stanley weintraub

I love Da Capo Press.  They constantly publish great books – especially when it comes to history – and they always take care of me.  I just got these advance copies from two prolific historians who seem to release awesome books every fall.  Keep your eyes open for these two:

“Mr. President”: George Washington and the Making of the Nation’s Highest Office by Harlow Giles Unger – Available October 29th

Young Mr. Roosevelt: FDR’s Introduction to War, Politics, and Life by Stanley Weintraub – Available October 8th

Christmas Eve Truces

December 24, The Western Front—One of the most famous and resonating tales of the close of 1914 is the “Christmas Truce,” a series of impromptu local ceasefires along sections of the Western Front on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914.  While the Pope had called for a Christmas Truce earlier in the month, the local truces were almost all spontaneous affairs springing up all along the line.  Following are a few examples of these Christmas displays along the line, drawn from Stanley Weintraub’s excellent 2001 book, Silent Night.

On Christmas Eve the Royal Flying Corps dropped a padded, brandy-steeped plum pudding on the German airfield at Lille.  The next day the Germans responded with a careful air drop of a bottle of rum…

As both sides milled about in a frosty mist still slow to fade, the Queen’s Westminster Rifles, near Armentières, sent out Rifleman A.J. Philip to meet five Germans who, after singing since daybreak, shouted for someone to arrange a “you no shoot, we no shoot” day.  Armed only with wine, cakes, chocolate and cigarettes, one German gravely saluted and announced in English that he was an officer and a Londoner.  (He came from Catford, below Blackheath.)  Signboards arose up and down the trenches in a variety of shapes.  They were usually in English, or—from the Germans—in fractured English.  Rightly, the Germans assumed that the other side could not read traditional gothic lettering, and that few English understood spoken German.  “YOU NO FIGHT, WE NO FIGHT” was the most frequently employed German message.  Some British units improvised “MERRY CHRISTMAS” banners and waited for a response.  More placards on both sides popped up…

At Foucaucourt, on the Somme, where the 99th [French] Regiment faced the Bavarians, three hundred of the enemy, led by a junior officer, emerged from their trenches and advanced halfway to the French wire.  To a French captain the Leutnant explained the Bavarians’ reluctance to fight, and for days thereafter a brisk exchange took place in bread, cognac, postcards and newspapers.  “A perfectly trained [German] dog,” the French reported, “ensures communications between the lines.

Near Givenchy, the Indian troops who had suffered greatly from German attacks on the 20th did not celebrate Christmas and were disinclined to participate in the truces celebrated by the British, French, and Germans on neighboring portions of the line.

Along the Yser Canal in Belgium, German troops decided, in the spirit of Christmas, to return a golden monstrance (receptacle for the Communion host) found by the Germans hidden in a coal cellar.  They called out the Belgians across the ruins of a bridge crossing the Yser: “If there is a priest around, please come forward.  We would like to give you a memento.” To convince the Belgians of their peaceful intent, they sang “in voices at first wavering, then firmer, swelling to a mighty Christmas carol.”  Eventually the monstrance made its way across the gap in the bridge by rope, and the Germans were thanked by the ranking officer in the area, a Captain Lemaire.  Unfortunately, “the army command was afraid that other gestures of peace would follow, and they replaced the commandant Lemaire.”

Source: Stanley Weintraub, Silent Night.