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(1914-1918) WWI
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 8:14:04 AM

Thanks George.

Those figures look quite plausible to me . No one could really get a definitive count on the cost of such a gigantic struggle that didn’t allow pause for breath, let alone counting. The First Battle of the Marne : when did it start and end ? No one can say, really.

I suppose that by Christmas 1914 it was possible for the soldiers - from the Privates to their Commanders in Chief - to reflect and ponder what had happened and what might lie ahead.

The professional soldiers expected a cataclysmic blood bath : but they expected it to be over more quickly.
There were certainly prescient voices which spoke of several years and millions of men : their sagacity was not welcome, even if people knew that they might be right. We see this all the time in the affairs of humanity, don’t we ? Intelligent, informed people who prefer to pursue their hopes rather than countenance what they might well suspect to be reality. A form of denial, rather than delusion.

I’ll refer back to Haig’s Diary and see if I can find something that exemplifies this for the 1914 Christmas period.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 9:16:17 AM

You can see as the war dragged on the feelings and ideals that made the Christmas truce of 1914 possible were gone by 1917. The Tommies were better trained but less confident, more cynical.

An unnamed young officer wrote home in late December 1917 after going through the Poelcapple and Passchendaele battles
"I am certainly not the same as I was a year ago. I can no longer write home to you, as I once did, of victory. We just live for the day and think of nothing else but our job. I may be a better soldier and know my job better than I did, but I dare not think of anything beyond that. After all, just imagine my life out here: the chance of surviving the next battle for us platoon commanders is about 4 to 1 against"
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 10:04:46 AM

In the course of trawling the web, I've come across some first rate source material regarding the fighting between the British and the Germans in December 1914. This was after the First Battle of Ypres, and the scale of activity had degenerated. The fighting, though, was fierce and made a profound impression on those who endured it. The scale was relatively small : attacks involved a couple of battalions : the history of these has gone off the radar in popular terms, and we can find details only in the more obscure accounts. In one such attack, in mid December, two Scottish battalions made an abortive attack at a place called Le Petit Bois.
It was a dismal failure, with half of the men in one of the battalions being killed or wounded, and significant casualties in the other. The dead lay unburied until June 1917, when the ground was captured in the successful British offensive at Messines. All that could be found was fragments of skeletons and pathetic pieces of their Kilts. There were , however, truces in these actions for the recovery of the wounded. In one such, a British officer was shot dead by a sniper, and the Germans, too, made complaints about their men being likewise slain. This was before the famous Christmas affair. The overwhelming impression from these accounts of temporary ceasefires is of great tension and lethal outbursts. I think we need to bear this in mind, because it's tempting to read too much into the folklore of the Christmas Truce. Forgive me for raining on the parade, so to speak....and, while we're discussing this topic - what an excellent thread! - let me wish all of you, my dear pals on MHO, the very best for Christmas and the New Year !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 10:21:11 AM

Clauswitz divided morale into two components, mood and spirit.

He said that the mood of an army or individual is a transient notion but an army with military spirit keeps 'its cohesion under the most murderous fire' and in defeat resists fears, both real and imaginary.

We know that the French army experienced mutiny. The morale of the Italian army at Caporetto was poor.

The British forces however experienced a decline in mood in the winters of 1914 and 1915 and certainly during the German spring offensive. But they managed to maintain their military spirit.

The British actually studied the letters written home by their soldiers. They had to be censored anyway but they were also trying to assess the morale of the troops.

As the Battle of the Somme wind down with the horrific numbers of casualties tallied, the November 1916 letters were assessed and the report said:

Quote:
'the spirit of the men, their conception of duty, their Moral (sic), has never been higher than at the present moment'. Enthusiasm had been replaced by a 'dogged determination [,] to see the thing through at any cost'.3


Morale was assessed after the Battles of Arras and Ypres in 1917 and while morale was found to be lower than in 1916, it was judged to be essentially sound.

The German Spring offensive should have been a nadir in the fluctuations of morale throughout the war and there were reports written that the retreat of the British forces was due to a decline in morale. But a reassessment in July of 1918 dismissed those reports saying that if morale had not been maintained that the Germans would have won the war right there. And so British and Commonwealth troops filled the gaps and learned to retreat effectively during the spring offensive.

