Imagine, it’s war – and nobody wants to kill anymore.
1914, first wartime Christmas: Gradually, soldiers at the front are beginning to understand that their situation has nothing to do with the lofty phrases that had inspired them in the summer. They discover that those squatting in the opposite trench are basically only human beings like themselves.
British, German and French soldiers have a little respite and begin to feel the spirit of Christmas. They sing carols, for each other and together, they share cake and plum pudding, they smoke together and they play football together, in No Man’s land between the trenches.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914, there was a truce at the operative level of war. Sadly, it was not to last, commanding officers of all sides thoroughly disagreed with their own potential loss of purpose. This ceasefire, however, has not lost its symbolic power up to the modern day.
Someone who was there, the cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, spent part of his career as an electrical engineer at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, a predecessor of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s home. Already during the war, he began creating the cartoon series “Fragments From France” (1914) and the autobiographical “Bullets & Billets” (1916). His character of “Old Bill” became the basis of his fame.
In Great Britain, having lost almost an entire generation of young men in World War I, 2014 has always been predestined to be a particularly poignant year for the commemoration of this immense disaster of humanity.
100 years after the Christmas truce in 1914, the Royal Shakespeare Company puts this victory of being simply human on the stage.
Phil Porter, an author with distinguished previous in theatre and television, wrote on behalf of and in cooperation with Erica Whyman, director and deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a new play about the extraordinary events of wartime Christmas in 1914.
At the front section of Ploegsteert, Bruce Bairnsfather and Old Bill experience Christmas in No Man’s land together with the “guys from the other side”.
From 29 November 2014 to 31 January 2015, The Christmas Truce will be played at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Director: Erica Whyman, design: Tom Piper (he with the poppies at the Tower), lighting design: Charles Balfour, music: Sam Kenyon.
In the UK and France, even more than in Germany, literature, films and songs were influenced by the fascination of this peace amidst all the senseless deaths. In 2005, the movie “Merry Christmas” / “Joyeux Noël“ was shown in cinemas in Germany, the UK, and in France, directed by Christian Carion and featuring Gary Lewis, Benno Führmann and Daniel Brühl. In 2006, for both the Oscars and Golden Globe awards, the film was nominated as “Best Foreign Language Film”.
The French town of Frelinghien, in 2008 unveiled a memorial to the Christmas truce and soldiers of the same regiments that had faced each other at this place in 2014, arranged a new “Friendly International”.
Below, some interesting links:
the RSC programme,
an interview with both director and author:
a poem on the Truce by Poet Laureat Carol Ann Duffy
And did you know this one had the same topic?
and – well worth reading: Malcom Brown and Shirley Seaton, Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914
German version of this blog post: http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/the-christmas-truce-der-weihnachtsfrieden/