Hello to all my readers. I realize it's been literally ages since I've posted anything new. Due in part to starting my first "real" job after college, and also in part due to some writer's block, I haven't come up with much in the way of new, postable material.
As we approach the holiday season, and more importantly for this particular series, the 100th Anniversary of the 1914 Christmas Truce, I wanted to keep this story alive. I'm hoping to get more of this story written this month as time allows.
The early years of the European Federation were filled with many ups and downs as the diplomats and politicians and generals navigated the unknown. Up until the Miracle of 1914, cooperation between the Great Powers in Europe had been spotty at best, and the break down in that cooperation had led to the War of 1914 in the first place. The unprecedented peace agreement that followed at Straßburg radically altered the continent forever. The first meeting of the Congress of European States began on September 1, 1915 at the Palace Rohan in Straßburg, where a total of twenty-five men gathered in the great hall that had been home to the Peace Congress earlier in the year, and from their ranks selected 5 men to serve as the newly created Executive Committee of the European Congress. John Keynes, a noted economist and Liberal Party member represented the United Kingdom. René Viviani, who had served as the first Minister of Labor in the old French regime and was a key leader in the moderate opposition party in the new People’s Assembly after the revolution, represented the new French republic. Philipp Scheidemann, a leader of the SPD who would later become Chancellor under the Reformed Constitution of 1917, represented Germany. Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, brother of Czar Nicholas II, represented the Russian Empire. And finally, Jakob Reumann, Austrian SPD leader, represented the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Keynes was elected as Chairman of the Committee, and would lead the CES through much of the early years as the new council struggled to establish it’s legitimacy and authority.
The first thing for Chairman Keynes and the other committee members had to tackle was what to do with the money paid by the Signatory Powers into the new War Relief Fund. In mid-September, with the approval of the CES, the Executive Committee set up the Relief Fund Bank, which would be the precursor to the European Federal Bank. The RFB would manage the funds and how they would be distributed throughout Europe for war recovery. Set aside at the bank was an allowance for war widows from all countries to help them get on their feet after the lose of their husbands. Families who’s unmarried sons died in battle also received money in compensation for their sacrifice. Money then began to be released for projects aimed at, in the words of the committee members, “bringing the continent closer together.”
In the first five years of the existence of the Congress, several key foundation stones were laid for creation of what would amount to a unified European continent by the dawn of the twenty-first century. Chief among them were the creation of the European Trade Zone and the European Railway Authority. The ETZ helped regulate international trade on the continent and helped to lower or eliminate most trade tariffs by 1925. The ERA helped standardized rail travel throughout the continent, using funds from the Relief Fund to build new rail lines or modernize existing lines throughout the continent, and then successfully lobbied to create the Pan-European Passport in 1919, which eliminated most travel restrictions and allowed freedom of movement among the initial Signatory Powers and nations that would sign the Straßburg Treaty in the years to come.
-Hamilton, Dr. Alexandra. Europe United. London: Bayle House, 2011.
With the conflict on the Continent over and done with, by the end of July 1915, the issue of Irish Home Rule quickly began to rise back to the fore in British politics, at the same time as pressure for new elections for parliament reached a boiling point. Prime Minister Grey announced on August 2nd that new elections for Parliament would occur on October 5th, to the wide approval of the public still upset at those in the old Asquith government and the War Faction of the Liberal Party that had supported early violence against truce fighters. Grey also announced that implementation of the Third Irish Home Rule bill would be enacted after the elections, saying he hoped that the devolved Irish government would be set up before the beginning of 1916. George Lansbury had become a vocal leader of the Peace Faction, and had quickly become the new leading voice in the Liberal Party.
When the vote was held, Peace Liberals and the Labour Party swept through, to the fear of hardline Torries and many in the upper classes. Fear that the red revolution in France would cross the channel was palpable, and although it wasn’t widely known at the time, some members of the military establishment set up plans to act against the radicals if they went too far. On October 11, Lansbury became Prime Minister, despite some mild objections from other members of the Liberal Party. Grey resumed his post as Foreign Minister, and David Lloyd George became Home Secretary. While not a revolution like in France, British society would be greatly altered in the coming years by Lansbury’s government. Peace became the new policy of Number 10 Downing Street.
