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Silent Night: The Remarkable 1914 Christmas Truce Hardcover – 5 Nov 2001

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 238 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd ( London ); 1st Edition edition (5 Nov. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684866218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684866215
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 874,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Stanley Weintraub is a biographer and historian whose subjects have ranged from Victoria to Lawrence of Arabia, and include books on both world wars, the Spanish Civil War and the Korean War. He is Evan Pugh Professor Emeritus of Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University and a book critic for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Publishers Weekly.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Chapter One: An Outbreak of Peace
By 4 December, as wintry rain made movement impossible, the British commander of the 2nd Corps worried about the 'live-and-let-live theory of life' that had surfaced on both sides. Neither side was firing, for example, at mealtimes, and although little fraternization was apparent, unspoken understandings accepted the status quo, and friendly banter echoed across the lines. The 'death and glory principle', as Lieutenant Charles Sorley, a poet, put it, was, in the circumstances, useless. Unannounced, even unspoken, arrangements lessened the discomfort while discouraging the enmity that encouraged the killing. A Royal Engineer, Andrew Todd, wrote to the Edinburgh Scotsman that soldiers on both sides, 'only 60 yards apart at one place', had become 'very "pally" with each other'. They were so close that they would throw newspapers, weighted with a stone, across to each other, and sometimes a ration tin, and, Rifleman Leslie Walkinton of the Queen's Westminsters recalled, 'shout rem!
arks to each other, sometimes rude ones, but generally with less venom than a couple of London cabbies after a mild collision'.
On the morning of 19 December, so Lieutenant Geoffrey Heinekey, new to the 2nd Queen's Westminster Rifles, wrote to his mother, 'a most extraordinary thing happened...Some Germans came out and held up their hands and began to take in some of their wounded and so we ourselves immediately got out of our trenches and began bringing in our wounded also. The Germans then beckoned to us and a lot of us went over and talked to them and they helped us to bury our dead. This lasted the whole morning and I talked to several of them and I must say they seemed extraordinarily fine men...It seemed too ironical for words. There, the night before we had been having a terrific battle and the morning after, there we were smoking their cigarettes and they smoking ours.'
The initiatives for one of the long war's few humane episodes came largely from the invaders, yet not from their generals or their bureaucrats. Leading intellectuals like Rainer Maria Rilke and Thomas Mann had viewed the war as an essential defence against hostile forces representing cultures less rich and technologies less advanced. In 'Fünf Gesänge' Rilke, the leading lyric poet in the language, celebrated the resurrection of the god of war rather than a symbol of weak-minded peace. In defence of Kultur, Mann went to occupied Belgium to observe the future. To be excoriated as Hun barbarians when Germans allegedly represented the higher civilization appeared to him an absurd inversion of values, a feeling shared by educated young officers at the front who came out of professional life. Although war itself might seem necessary for Germany, a war-time Christmas seemed, to many who took the festival seriously, befouled. Captain Rudolf Binding, a Hussar, wrote to his father on 20!
December that if he were in authority, he would ban the observance of Christmas 'this year'.
Ordinary soldiers were oblivious to such sensitivities. As Christmas approached, Tommy and Jerry indulged in occasional and undeclared live-and-let-live cessations of fire. Jeers were swapped where the trenches were close enough to permit it -- 'Engländer!' one side would shout, 'Jerry!' (or 'Fritz!') the other. Most exchanges were in English, for many Germans had lived and worked across the Channel, some as waiters in hotels or seaside resorts, others as cooks, cabbies and even barbers, all summoned home in the last, hectic, pre-war days late in July. So many Germans were allegedly working in England before the war that at a House of Lords debate a speaker charged that 80,000 German waiters remained as a secret army awaiting a signal to seize strategic points. P. G. Wodehouse satirized such nonsense in The Swoop! Or How Clarence Saved England, about a Boy Scout who perceives, in the sporting results in his newspaper, a secret code to alert the Germans. Few readers were amused!
So much interchange had occurred across the line by early December that Brigadier General G. T. Forrestier-Walker, chief of staff to Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien of II Corps, issued a directive unequivocally forbidding fraternization, 'for it discourages initiative in commanders, and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks...Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices and the exchange of tobacco and other comforts, however tempting and occasionally amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.'

