The Daily Bork

May 18, 2005

Little-known famous event of WW1

'Christmas' comes in May for European film industry

CANNES: An emotional film based on a true story about a Christmas truce that brought German, French, and British soldiers out of their World War One trenches made its multi-lingual world premiere at Cannes.

But unlike so many European co-productions before it that were lost in translation and disparaged as "Euro-pudding" flops, Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) takes a little-known story of a 1914 fraternisation of enemies and makes it an ode for peace.


Little known story??? I thought this was one of the best known events from the First World War! Maybe to the twits of the film industry it was little known I guess, but somehow this countryboy from small-town New Zealand knew of it as a kid. Go figure.

Details of what exactly happened along the front were long sketchy or little known in many countries because there was hardly any recorded official evidence of what was surely an embarrassment for military leaders in the warring nations.


Again, is it really that unknown? And was it an embarrasment to the military then? Truces are hardly unknown in wartime after all and it has hardly been covered up.

The book's author Michael Juergs told Reuters in 2003: "If there had been live television at the time and people had seen pictures of this truce, it would have been the end of the war."


What? The deaths of millions wasn't enough to stop it until 1918 when Germany was forced to defeat, yet live TV of a singular event would have halted it all??? After all, live TV of other wars has stopped wars hasn't it? Well, OK maybe Vietnam but that was a concerted effort by media with far from noble intentions. Colour me cynical but.

It's uncertain how it began, but many accounts – and Carion's film – trace the start to Germans singing Silent Night in their trenches adorned with candle-lit trees on Christmas Eve. In the film that was followed by applause and a bagpipe encore from a trench with Scottish soldiers nearby.

Soldiers from the two sides emerge from their trenches after Germans shouted: "We not shoot, you not shoot," and shake hands. Some accounts say the truce began along a short stretch near Ypres and spread rapidly.

"They all share the same longings when they come out of the trenches to shake hands," said German actor Benno Fuermann, who plays an opera singer turned soldier. "It an important film for Europe because it shows what we can do, but also for humanity."


So let me get this straight. You have this wonderful event in the midst of chaos where the lads lay down their guns for a few hours for a bit of a party, then afterwards it's back to a few more years of slaughter, followed by a couple of decades of general chaos with civil war and revolution left, right and centre over the continent followed by the conflagration of the Second World War which unleashed the depravities of Nazism and Communism on the world which were to dominate well towards the turn of the century. Uh huh, one little event like that looks like, well, a slight aberration in the whole scheme of the century really.

Don't get me wrong. It would have been wonderful for those troops to have had the party and thought better things for a while. But let's not kid anyone here, it can't be turned into some wonderful metaphor of the European condition. But it is at least free from shallow Amerika bashing, since the peace loving continentals managed to start the whole thing by themselves.

Still, it does bring to mind that song about Snoopy and the Baron... which seems to be inspired by these events (little known as they are).

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