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Silent Night (Christmas 1915)

The Christmas truce was a series of widespread unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front of the First World War actually around Christmas 1914.
Truces between British and German units in fact can be dated to early November 1914, around the time that the war of manoeuvre ended. Rations were brought up to the front line always after dusk and soldiers on both sides noted a period of peace, while they collected their food.

One unusual phenomenon that grew in intensity was music; in peaceful sectors, it was not uncommon for units to sing in the evenings, sometimes deliberately with an eye towards entertaining or gently taunting their opposite numbers.

Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in the informal cessations of hostility along the Western Front. The Germans celebrated by singing Christmas carols, with the British responded by singing carols of their own.

On Christmas Day, Brigadier-General Walter Congreve, commander of the 18th Infantry Brigade, stationed near Neuve Chapelle, wrote a letter recalling the Germans declared a truce for the day. One of his men bravely lifted his head above the parapet and others from both sides walked onto no man’s land. Officers and men shook hands and exchanged cigarettes and cigars, one of his captains “smoked a cigar with the best shot in the German army”, the latter no more than 18 years old.

In December 1915, there were orders by the Allied commanders to forestall any repeat of the previous Christmas truce. Units were encouraged to mount raids and harass the opposing line, whilst communicating with the enemy was discouraged by artillery barrages along the front line throughout the day. However, a small number of brief truces occurred despite this prohibition.

On the German side, a general order from December 29th, 1914 had already forbade fraternisation with the enemy, warning German troops that “every approach to the enemy…will be punished as treason”.

Silent Night (Christmas 1915)

Vocals: Celtic Thunder.
Lyrics: Cormac MacConnell.

1915 on Christmas Day,
On the western front the guns all died away,
And lying in the mud on bags of sand,
We heard a German sing from no man’s land.
He had tenor voice so pure and true.
The words were strange but every note we knew.
Soaring or the living dead and dammed,
The German sang of peace from no man’s land.
They left their trenches and we left ours,
Beneath tin hats smiles bloomed like wild flowers.
With photos, cigarettes, and pots of wine,
We built a soldier’s truce on the front line.
Their singer was a lad of twenty one.
We begged another song before the dawn,
And sitting in the mud and blood and fear
He sang again the song all longed to hear.
Silent night, no cannons roar.
A King is born of peace for evermore.
All’s calm, all’s bright,
All brothers hand in hand,
In 19 and 15 in no man’s land.
And in the morning all the guns boomed in the rain,
And we killed them and they killed us again.
At night they charged we fought them hand to hand,
And I killed the boy that sang in no man’s land.
Silent night no cannons roar,
A King is born of peace for evermore.
All’s calm, all’s bright,
All brothers hand in hand,
And that young soldier sings,
And the song of peace still rings,
Though the captains and all the kings,
Built no man’s land.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

END

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