I would say that healthy cynicism should have been expected and may even have been a survival mechanism. But it seems that the morale of the British and Commonwealth forces was maintained throughout the war.

Gary Sheffield wrote a paper on this subject in 1995. That is where most of the information in my post came from.

Pretty good read.

[Read More]

Cheers,

George
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Michigan Dave
Muskegon, Michigan
MI USA
Posts: 5893
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 10:35:28 AM

Of course there is the film Joyeux Noel (2005), which portrays the cease fire WWI Truce! Did you think it was portrayed well??

[Read More]

Merry Christmas Eve, Eve!
MD
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 12:52:19 PM

Didn't see movie but read book "Silent Night" by Stanley Weintraub. It is a short and easy read.

As far as morale two surveys were taken right after Passchendaele 1917. One in the 2nd Army and the other in the 5th. Censured mail concluded that morale remained sound, though it was observed in the 2nd Army the "favourable and unfavourable letters were about balanced." In the 5th there was no sudden rise in infractions of discipline, convictions of self-inflicted wounds, desertions or absence without leave.

Phil, folklore is a better word than my myth.

To Phil, George and others of MHO, I enjoy our treads and learn something new every time. Have a great and joyful holiday
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/23/2019 5:27:04 PM

If the British and Commonwealth troops were still hanging in right after Passchendaele, then that attests to their resolve.

You have a wonderful holiday too John. Merry Christmas

Cheers,

George
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john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 7:19:22 AM

During the Spring Offensives of 1918 the British and Commonwealth troops discipline, resolve and morale kept the attacks from becoming a total rout. There was some response from the front line soldiers to Haig's famous "Backs to the Wall" Whose backs? And where is the wall?
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 8:40:24 AM

The backs belonged to the BEF..

The wall was the English Channel.

Supposition on my part

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Jim Cameron
Ossining
NY USA
Posts: 914
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 10:31:06 AM

The BEF could, if the situation became irredeemable, evacuate France. (However unlikely.)
The French had no such option.
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Jim Cameron Every time I go to Gettysburg, I learn two things. Something new, and, how much I still don't know.
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 10:35:53 AM

Agree but I think the common foot soldier reacted to Haig's message with a shrug. They knew it was their backs that would carry the load and they didn't need to be reminded.
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 11:41:16 AM

Haig's Order of the Day in April 1918 is regarded as uncharacteristic, in so far as the man was not noted for hyperbole. This time, I think, he was profoundly rattled. He had never forgotten the ordeal of First Ypres, which was, arguably, the sternest test of the war for British arms. It was truly an existential battle for the British, and Haig's role in it was conspicuous. He himself was always of the opinion that the Germans had been within a gnat's eyelash of winning, and he maintained that , had they realised their advantage and exploited it properly, the British army would have been not only beaten but effectively destroyed. This might account for his persistent determination to keep pressing on in offensives that were prolonged too long.....he was anxious not to repeat the German error of the end of October 1914. While I was browsing through his diaries to get a flavour of his outlook at the time of the 1914 Christmas Truce, I found this - again, uncharacteristically hyperbolic - account of the crisis of First Ypres. Here he describes a conversation he had with the King and the Prince of Wales on 4 December 1914 :

I sat between the King and the Prince of Wales. The King seemed very cheery but inclined to think that all our troops are by nature brave and is ignorant of all the efforts which Commanders must make to keep up the 'morale' of their men in war, and of all the training which is necessary in peace in order to enable a company for instance to go forward as an organised unit in the face of almost certain death. I told him of the crowds of fugitives who came back down the Menin road from time to time during the Ypres battle having thrown everything they could, including their rifles and packs, in order to escape, with a look of absolute terror on their faces, such as I have never before seen on any human being's face.

This reference to the visage terrified humanity is a unique outburst for Haig, and I suspect that he was dwelling on that vision when he made his April 1918 Order of the Day. Loosing ground up there in Artois and Flanders was more frightening than it had been to lose greater swathes of territory in Picardy. This time the Channel Ports were closer, and the vital railhead at Hazebrouk was imperilled.

There are conflicting accounts of how his message was received.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 11:58:31 AM

Quote:

SPECIAL ORDER OF THE DAY
By FIELD-MARSHAL SIR DOUGLAS HAIG
K.T., G.C.B., G.C.V.O., K.C.I.E.
Commander-in-Chief, British Armies in France

To ALL RANKS OF THE BRITISH ARMY IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS

Three weeks ago to-day the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports and destroy the British Army.

