Joyeux Noёl: The Beginnings of WWI and the Christmas Truce of 1914

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Editor’s note: Christmas is a special time of year, and over the years TOO has posted some classic articles that bear on the season. This article by F. Roger Devlin was originally posted in December, 2013. It is an important reminder of the disastrous intra-racial wars of the twentieth century—wars that may yet deal a death blow to our people and culture given the processes that they set in motion. 

With the hindsight offered by ninety-nine years, it is obvious that the outbreak of the World War I marked not merely the beginning of the most destructive war in history up to that time, but a fundamental civilizational watershed. While the fighting was going on, nearly all participants assumed they had been forced into the struggle by naked aggression from the other side. It took historians years to unravel what had actually happened.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the German Army was the best in Europe, capable of defeating any individual rival. Yet Germany had no natural borders, and was vulnerable to a joint attack on two fronts: by France and Britain in the West and the Russian Empire in the East. A German defeat was considered virtually inevitable in such a scenario.

The Franco-Russian alliance of 1894, which became the Triple Entente when Britain joined in 1907, realized Germany’s worst fears.

However, there were important differences between Germany’s Western and Eastern rivals: France and Britain were modern, compact, efficiently-organized countries capable of rapid mobilization, while sprawling Russia with its thinly spread population and economic backwardness was expected to require up to 110 days for full mobilization. Taking advantage of this asymmetry, the German High Command developed the Schlieffen plan: upon the outbreak of hostilities, close to ninety percent of Germany’s effective troops would launch a lightning attack in the West; this campaign was to be completed within forty days, while lumbering Russia was still mobilizing. With the Western powers out of the way, massive troop transfers to the Eastern front were expected to arrive in time for Germany to face down Russia. Speed—of mobilization, of offensive operations, and of troop transfer—was critical to the success of this plan.

The assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Arch-Duke by a Serb nationalist in June, 1914, is the perfect example of an event which occasioned events which followed, but did not cause them; the men of Europe’s great powers did not slaughter one another for four years over a political assassination in the Balkans. Rather, the assassination occurred in the context of Russian guarantees to Serbia and German guarantees to Austria, which inevitably brought the Triple Entente into play. A diplomatic game of ‘chicken’ ensued, in which no side was willing to be the first to back down.

When Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28th, the Russian Tsar, conscious of his Empire’s military backwardness, ordered a partial mobilization. This action was intended merely as a precaution in case of a war that still seemed unlikely. But for the Germans, with their Schlieffen plan requiring utmost speed, the Tsar’s order had the effect of an electric shock. Germany felt it had to mobilize as well. Russia responded two days later by ordering full mobilization. Germany gave Russia an ultimatum; and the Tsar, unwilling to knuckle under, allowed the deadline to pass. Within hours, everyone was involved in a war that none of the parties had originally wanted or intended.

German historians call such a series of events a Betriebsunfall: a quasi-mechanical accident such as might occur in the machinery of a factory. Men were drawn into the gear work and crushed when no one was able to throw the emergency switch in time. It was a tragedy in the fullest sense of the word—a disaster brought on by well-intentioned but flawed men acting rationally under conditions of imperfect knowledge. The consequences are well-known: ten million dead, twenty-eight million more wounded or missing, Communism established in Russia, the Balfour Declaration setting the stage for today’s ongoing Middle East conflict, and the whole crowned by a shameful ‘peace’ treaty that all but guaranteed a future war of German revenge.

Yet, as we can see from newsreel footage of August 1st, the popular reaction to the outbreak was war fever on a scale not seen since the crusades. Europe had been enjoying forty-three years of peace and unprecedented material prosperity, and the young greeted the war as a romantic adventure.

The planned rapid German advance through the Low Countries into Northeast France was unexpectedly halted  in early September—the “Miracle of the Marne”—foiling the Schlieffen plan. On the 13th, the German Army responded by attempting a flanking action around the French lines; the French then rapidly extended their own defensive lines in what became known as the “race to the sea.” Since neither side could dislodge the other, and neither was willing to retreat, soldiers began digging themselves in to their positions—the beginning of trench warfare. By the time winter set in, the pattern of the next four years had been clearly established: a war of attrition involving trivial advances and retreats across a few acres of mud.

