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<p class=German and British fighters ceased hostilities at Christmas 1914, taking the opportunity to play soccer and s 'exchange gifts. (Archive photo)

  • David Beauchamp (View profile)David Beauchamp

A few months after the start of the First World War (1914-1918), British and German soldiers left their trenches on Christmas Day to exchange gifts. gifts, celebrate the birth of Christ and even play a friendly game of soccer.

For Carl Bouchard, historian and full professor in the Department of History at the University of Montreal, this event, known in popular culture as the “Christmas Truce”, constitutes a unique moment during the conflict and speaks volumes about it. a lot about the nature of this bloody war.

According to him, it would be more accurate to describe this moment as spontaneous fraternization between infantrymen, rather than an official truce between the two camps, as there was recently in Gaza between Hamas and Israel.

From December 1914, the nature of the war changed: the German, British and French armies stood together along an 800-kilometer front.

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The fighting in World War I was particularly fierce, and life in the trenches was difficult. (File photo)

Driven in part by their Christian Christmas tradition and their Anglo-Germanic cultural proximity, German and British soldiers, who clash in the region of Artois and near Ypres, in Belgium, decide spontaneously to stop the fighting for a little while.

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They stop fighting for one reason which is quite simple: they can get along. Unlike other places on the front, the trenches in these areas are close enough to hear the Germans singing and seeing Christmas trees adorned with candles. It’s a festive atmosphere that makes soldiers decide to come out of their trenches and fraternize for a few hours, he explains.

This fraternization subsequently led to an exchange of gifts, in the form of tobacco, sweets or alcohol, before culminating in a soccer match that has become legendary. The latter was even the subject of historical reconstructions in 2014 on the occasion of the centenary of the event.

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This monument, located in Saint-Yvon, Belgium, remembers the moment when British and German soldiers played their match football at Christmas 1914. (Archive photo)

This football match between the Germans and the British has become the symbol of this fraternization. It started like when people gather on a hockey rink to start a match after separating the sticks, illustrates Mr. Bouchard.

For l& #x27;historian, this spontaneous fraternization, depicted in the film Merry Christmas by Christian Carion published in 2005,was an exception during the war, because it occurred sporadically in only two places on the front and targeted few combatants.

It did not take place between German soldiers and Belgian or French soldiers, in particular because their territories were occupied at that time , which fueled their distrust, and even hatred, towards the German enemy.

It's a beautiful story that we tell ourselves, but it is not very faithful to the reality of the time.

A quote from Carl Bouchard, historian and full professor in the Department of History at the University of Montreal

On the entire western front, there are only two places where fraternization took place at Christmas 1914. This is an extremely small sample. Moreover, for years, we did not talk about this event at all, since it implied that war is bad. States were frightened to see their soldiers' ability to fight disappear, specifies Mr. Bouchard.

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The football match played between German and British soldiers on the battlefield inspired several works after the war, notably by the British artist Andrew Edwards, who made a bronze sculpture of it. (Archive photo)

The latter adds that the relationship to war today explains why this history is exploited through a discourse that condemns [her], like in the film Merry Christmas, where the continuation of the war after fraternization is presented as a failure of humanity.

We can no longer imagine fighting for months in the trenches today. But, if we put ourselves in the shoes of France in 1914, we simply cannot allow soldiers to fraternize. We must put the Germans out of our country, not fraternize with them! This connection to the war at the time explains why this event was not talked about for decades afterwards, he says.

The idealism represented in this event and its beautiful story side, as Mr. Bouchard describes it, explain why we still talk about it today, especially in the run-up to Christmas, when conflicts rage in Palestine and Ukraine.

The exceptional nature of this event is interesting, but is also misleading. We cling to this unique event because it is a beautiful story, but it does not constitute the norm for this conflict, and we should not have any illusions about the true nature of the war, he concludes.

Carillonneurs performed the piece “Silent Night, Holy Night” in 2014 to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Christmas Truce of the First World War.

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