In spite of throwing already 106 Divisions into the battle and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has as yet made little progress towards his goals.

We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops. Words fail me to express the admiration which I feel for the splendid resistance offered by all ranks of our Army under the most trying circumstances.

Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that Victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest. The French Army is moving rapidly and in great force to our support.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end. The safety of our homes and the Freedom of mankind alike depend upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.

(Signed) D. Haig F.M.
Commander-in-Chief
British Armies in France

General Headquarters
Tuesday, April 11th, 1918


In context, the phrases that may have caused a negative reaction among the troops do not seem overly offensive. Perhaps it is in the nature of the private soldier to by somewhat cynical about his officers.

Haig's responsibilities were great and he was under attack at home specifically from PM David Lloyd George.

I wonder whether his special order of the day was partly in response to DLG, who may have been withholding replacements.

In the same time period, Canadian General Arthur Currie, aware that at least one of the divisions of his Corps plus the motor machine gun brigade plus cavalry would be ordered to plug the line against the German onslaught, also sent a message to his troops that laid an egg. Currie was a brilliant corps commander and surely responsible for the string of victories achieved by his Corps in the last two years of the war. But he struggled to form a tight bond with the regular troops. His officers thought a lot of him but the private soldier was sometimes critical.

This letter, penned on Mar. 27, 1918, fell flat with many of the rank and file. Currie's letter seems to have preceded Haig's.

Quote:

SPECIAL ORDER
By Lieut - General Sir Arthur Currie K.C.B., K.C.M.C.
COMMANDING CANADIAN TROOPS

27th March 1918

In an endeavor to reach an immediate decision the enemy had gathered all his forces and struck a mighty blow at the British Army. Overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers the British Division is the line between the SCARPE and the OISE have fallen back fighting hard, steady, and [?]
Measures have been taken successfully to meet this German onslaught. The French have gathered a powerful Army, commanded by a most able and trusted leader and this Army is now moving swiftly to our help. Fresh British Divisions are being thrown in. The Canadians are soon to be engaged. Our Motor Machine Gun Brigade have already played a most gallant part and once again covered itself with glory.
Looking back with pride on the unbroken record of your glorious achievements, asking you to realize that to day the fate of the British Empire hangs in the balance, I place my trust in the Canadian Corps, knowing that where Canadians are engaged there can be no given way.
Under the orders of your devoted officers in the coming battle you will advance or fall where you stand facing the enemy.
To those who will fall I say "You will not die but step into immortality. Your mothers will not lament your fate but will be proud to have borne such sons. Your names will be revered for ever and ever by your grateful country and God will take you onto himself."

Canadian's, in this fateful hour, I command you and I trust you to fight as you have ever fought, with all your strength, with all your determination, with all you tranquil courage. On many a hard fought field of battle you have overcome the enemy. With God's help you shall achieve victory once more.

A.W. CURRIE, Lieut-General
Commanding Canadian Corps


The most often quoted section of Currie's special order has been highlighted in bold type. The response by the men was sometimes quite negative.

However, at Canadian Forces Base Borden, in Ontario, there is an urn containing soil from Vimy Ridge and encased in a granite wall. Upon that wall is inscribed that quote in bold from Currie's special order.

What the government and the people may regard as an important and motivational quote from a great soldier may not elicit the same response from the foot soldier entrusted with carrying out the task.




Cheers,

George





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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 12:43:55 PM

Haig had witnessed that “ absolute terror” on the faces of his soldiers at the end of October in 1914.

He surely knew that the same terror was gripping his men when he issued that Order of the Day in April 1918.

I doubt that he was under any illusions regarding the nature of the troops he commanded.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 1:38:38 PM

But the men he commanded were vastly different in 1918 than 1914. It seems there was little panic in 1914 in the BEF ranks. CoC French showed more than his men. Even less in Spring 1918.
There seems to be a number of these stirring phrase from higher ups during the time of crisis meant to stiffen the troops. How effective were they? Meade's before Gettysburg? Patton's "Prayer" as the 3rd Army moved towards Bastogne?
In these cases the men it was suppose to inspired were veterans, tried by war,having gone through terrible ordeals like Passchendaele and had been forged by fire into hardened warriors.
Not sure if they needed "a pep talk" to do their duty
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 2:48:09 PM

Agreed about the stirring phases issued by commanders. They ring through the ages.

