Monday 19 December 2016

Joyeux Noel

"What would happen, I wonder, if the armies suddenly and simultaneously went on strike and some other method must be found of settling the dispute?" (Winston Churchill, November 23, 1914)

A Scot, a German and a Frenchman fraternize in Joyeux Noel courtesy

That's exactly what did happen near St. Yves, Belgium, on Christmas Eve 1914, aptly called The Christmas Truce.  The British, the French and the German soldiers laid down their guns and met in No Man's Land to exchange chocolate and champagne, play a game of football and sing Christmas carols like Stille Nacht (Silent Night).  

Author Shane Emplaincourt, a professor of Modern Languages, points out that our collective memory only lasts three generations.  After that, our collective memory becomes a cultural memory.  It is appropriate, then, that the movie Joyeux Noel, based on the Christmas Truce, debuted the same year (2005) as the last surviving member of the Christmas truce, Alfred Anderson, passed away. 

The unplanned ceasefire of La Grande Guerre is the topic of the film Joyeux Noel, the brainchild of film director Christian Carion.  The film director drew his inspiration from the book Batailles de Flandres et d'Artoir 1914 - 1918 by Yves Buffetaut.  Filmed in French, German and English, the movie focusses on a Scottish priest, a German tenor, his Danish soprano girlfriend and a French lieutenant who find themselves at the centre of the Christmas truce.  

The disputed Alsace-Lorraine territory which shifted between Germany & France for many years courtesy

The film Joyeux Noel's opening scene depicts  "Un garcon" who recites the rhyme La France Attend, citing his desire for his homeland to reclaim the long disputed Alsace-Lorraine territory:

"Enfant, regarde sur ces cartes ce point noir qu'il faut effacer
De tes petits doigts tu l'ecartes, en rouge il vaut mieux le tracer."(

He is followed by a British lad who recites a hate speech:

"To rid the map of every trace of Germany and of the Huns, we must exterminate the race.  We must not leave a single one.  Heed no their children's cry.  Slay them now, the women, too.  Or else someone day they'll rise.  But dead, they cannot do."

"Ein junge" concludes with "Hessgesang gegen England" or "Hymn of Hatred Against England" .

A German soldier, amidst the carnage, sings Stille Nacht courtesy 

Hundreds of innocent-like young men enlist in la Grande Guerre.  But by Christmas, already a million lives have been lost in the Great War.  The horrors of trench warfare are a sobering influence on the troops.  On Christmas Eve. longing for home, the soldiers realize that they had more in common with the enemy than they first thought:  the tune Stille Nacht is familiar to the British as Silent Night.   Soldiers pull out photographs of loved ones back home.  The sight of Christmas trees on No Man's Land provides comfort to all.  Even a cat, which the German call Felix and the British, Nestor, crawls out of the trenches to celebrate le Noel.  

The Christmas truce could have lingered indefinitely:  the Germans played their harmonicas New Year's Eve; the Scots responded by playing their bagpipes.  On New Year's Day, however, the high command ordered the troops back to their trenches.  

Note:  For more about the Christmas Truce, visit

Soldiers from both sides exchange cheerful conversation

Artist's illustration of the Christmas Truce 1914 which appeared in the Illustrated London News courtesy

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