips, more science, more writing inspirations. Meanwhile, watch this space – there are fun posts and a wrap-up yet to come. I’d like to thank all my readers this year – thank you for making the time to visit my little corner of the blog-o-sphere, and for your thoughtful comments on my various ramblings. And have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014