Thursday, December 13, 2012

Silent Night: Part 1

Part 1: From Holiday Truce to Mutiny
LONDON, DEC 26- Although the British Government has yet to say anything officially, there are confirmed reports that the fighting on the Western Front of the current European War has stopped. There are not a lot of details as of yet, but it appears that an informal truce broke out in the trenches in western France on Christmas Day, and it now appears that some soldiers, not only from Britain but France and Germany as well, have refused to reengage in the fighting. There has not been any official statement about this latest war development, and it would appear that the government is attempting to keep word from leaking out. Not a single paper here in the British capital has reported any news of the truce. That fact that fighting halted in light of the Christmas holiday in and of itself seems to be a miracle. That soldiers are now possibly wanting peace to continue is hardly fathomable. There is something that warms the heart, however, at the idea that the “Spirit of Christmas” seems to have the power to stop the fighting, even if only for a moment. Maybe it is a sign of things to come.
EDITORS NOTE: this article was written originally with the intent to be run on the day after Christmas, but agents of the British government attempted to stop it from being sent by wire until our correspondents there complained to the American Embassy in London. 
-”War in Europe Halted By Christmas, Truce Lingering,” The New York Times, December 27, 1914.

When Prime Minister Asquith and his government met on December 27, 1914, they were not in a good mood. They’d hoped that over night the mutinying soldiers would come to their senses and return to their posts, and had given instructions to the BEF commanders to allow them to do so. Instead, the number of those refusing to take up arms had doubled to nearly 50,000, and it was rumored that the officers among that number were conspiring with their enemy counterparts that were also refusing to fight. Conspiring to do what, they didn’t yet know. But the idea frightened them. What frightened them worse was that they didn’t know what to do about it. They couldn’t very well just let the troops refuse to fight. But with that number, they could fight back. And what would the loyal troops do if ordered to fire on their comrades? Ultimately, Asquith decided he and his government could decide nothing without the King. In a meeting with King George V later that evening, a decision was made. If the mutineers did not return to their posts by sunrise on December 29, loyal troops would go in and arrest them, and be authorized to use lethal force if necessary. The decision would come back to haunt the men within days. 
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. 

"On this day when we remember the slaughter of innocent young children whose only crime was to be present in Bethlehem when Herod's soldiers came, we remember with sadness that many innocent people both in uniform and out of it have been killed in this terrible war. Just as Herod's murder of these young innocents served no useful purpose other then to assauge the political desires of an evil king to remain in power, so this war has served no purpose other then to further the political and economic goals of a few people. It is time for peace. It is time for Christians who truly understand what it is to be peacemakers to speak. "Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." This was spoken by the One whose Nativity we just celebrated and on whose day this glorious movement of peace began. We call upon all the faithful throughout the world to offer their prayers and support to these brave men who are now seeking to be peacemakers and we call on the whole Church to stand with them in this hour."
-From Pope Benedict XV’s message on the Feast of Holy Innocents, December 28, 1914. Vatican Archives, Vatican City. 

LONDON, DEC 28 - We have now confirmed that upwards of 50,000 troops, possibly more, of His Majesty’s Armed Forces have refused to resume fighting on the Western Front in France after an impromptu truce broke out on the 25th in observance of the Christmas holiday. Reports state that soldiers from the British, German, and French armies hoisted white flags and met one another between the two opposing trench lines to trade food, burry the dead, hold Christmas services, and even to play football. It appears that the following day, many of the troops refused to go back to their posts, and that this number has been increasing in the few days since the truce started, and it appears that soldiers in the French and German armies are also refusing to return to their posts. As of yet, the government has made no official statement about the developing situation in France, and it would appear that there was a concerted effort on behalf of the Asquith government to prevent word of this “Christmas Truce” from making it to press. An unnamed official at the War Office stated that it was the hope of the government that the Truce would just go away on it’s own before it was reported in the press. 
-”War Halted By Common Soldiers! Gov’t Remains Silent,” The Times (London), December 29, 1914.

