Friday, November 11, 2016

World War I Christmas Truce in a Musical Theater Event at the Edge In Bigfork

Just before Christmas in 1914 there was a silence in the World War I trenches of the Western Front caused by several “unofficial” truces that started for no apparent reason.  How it happened, no one seems to know, and, more importantly, why it happened is also unknown. Earlier in the year, new Pope Benedict XV called for a truce, but it was officially rejected. But then, sure enough, in parts of front the guns went silent for Christmas.  There was were Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, some Christmas trees showing up, a chance to bury fallen comrades, and even the possibility of a soccer game. Minneapolis Theater Latte DA has an original musical theater production about that event in its tenth anniversary year. The production, “All is Calm, The Christmas Truce of 1914”, is being performed at the Edge Center in Bigfork Friday December 2 at 7PM. Prices $10 adults, $5 children.

This program is neither anti-war nor a glorification of war.  Rather it is a musical theater production about people and relationships in a time of great stress. They took a chance for a little while to escape from the reality that they lived in and that reality came back, but they always had the memory of the peace which “The Calm” gave them for just a short time. 

The Theater Latte Da production presents the Christmas Truce story beginning with, a strange “silence” and the only sound a German soldier singing “Stille Nacht”. His song was answered by an Allied soldier responding with a Christmas carol in his language. The truce is a historical event relived with some of the poetry, diary entries, official war documents and letters home presented with iconic World War I songs, patriotic tunes, and Christmas carols. And just maybe it is the real story of how it all started.

In 2014 “Time” magazine did an article on the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce.  In their research they encountered a first hand account of the event by Pvt. Albert Moren of the Second Queens Regiment “First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing ­– two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.” Above image from Mansell The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. 

There were also some small Christmas trees placed on the German trenches.  One might ask why would there be Christmas trees on a battlefield. Remember that the battle was on the ground in Europe and the Germans were much better supplied with some of the comforts of home than the Allied troops. So it was felt that Christmas trees would be a great moral boosters for the troops. This was only six months into the war and the real hardships of the conflict were yet to come.

Estimates of the number of troops participating in this impromptu lull in the battle vary greatly, but most of it was in the trenches occupied by the English vs. German troops. And this was not a truce universally recognized even in the trenches. There were troops shot while trying to participate.

From the same Time article: “And of course, it was only ever a truce, not peace. Hostilities returned, in some places later that day and in others not until after New Year’s Day. While there were occasional moments of peace throughout the rest of World War I, they never again came on the scale of the Christmas truce in 1914.” Ref:

Alfred Anderson, the last known surviving Scottish veteran of the war was in the 1st/ 5th Battalion of the Black Watch and recalled vividly in 2003 that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (December 24th and 25th) 1914, when his unit was in a farmhouse away from the front line.
“I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence. Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I’d heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices. But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted ‘Merry Christmas’, even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.”

This program “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914”  by Peter Rothstein with Musical Arrangements by Erick Lichte and Timothy C. Takach, directed by Peter Rothstein will be the special event of the Edge Center in Bigfork, this 2016 Christmas season on December 2nd. Place: Edge Center stage. Time 7PM. Prices $10 adults and $5 children. 

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