England expects every man to do his duty .. Nelson before Trafalgar. Didn’t go down too well, I daresay , with veterans of the Nile and Copenhagen . What the Friar Tuck does he think we’re going to do ? ....that’s the response I imagine.

Before Le Cateau, August 1914....no one to be taken prisoner, fight to the death etc. The fact is, the commanders knew only too well that thousands of British soldiers had surrendered, and they were discomfited by that. Protesting too much, methinks .

Likewise before Second El Alamein....we stay here, alive or dead.

Sometimes I think these bravado words are said by commanders to themselves ; they need bolstering up, too.

It works so well in the folklore : even if it didn’t happen, what better pep talk has there been than Henry the Fifth’s before Agincourt, as projected by Shakespeare ?

As to the men of 1914 being so different from those of 1918....yes, to a degree. Yet, that “ absolute terror” on the faces of men running for their lives in October 1914 probably didn’t differ much from the faces of their April 1918 counterparts.

I fear now that my beloved wife will see absolute terror on my face when she demands to know why I’ve been writing this instead of helping her prepare tomorrow’s Christmas Lunch !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
George
Centre Hastings
ON Canada
Posts: 10971
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/24/2019 5:13:04 PM

Phil, I chuckled at your comment about your wife. It is nice to know that we are having similar experiences.

My wife just ducked her head in to say, "what are you doing?" with urgency in her voice. "Typing", I replied, unnecessarily.

I had forgotten to cut up the turnip, sweet potatoes and a few other vegetables. She likes to prepare several different vegetable casseroles the day before our family Christmas dinner and as the sous-chef in the kitchen, I had neglected my duties. It's just the kids coming to dinner but she likes to fuss and that means, so do I, I guess.

Merry Christmas,

George
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Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/25/2019 11:29:16 AM

George,

Lovely to hear from you, undergoing the same Christmas duties !

Lunch is over,now, for us....you in North America are several hours behind.

Let me unburden my soul....I have been undergoing a kind of “ anti woke” moment, that’s made me a bit of an Ebenezer Scrooge in my assessment of the Christmas Truce in 1914.

Our two younger grandchildren began to fight this morning , and I had to intervene and placate them.

As they shrieked and scratched , I blurted out ....STOP RIGHT NOW ! Think of those poor soldiers in those horrible trenches one hundred and five years ago today, who came out to make friends and stop killing each other. If they could do that then, then you must do it now !

Damn my eyes, it worked!

They calmed down and now they’re interested to find out more, and to learn about that episode.

A lovely family lunch ensued, eleven of us round the table.

A fitting tribute , I hope, to the significance of that legendary moment in a dark hour.

My fondest regards to all on MHO, with the best for Christmas and the New Year,

Phil



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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4650
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/26/2019 8:00:45 AM

Kind words, Vin : thanks .

The Ebenezer Scrooge Syndrome ( ESS) had got the better of me of late. I must learn to look and not to count. I’ve developed a pathologically hostile reaction to “ wokeness”, and in so doing I fear that I’ve chucked the baby out with the bath water when it comes to the way I react to the stories of the Christmas Truce.

Things have got a bit bad over here in terms of political fall out ; they’ll get better now, I feel.

The BBC has come under a lot of fire on account of being too “ woke” ; but, while I’m the subject of ESS let me recommend that - those of you who have willingness and ability to gain access to BBC screen broadcasts - watch the latest adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which was pitched over three nights up to and including Christmas Eve, directed by Steven Knight ( creator of Peaky Blinders).

It takes a few liberties in the interpretation, but it works brilliantly, IMHO.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
john hayward
Allenstown
NH USA
Posts: 816
The Christmas Truce
Posted on: 12/26/2019 9:54:30 AM

"Things have got a bit bad over here in terms of political fall out ; they’ll get better now, I feel." Phil

I feel the same way about the situation here. Only I hope they will improve. Would not let it spoil my holiday.

Relying on a Churchill quote:
"You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they tried everything else."
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"When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
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