Thunder Bay Public Library and its partner organisation are remembering the impact of the Great War on Thunder Bay via the World War One Centennial Legacy Project. There are not many good news stories to emerge from this conflict, which consumed millions of lives, but the story of the Christmas truce is one of them. On 24th December 1914, men on both sides laid down their arms and joined in a spontaneous celebration. Despite orders to continue shooting, the unofficial truce spread across the front lines. Even the participants found what they were doing incredible: Germans placed candlelit Christmas trees on trench parapets, warring soldiers sang carols, and men on opposing sides shared food parcels from home. They climbed from the trenches to meet in ‘No Man’s Land’ where they buried the dead, exchanged gifts, ate and drank together, and even played soccer.
Throughout his narrative, Stanley Weintraub uses the recollections of the men who were there, as well as their letters and diaries, to illuminate the fragile truce and bring to life this extraordinary moment in time. When men rushed to volunteer in August 1914 they were fearful that they would not get to the front in time because it was widely predicted – by both sides – that the war would be over by Christmas. In fact by December 1914 the war was bogged down in muddy trenches which stretched from the coast of Belgium to Switzerland. Lurid propaganda depicted the enemy as a beast. There was savage fighting and heavy casualties at the Battles of Mons, the Marne, the Aisne and First Ypres. Despite these losses and dire warnings against fraternization, the opposing soldiers were able to come together for a brief few hours on Christmas Day and share their common humanity.
John Pateman is Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.