‘Forever, I’m dreaming of home…’ – Christmas truce 1914
…These is the title of a song that appears in a movie “Joyeux Noel” that tells a real story of the spontaneous ceasefire on No Man’s Land during WWI on Christmas Eve of 1914. It was nominated for Oscar and Palme d’Or in Cannes but somehow the movie remains unknown to most of people, which is a pity. I must say that for years I used to underestimate this war, focusing only of the World War II, as my family suffered from it and as it broke out in my city. Now I regret my ignorance. I realized the tragedy of WWI thanks to the French people who have become my family and thanks to numerous stays in France. And yes, I even visited the legendary Verdun. Twice. After this you cannot stay indifferent anymore. I saw the forest that grew on the previous battlefield of Verdun, I saw the old, still existing trenches, I walked through the filthy corridors of Fort Douaumont. That’s why ‘Joyeux Noel’ moves me so much. It shows how pointless that war was, between nations sharing the same culture, religion and history. It was different from World War II as there was no Stalin nor Hitler, no ideology to fight for or against, it was just a war between empires. It always shocks me to read all the memoirs about the beginning of that war, with people being so excited and waiting for it as if it was an adventure of their lives. A few months later the same people didn’t see any point in this war anymore.
Christmas is a time when we try to be better to others, when we stop for a while and think of our lives. No wonder that at Christmas of 1914 soldiers of all sides decided spontaneously to make a truce. It didn’t happen in one particular place, there was several cases of the ceasefire along the Western front. Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides – as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units – independently ventured into “no man’s land“, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.
‘Joyeux Noel’ tells the story of the truce on ‘No Man’s Land’ where German, French and Scottish troops were only couple of hundred meters from each other. When Scottish soldiers start to sing a wonderful song ‘I’m dreaming of home’ you get the feeling that this song must be very well-known, though in fact it was written especially for this film:
After that the German side starts to sing ‘Adeste fideles’ and after a while the Scots join them:
This is in my opinion the most touching part of the movie. Of course this is art, it’s exaggerated in a way, but isn’t it what we want from cinema? They couldn’t tell the story of Christmas truce better than this. Although I am not an emotional person, I have tears in my eyes everytime I watch it. Millions of victims, battle of Verdun, Somme… In every French village there are monuments of the victims of World War I with names of local people who lost their lives. And it doesn’t matter it happened almost 100 years ago, it’s still a big trauma for many people.
One of the witness of Christmas truce wrote: ‘At 8.30 I fired three shots in the air and put up a flag with “Merry Christmas” on it, and I climbed on the parapet. He [the Germans] put up a sheet with “Thank you” on it, and the German Captain appeared on the parapet. We both bowed and saluted and got down into our respective trenches, and he fired two shots in the air, and the War was on again.’
A German soldier wrote: ‘The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was. The English officers felt the same way about it. Thus Christmas, the celebration of Love, managed to bring mortal enemies together as friends for a time.‘ [from firstworldwar.com]
Stories like this make me believe in humanity again. So if you haven’t seen ‘Joyeux Noel’ yet, I highly recommend it! Especially now, during Christmas time. There are famous German actors such as Diane Kruger, Benno Furmann, Daniel Bruhl, as well as French ones: Danny Boon and Guillaume Canet.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. Let’s enjoy it the best we can, let’s be nice to each other. Let the Christmas truce of 1914 be a good example to all of us!
“I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home…”