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mr. C. Lamb on 12 Feb. 2002
Format: Hardcover
For many people, the story of the World War 1 Christmas truce exists as myth or fable or a cheesy sequence in an 80's Paul McCartney pop video. This book reveals much of the truth of the evolution of the truce and ultimately of its quashing, but given the extraordinary circumstances and the potential significance of the truce, it fails to deliver sufficient punch and tends to drift into the realms of historical tedium.
The tone throughout the book is largely one of casual observation and much of the text suffers from a failure to report just how extreme the events and conditions were, though some passages convey considerable latent power - the account of the burying of corpses in no mans land suggests a kind of inhuman horror to which the soldiers of both sides had become so familiar that it can only be marvelled at, and there are touching moments of clarity and reflection in the contrasts between the peaceful soldiers and the single-minded warmongering of their remote generals.
However, the narrative is too frequently broken up by eye witness accounts and associated stories and satires that add little to the story, that it becomes difficult to read, which is a terrific shame as the story deserves to be told so much better. The book ends on a slightly surreal tone as the author appears to swallow an encyclopaedia of all 20th century social, political and industrial history and then enjoys coughing it up over the final 20 pages.
Overall, the book tells a fascinating story, but does not tell it well, and is likely to be enjoyed more by readers of historical factual reporting than those looking for a good read and some emotional involvement, for whom Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong has much more to offer.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am part way through this book. It is not quite what I had wanted. Rather, I was looking for the story of the Christmas Carol. Having said that what I have read so far is very enlightening on the events of that memorable Christmas of 1914.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Christmas Miracle in Flanders 5 Jan. 2013
By Barry Francis - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Every year at Christmas time I like to re-read Stanley Weintraub's compelling book Silent Night which tells the story of a true Christmas miracle: the remarkable 1914 Christmas truce on the Western Front during the First World War.

On Christmas eve that year hundreds of thousands of British and German soldiers emerged from the frozen trenches of Flanders and came together in no-man's land to celebrate Christmas. It started with the tentative raising of a Christmas tree and caroling from the German lines followed by a similar response from the British. Soon, the soldiers were shaking hands, singing carols together, drinking beer and exchanging souvenirs, including helmets and belt buckles and cigars. A Christmas dinner table was set up between the lines and they even played a game of soccer with the Germans winning 3-2.

This remarkable story was compiled from the letters, diaries and memoires of the soldiers involved. Author Weintraub describes the events as "something that shouldn't have happened but did happen. It was a soldiers' mutiny that bubbled up from the ranks and, for a moment, it stopped the war." Officers on both sides tried to stop the fraternization (a capital offense) but were powerless to halt the makeshift peace for several days. And finally, when the shooting resumed, much of it was intentionally off the mark.

The author asks the pertinent question: "What if the men on both sides had simply refused to take up arms again?" Sadly, that didn't happen so we will never know the answer.

Barry Francis
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful look at a very special Christmas 14 Dec. 2013
By Kurt A. Johnson - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In 1914, as the Great War turned from a glorious adventure into a grinder of human meat, something unexpected and beautiful happened. When Christmas Eve arrived, quite against orders, peace mysteriously broke out. In many places along No-Man’s Land, soldiers from the opposing armies mingled, traded trinkets, sang songs, and even played impromptu soccer matches. This is the story of that all too brief interlude in that human tragedy that was the First World War.

The author of this book has brought together a wonderful book. It is a collection of anecdotes about that Christmas Truce, complete with a series of pictures. Being a minor student of that tragic war, I could not help but be touched by this story, being at times brought close to tears by some of the stories.

I must admit that I found the author’s speculation on what might have happened if the opposing armies had decided to make the peace permanent to be quite fanciful, and rather anticlimactic. That said, though, this is a wonderful book, one that is quite informative on a little studied chapter of World War I. I highly recommend this book to all readers!
The TRUE Story of the WW I Christmas Truce 15 Feb. 2015
By Franz N. I. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Christmas Eve, 1914. A remarkable event was in the offing because two great armies from two different persuasions met not to slit each other's throats but to exchange gift parcels, goodwill and Christmas carols. It is one of the most unheralded events of the First World War, largely unsung in history until Professor Weintraub recreated the strained and eerie peculiarity that held the trenches on that bleak and cold December night. As a schoolboy starting to get fascinated with European history, I came across some references about this event in some books but in very short passages. It is only now that a historian has finally crafted a very poignant story of the events using material from the letters and diaries of the participants, and from newspaper accounts.
It is an account of common human decency surfacing in one brief moment in time, in the unfolding savagery of war. It was the men, the ordinary fighting soldiers, not their officers who extemporaneously planned this truce. The first signs and signboards appeared from the German lines, proclaiming that "You no fight, we no fight." And so slowly and almost imperceptibly, the men began to emerge from their mud soaked trenches. They swapped cigarettes and food, helped bury each others dead and even engaged in some games. For that brief moment sanity prevailed, European culture prevailed and the author concludes that "the war restored rules evoking an earlier century and a less complicated world."
The unplanned truce lasted through the whole night and all throughout Christmas day. It worried some officers and Generals that its spirit might spread like wildfire and lead to a cessation of hostilities--and to their relief the violence eventually resumed, and would continue for three more Christmases and end six weeks just shy of a fourth. It is a narrative so refreshingly free of sentiment that it reads like a novel about a remarkable chapter in the history of the First World War, when combatants on both sides laid down their arms and invoked the spirit of their shared religious tradition. Remarkable.
Read a few page I think it is great very interesting 22 Dec. 2014
By Donna Westenfeld - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bought as gift for my husband for Christmas. Read a few page I think it is great very interesting.
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