At this time of year we are reminded of the British & German troops fighting on the the Western Front who on Christmas Day 1914, ceased fighting, sang carols, played football & exchanged family photos. The British & German Generals safely tucked up in their Chateaus were furious and quickly ordered the men back to their trenches to fight.
“I was dead beat and snatching a few hours rest in my dugout when I heard the strains of ‘It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary’ followed by ‘Deutschand Uber Alles’. I climbed out over the parapet and saw the strangest sight which can ever be seen by any soldier in any war. All along the line groups of British and German soldiers were laughing and singing together. Just Imagine it: English, Scots, Irish, Prussians, Wutemburgers in a chorus. I wrote a report on the whole fantastic episode and ended by saying that if I had seen it on film I would have sworn it was a fake.”
Captain Sir John Hulse, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards in a letter to his mother.
Furious at having lost a days fighting both High Commands ordered these units to other parts of the front. Many of those who took part in the truce, including the writer of the above letter, were killed within three months.
The last survivor of the Western Front was Harry Patch (1898-2009). He described that war a “A war over a family feud”. Harry was married for 57 years but in that time he never spoke to his wife, or their two sons, about his wartime experiences, nor would he watch any war films or attend any military reunion or remembrance celebration. He described the November 11th Remembrance Day Ceremonies as “just show business”. He said he would never return to Belgium where he had fought and been wounded. After his 100th birthday Harry felt a duty to speak about his time in the trenches. He said “No war is worth the loss of a couple of lives, let alone thousands.”
In many ways not a lot has changed since 1914. We are fighting a pointless war in Afghanistan, which is planned to end in 2014. In the meantime soldiers will be killed, injured and traumatised. Afghans will be killed, injured and traumatised. Why?
Veterans for Peace exists to end war. This year we became an international organisation. We invite and welcome any ex-Servicemen/women who would like to join us in our campaign for world peace. We call for veterans around the world to form chapters in their own countries. Together in the spirit of the 1914 truce we can stop this madness.
Rob Bates & Ben Griffin