First, yes, the video below is ultimately an advert by a UK grocery chain. That being said, it marks (and does so beautifully) a rare moment in history, an actual event of peace and humanity that intruded into the atrocities of the War to End All Wars. One hundred years ago, in the midst of that brutal war, British and German soldiers stepped out of their trenches, shared their food and wine, took their pictures together, and played some football.
I recently became acquainted and become fast friends with a wonderful Irishman named Don Mullan. Don was a young man in the midst of the Irish Troubles and has written about being in the midst of those horrors of Bloody Sunday. Key to his not joining in the violence was the way in which one English footballer, a keeper as it happened, treated him and his family with respect and kindness. Don has written about that too and was kind enough to give me a copy of that book, inscribed to the memory of “our angel” Mack.
Don has now turned his attention to commemorating the 1914 Christmas Truce with the Flanders Peace Field Project. The goals of this project are:
1. To create a Flanders Peace Field where young people will gather to play sport and reflect on the lessons of the remarkable 1914 Christmas truce for the twenty-first century.
2. To create an International Christmas Truce Carol and Folk Festival in Flanders with satellite services across Europe and the world to celebrate that night of magic when carols, songs and music allowed enemies to become friends and created a moment in history that, today, encourages us to reach across our own No Man’s Land of prejudice, fear and misunderstandings.
I met Don in Dublin at a UNESCO conference, but he was in the States this fall to promote this project. You can see a video of his lecture at Quinnipiac University on YouTube.
It may just be a commercial, but the events were real. German soldiers, knee deep in mud, months into a war that had already killed tens of thousands and would ultimately take the lives of nearly 20 million souls, were missing their home and loved ones on Christmas Eve and began singing Stille Nacht. The story says that the British responded by singing O Come All Ye Faithful. Eventually some brave souls put their heads above the trenches and the rest is remarkable history. This past week Welsh and German soldiers reenacted the match.
Is it too much to ask that we each consider with whom we are “at war” and offer up a truce, a moment of reflection and reconciliation?