But as Christmas approached that year, something unexpected began unfolding. On the frontline sector south of Ypres, Belgium, German troops began decorating the area around their trenches for Christmas Eve. As Wikipedia describes it:

The Germans began by placing candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man’s Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint [religious] services were held.

The ceasefire spread to other sectors of the front, with as many as 100,000 men eventually participating. In some areas, soccer games between the belligerents replaced combat.

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By December 26th, it was over. The authorities got word of the breakdown in discipline and intervened vigorously.

In 2005, an international consortium from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Romania produced a film about the Christmas Truce: Joyeux Noёl. The film opens with scenes of children in French, British and German grade schools reciting rhymed curses they had been taught against the opposing side: the British child’s curse calls for the complete extermination of Germans.

The scene switches to Scotland, where an enthusiastic young man, William, rushes into his local Catholic church breathlessly to announce to his younger brother Jonathan that war has been declared; they are to begin basic training in two days. “At last, something’s happening in our lives,” he rejoices. The priest, Fr. Palmer, looks notably less enthusiastic.

At the Berlin Opera, a performance is interrupted by an officer walking on stage to announce that war has been declared. The lead tenor, Sprink, is quickly called up.

In a French trench, Lieutenant Audebert wistfully looks at a photograph of his pregnant wife moments before being called to lead an assault on the German lines. In the ensuing action, Scottish William is mortally wounded; his brother Jonathan is forced to leave him behind, a psychological trauma from which he never recovers. Audebert’s men pour into a German trench, but as they turn a corner, some one-third of them are mown down by a German machine gun.

Meanwhile, Sprink’s lover, the Danish soprano Anna, receives permission to sing before the Crown Prince of Prussia. Sprink is called back from the front to perform with her, and is impressed with the luxurious comfort in which the German commanders are living. When he returns to the front, Anna insists on accompanying him, determined to sing for the ordinary frontline soldiers as well as the officers at headquarters. (The presence of a woman at the front is poetic license on the filmmakers’ part.)

The German soldiers begin setting up Christmas trees along their trenches, to the bewildered suspicion of the French soldiery. After the singers conclude their first number, a cheer goes up from the Scottish trenches. Fr. Palmer plays the first few bars of another Christmas song on the bagpipes, and Sprink responds by performing the song, climbing out into No Man’s Land. Lieutenant Audebert motions to his men to hold fire. Soon, men are pouring out of the trenches on both sides, sharing food and drinks. Fr. Palmer holds a Christmas Eve Mass for all the men.

On Christmas morning, the officers renew the truce and arrange for exchanging their dead. Dozens of men are buried between the lines. A soccer match ensues. The officers realize the situation is untenable and attempt to restore discipline, but by this time the men are refusing to fire upon each other.

A bundle of soldiers’ letters is intercepted by the French authorities, alerting them to the situation. Fearful of having their war spoiled, they dissolve the division and repost its members to various unaffected sectors of the front. The Germans are transferred to the Eastern front to face the Russians. Fr. Palmer is replaced by a Bishop who preaches a sermon urging new recruits to exterminate German men, women and children.

A major theme of the film is music. Sprink’s superior officer begins by telling him that, being a singer, he is useless as a soldier. Then it is the incongruous presence of music that leads to the unplanned ceasefire. At the end, as the Crown Prince of Prussia informs his men of their punishment, he catches sight of a harmonica. He snatches it away and crushes it beneath his boot heel.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 did not change the course of the war very much. In future years, commanders were successful in suppressing similar occurrences. As the war progressed and especially after poison gas was introduced, soldiers gradually came to see their enemies as less than human, as was the intention of the higher officers on all sides. But it has continued to spark the popular imagination in the near-century since it took place. A Canadian historian has written:

It [was] the last expression of that 19th-century world of manners and morals, where the opponent was a gentleman. The ones who survived, who lived to see other Christmases in the war, themselves expressed amazement that this had occurred. The emotions had changed to such a degree that the sort of humanity seen in Christmas 1914 seemed inconceivable.

Joyeux Noёl lost money at the box office, and critics have complained of its “sentimentality.” I suggest seeing it for oneself this Christmas season.

