The First Christmas
on the Western Front
To prepare his parishioners for the upcoming Christmas season, Father Mike mentioned that to honor the Birth of Christ in World War I, the German and English halted the fighting along a 20-mile front.
This brought to mind a short story I wrote for Western Civilization. Both sides stopped the needless slaughter and celebrated together as fellow Christians. This occurred early in the hostilities that I term, “The War of the Cousins.”
I highlighted this heartwarming respite in a war during which 8,000,000 were killed—eight million and over 21,000,000—twenty-one million wounded. A respite occurring before either side employed poison gas, tanks, or even supplied metal helmets.
Christmas came in 1914 at a time when both sides still believed the war would be short. As Barbara Tuchman put it in The Guns of August, her Pulitzer Prize winner:
“… over before the leaves began to fall.”
Instead of charging the dug-in Germans and initiating the Battle of Messines Ridge, with Christmas in the offing, Field Marshal French wanted to retreat, reorganize, and rest his troops. He was, however, ordered by British War Secretary Henry Kitchener to continue on the attack. Instead of resting … in that one battle, 13,000 Englishmen sacrificed their lives—thirteen thousand.
When I write narrative history, I always include historical characters, as well as fictional ones. Within months after enjoying the Christmas tranquility, County Cork’s Michael O’Leary earned the Victoria Cross at Cuinchy France when he captured eight Germans and killed one. O’Leary was an unusual Irishman. He had already immigrated. While living in Canada, O’Leary became acquainted with Germans, went to Mass with them, and became their friend. Now drafted into the English Army, he found himself killing them.
Frankly, despite all my reading on the matter, I still can’t discern why The Cousins, England’s King George, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Russia’s Czar Nicholas couldn’t’ve flipped a coin instead of killing and wounding 30-million men—thirty million.
A tragedy that haunts the world to this very day.