BERLIN, DEC 28- The Imperial government has confirmed that a Truce broke out on Christmas Day on the Western Front in France between the armed forces of the Reich and that of Great Britain and France. This truce was not sanctioned by the General Staff or the Kaiser. Instead it seems to have been started spontaneously by the foot-soldiers. There has been some rumor of socialists being involved, but this has yet to be substantiated. What is most disturbing is that there have been unconfirmed rumors circulating in some circles that this “Christmas Truce” has not ended yet, that there are some soldiers refusing to reengage the enemy now that Christmas has passed. We do not at this time know just how many are involved or if this is also occurring on the enemy side of the trenches, and all requests for more information from officials at the Palace have been ignored. 
-”Fight Halts on Front in the West,” Frankfurter Zeitung, December 29, 1914. 

When dawn broke on December 29, the number of British troops alone now refusing to fight numbers over 80,000. Field Marshal French ordered troops loyal to the army to head to mutinying areas and begin to arrest those refusing to return to their posts. When they arrived, the men they were supposed to arrest greeted them with guns raised, saying that they were not going to return to the fighting. Some called out for the loyal troops to join the “Christmas Army,” as the men had started to call themselves. After several tense moments, one of the loyal officers ordered his men to open fire. A few did, and some of the mutineers were injured, but what happened next was the worst fears of those sitting in London. The loyal troops turned on the officer who’d ordered them to fire. And some of the other officers joined their men. What was supposed to have been an arrest soon backfired. When word began to spread through the ranks that the higher-ups had ordered troops to fire on their fellow troops, things began to unravel. By the end of the 29th, mutinying troops numbered over 100,000, and  this number nearly doubles by the end of the next day, and by then the officers in the mutinying forces from all three armies were organizing what would become the official Christmas Army and later the Christmas Republic. And public response to the shootings would be just as violent. 
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

December 29- We’ve gone and blown it. We should never have ordered the troops to fire on the mutineers. From the reports that keep flooding in from the War Office, things are now unravelling pretty quickly. The loyal troops don’t like the idea that they might be ordered to shoot on the mutineers. This is the last thing we needed. And now there are confirmed reports that the mutinying officers are meeting with their counterparts from France and Germany to organize this little rebellion. And the public is likely to learn of this soon and I fear what their reaction will be. In the morning we intend to rescind the authorization to use lethal force, but I think it may be too late. 
-From the personal papers of Herbert Henry Asquith, former Prime Minister of Great Britain (1908-1915). British National Archives, London.

NEW YORK, DEC 29 - In many Catholic neighborhoods in this city, the word’s of Pope Benedict XV’s message yesterday on the Feast of the Innocents, which commemorates the babies killed at King Harrod’s command in the biblical Christmas story, has caused quite a stir. There have been discussions to form a march in Manhattan to call attention to the Christmas Truce and Mutinies that have occurred on the Western Front in France, and to call for American support for the mutineers. And this idea isn’t just popular among Catholics. Minister’s everywhere have been heartened by the news that the Christmas holiday has caused the soldiers on the front lines to try and bring about peace. And it isn’t just the public at large that are starting to speak out. Some members of Congress have spoken out in favor of sending aid to the mutineers, and still others saying that the United States should offer to broker a peace deal between the warring states in Europe. 
-”Pope’s Call to Action Stirring Unrest,” The New York Times, December 30, 1914. 

LONDON, DEC 30 - It has been confirmed that troops that remained loyal to the Crown were ordered to fire upon those troops who’ve refused to return to their posts. The government apparently set a deadline for sunrise on the 29th for all troops to return without facing punishment. Shortly before noon on that day, loyal troops were sent out to arrest the Truce Fighters, which at the time was estimated to number around 75,000 of His Majesty’s troops. The Truce Fighters refused to surrender, and an unknown officer acted on orders coming ultimately from, shockingly, King George V, ordered the loyal troops to open fire. Most did not, but instead turned against their commander. As word of this travesty has spread through the troops in France, more and more have joined the Truce Fighters, and it is now estimated that over 150,000 British troops now count themselves among the Fighters. Things seem to be on the edge of unravelling. If the government does not act quickly to quell the crisis, there may be a vote of no confidence in Parliament. 
-”Shame! Troops Ordered to Fire on “Truce Fighters!,” The Times (London), December 31, 1914. 

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