10 replies
  1. Antony
    Antony says:

    One subject worthy of historians writing about would be the reasons for America entering WW1 at a time when both sides had fought to a standstill and could thus have sued for peace.
    However, the Balfour Declaration put a Jewish state on the agenda, for which the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was necessary, and the Jewish owned media propagandised to an unwilling American public for USA entry into the War to achieve this end.

    • Jesse
      Jesse says:

      One spark that helped light the inferno that helped start WW2 was the international Jewish declaration of war on Germany before the German government had any reprisals against Jews.On March 24, 1933 Judea declared war on Germany..
      Judea actions caused a hardship on the German people and Germany’s economy.
      It is also interesting to note the Zionist and Nazi Germany had an agreement called the transfer agreement to transfer a large number of Jews with their assets to Palestine. The reader can look the above up.
      But for some reason some historians like to leave the above out.

      It is sad that on both sides we have incompetent leaders, also we have sociopath leaders that start wars and it is the innocent people on both sides that suffer.
      Have you the reader noticed many of the world leaders can be very blood thirsty, as long as it is your blood being shed and not theirs?
      A sociopath has no conscience so what does a sociopath care if you lose a lot of blood as long as it is not his or hers. During WW2 we had Jewish sociopath and non Jewish sociopath on both sides of the table.
      Some times I wonder how much not only incompetent leaders but also sociopath leaders had to do with WW2 or any other wars?

  2. Wilburn Sprayberry
    Wilburn Sprayberry says:

    In the film, the German lieutenant is Jewish. This is unlikely. There were no Jews in the German officer corps at the beginning of the war, and though some Jews did become officers later on, during its course (including one who wrote Hitler’s Iron Cross recommendation), the presence of one here – just a few months after the outbreak of hostilities – is deceitful propaganda.

  3. Ger Tzedek
    Ger Tzedek says:

    WW1 was supposed to start in 1912. Jean Jaures, French socialist stood on the way. Weeks before WW1 started, Jean Jaures was assassinated. Similar events took place in all countries involved. Rasputin was against the war, and was kept away from Moscow for few months before the start of the war. It’s the fucking Jews.

    • Floda
      Floda says:

      The dominant, but concealed to this day, purpose of this slaughter was the destruction of as many young European White males as possible. The ‘hand grenade’ inserted at the Versailles ‘treaty’ was the post war dismemberment of German territory which guaranteed another WW in just one generation. It was engineered by our ancient enemy, which is behind the racial mongrelization of every White Nation going on today. That so few of our people are even aware such a monstrous enemy actually exists is a problem. They want us dead and gone, replaced by a low IQ, brown skinned folk which they can manage without difficulty. They understand if ‘our’ people were all wise to them, it would be their end.

  4. Ger Tzedek
    Ger Tzedek says:

    There was the Brest-Litovsk treaty that put an end to war in the eastern front. Trotsky delayed it for months on end, in order to enable France and UK to mobilize. This not in the interest of the international proletariat, rather in the ethnic interest.

    In the negotiations between nascent Soviet Union and nascent Republic of Turkey, Jews present there gave Turkey large swathes of Armenia, most of it. Had that not happened, the Armenian Genocide would have been marginal. Russian Jews were instrumental in the establishment of modern Turkey with its current boundaries. That at the expense of Greece and Armenia.

  5. Gary
    Gary says:

    A tribute video to one of the most touching anti war movies that I’ve had the pleasure of watching, it’s not very well known and so I’ve decided to make this video. Set in 1944 France, an American Intelligence Squad locates a German Platoon wishing to surrender rather than die in Germany’s final war offensive. The two groups of men, isolated from the war at present, put aside their differences and spend Christmas together [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9qZQoBMc7I]…Was lucky to have watched this movie while making a copy on VHS. Not sure why not much of this movie is mentioned anywhere? Around the 50 minute mark the men join in singing [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aux8y8qiw4M].

    • Charles Frey
      Charles Frey says:

      Westerners, deliberately, are not taught to think critically. That class-room space and time is trumped by mandatory Holocaust lectures, whose curriculum is generously provided, unasked, by the ADL and their offshoots. Not to forget implementing omnibus-bills States’-legislation.

      If, however, even a single viewer of these films were to ask himself, why brother is fighting brother, that, reasoned further, would present a danger for those who determine what is shown through their controlled movie-distribution system, theaters and TV.

      ” Elementary my dear Watson ” , —I’m sorry – dear Gary !

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