Parliament began discussing implementation of Irish Home Rule on October 18th. The Government supported quick action on the matter, with Prime Minister Lansbury saying “swift action on this matter is paramount for our nation’s quick and speedy recovery from the war.” Opposition MPs called for patience, and reignited discussion on possible partition of Ireland, since citizens in the northern Irish counties were still balking at the prospect of Home Rule. Unionist MPs from Ireland suggested dividing northern and southern Ireland equally, with both having Home Rule based on the original set up in the Third Home Rule bill. After it became clear that Northern Ireland would never submit willingly to a government in Dublin, David Lloyd George and other members of the government presented the Fourth (and Final) Home Rule Bill to parliament in December of 1915. It called for the creation of the Dominion of Ireland, centered on Dublin, and the Dominion of Ulster, centered on Belfast. Both dominions would be required to recognize religious toleration and equal status to all protestants and catholics within their borders, and free movement between the two states. Home Rule MPs from Ireland were not thrilled, and there were demonstrations in both Northern and Southern Ireland in opposition to the bill (those in the north flatly opposed to any separation from Great Britain, and those in the South opposed to the partition of Ireland in any form for any reason). In the end, the bill would be pass Parliament and be enacted in February of 1916. Elections would be held in May, and formal devolution to the dominions would go into effect on June 31st 1916.
- Hayworth, Dr. Samuel. The Lansbury Years. London: Random House, 2009.
In late September, the newly elected Constitutional Convention of Alsace-Lorraine met for the first time in a few chambers in the Palace Rohan, which was also occupied by the European Congress. It became immediately obvious that new buildings would need to be built to house both the government of the newly formed nation, along with the European Congress. While the delegates debated the new constitution, a joint committee was formed with members from the European Congress, along with delegates from the Straßburg city government. The Straßburg Capital Committee, as it became known, began by drafting out some basic goals for the new city: to preserve, as much as possible, the historic old city, while at the same time accommodating the city’s new status as the capital of both a new nation and of the European Congress. It was ultimately settled that the hamlet of Neudorf, to the south of the city, would be acquired and used as the location for the new European capital. There a congress hall and administrative buildings would be built, along with headquarters for the Relief Fund Bank and the Christmas Miracle Memorial. The Alte Fischmarkt Strasse, which runs essentially in front of the cathedral in the old city, would be renamed the Weihnachtsallee and widened and extended, more or less in a straight line, from the cathedral to Neudorf, and the blocks between the street and the cathedral would be demolished to create a larger central plaza in the old city (of all the plans, this would be the most controversial since it would involve the most demolition of historic buildings in the city center). The Palace Rohan would be given to the Alsace-Lorraine government, and new administrative offices would also be built on the south side of the river across from the palace.
The basic plan would be approved by the end of October by both the Alsace-Lorraine Provisional Government and the European Congress, and official plans were drawn up by German and French architects, and presented in mid-November. Ground would be broken on the memorial in December, and then the real work would begin in mid January.
- Gerhardt, Dr. Franz. Europe’s Capital, a History. Berlin: Random House, 2002.
Members of the European Congress, along with the Parliament of Alsace-Lorraine and veterans associations in France, Britain, and Germany began planning in the fall of 1915 for a ceremony to mark the one year anniversary of the Christmas miracle. Alsace-Lorraine had already approved plans for a massive monument in Straßburg to commemorate the event, and it was decided early on by the Remembrance Committee that the ground breaking ceremony for the memorial would be incorporated into the event. After some discussion, Pope Benedict XV agreed to come and do a special Christmas Eve mass to start the ceremonies. During November and early December, the city of Straßburg saw a flurry of activity to make the city ready for the thousands that were expected to descend on the city. Hotels were built or expanded, special stands were built for the parades that were planned.
Prime Minister Lansbury of Great Britain, Chairman Juares of France, and Chancellor von Bethmann Hollweg of Germany all were in attendance, along with representatives from Russia and Austria-Hungary. In all, close to 50,000 people gathered in Straßburg to mark the first anniversary of the War of 1914. The ceremonies began with the Christmas Eve mass presided over by the Pope in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Strasbourg, which was filled to capacity. The mass ended almost perfectly at midnight, and it was then that one of modern Christmas’ most famous traditions was born: the world-wide ringing of the bells. At exactly the stroke of midnight, Central European Time, nearly every church and clock bell in Europe chimed furiously for two minutes, marking the one year anniversary of the truce. From London to Moscow, the chimes rang out. And it did not occur in Europe alone. Many major cities in the United States, Canada and Australia took part as well. Following the bells, the International Christmas Choir, which had been founded that summer and was headquartered in Straßburg, began singing Silent Night, alternating verses between English, French, and German.
The following day, there was a grand procession of dignitaries, units from the Christmas Army (both units that now made up the Army of Alsace-Lorraine and veteran’s remembrance units), several marching bands, and a number of festive holiday floats made its way from the center of Straßburg out to the “Neustadt,” or “New City,” where, among other things, the new Palace of Europe and the Christmas Memorial were to be built. As of Christmas of 1915, the site had been prepared and the streets were laid out, but it was mostly open fields and trees. Real construction wouldn’t begin until the early Spring of 1916. On the site of the New City, ground was officially broken on future memorial.
- Collins, James. Remembering Christmas: Birth of the Modern Holiday. New York: Scholastic Corp. 2001.