Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II talked of the importance of reconciliation in her annual Christmas message to the Commonwealth – the 88-year-old Monarch’s 62nd festive broadcast.
Top of her mind was the 100th anniversary of World War 1 and the extraordinary Christmas Day truce between British and German soldiers.
The Christmas Truce of 1914, five months after the outbreak of war, began on Christmas Eve with troops singing carols and even some military bands joining in. At dawn on Christmas Day, German soldiers left their trenches and entered no-man’s-land, yelling “Merry Christmas” in English. British soldiers feared a trick at first, but when they saw the enemy was unarmed, they joined them, shook hands, exchanged gifts of cigarettes and food, sang and even played a game of soccer.
The bodies of fallen comrades were also retrieved. The spontaneous ceasefire remains unparalleled in history.
The Queen spoke of the 888,246 ceramic poppies installed in the moat around Tower of London as a tribute to those who died in the Great War.
“The ceramic poppies at the Tower of London drew millions, and the only possible reaction to walking among them was silence,” she said. “For every poppy, a life; and a reminder of the grief of loved ones left behind,” she said,
“In 1914, many people thought the war would be over by Christmas, but sadly by then the trenches were dug and the future shape of the war in Europe was set.
“But, as we know, something remarkable did happen that Christmas, exactly a hundred years ago today. Without any instruction or command, the shooting stopped, and German and British soldiers met in no man’s land. Photographs were taken and gifts exchanged. It was a Christmas truce.”Black and white photographs of the forces meeting between the lines over the 1914 Christmas period were shown.
“Sometimes it seems that reconciliation stands little chance in the face of war and discord. But, as the Christmas truce a century ago reminds us, peace and goodwill have lasting power in the hearts of men and women.”
Photographs of her grandparents, George V, the King during WWI, and Queen Mary, were on the table beside the Queen, along with a brass box – the kind used by the charity started by George’s daughter, Princess Mary, to send presents of tobacco and chocolate to soldiers on the front line.
“On that chilly Christmas Eve in 1914 many of the German forces sang Silent Night, its haunting melody inching across the line. That carol is still much loved today, a legacy of the Christmas truce, and a reminder to us all that even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found,” Queen Elizabeth said.
You can watch her address here:
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