Here is a photo of my Grandpa Rudolf Laemmlen when he was sent to war in 1917 when he was 18 years old. He didn’t speak much to us about the horrors he saw–16 million men were killed in that war–instead he advocated peace for the rest of his life. His 4 sons became conscientious objectors. He studied the life of Jesus Christ and loved His teachings. Rudolf counseled us to follow His example and fill the world with love. He wrote, “Mankind could be satisfied and mostly happy if war would be no more. Think of all the misery these wars in this century have caused. Peace is a gift of God. ‘Love one another’ it says again and again in the New Testament. It must be studied and obeyed. Think of Hitler–his godlessness was the trouble of much of mankind.”
Rudolf was a young 15-year-old boy in 1914 when the events that miraculous night in 1914 took place as described below:
Jesus Christ is the solution
By Kristine Frederickson , For the Deseret News
In an increasingly turbulent, strife-ridden world many people put forward complicated and convoluted solutions as to how to peacefully coexist.
Perhaps it is neither complicated nor convoluted: The solution is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Recognizing Christ as the Son of God, the way, the truth, the life, and acknowledging that only as we abide by his teachings and follow his example will we find the peace and harmony so many desire.
This truth was compellingly demonstrated 100 years ago this Christmas in the midst of murderous strife and global warfare. World War I began June 28, 1914, and soon the Central Powers, led by Germany and the Austria-Hungarian Empire, marched through Belgium in an attempt to capture Paris.
The Allied Powers, primarily France and Great Britain, engaged them at the First Battle of the Marne where each attempted to outflank the other. The result was 475 miles of front-line trenches running from the Belgian coast to the Swiss border. The decimated area between the opposing forces, known as “no man’s land” was so close at times that combatants were barely separated — a mere 30 yards apart on Vimy Ridge.
The existence of snipers — crack shots — was an additional chilling feature of WWI. Their job, carried out with deadly efficiency, was to pick off anyone who raised his head above the level of the enemy’s parapet. Yet under these conditions on Christmas Eve 1914, opposing forces began singing carols and hymns, calling “Merry Christmas” and eventually perhaps 100,000 soldiers climbed above the parapets and began to mingle. Myriad soldiers wrote home describing their experiences, detailing the wonder, some might say the miracle, of Christmas as a spirit of peace, harmony and brotherhood united the troops as children of God.
A small sampling from those letters, taken from “Letters Home from the Front — Christmas 1914,” by Osprey Publishing, includes one by a Private from Maryport, England: “Christmas in the trenches! What a time? ‘Peace on earth, goodwill toward men.’ It is hardly to be believed, but nevertheless it is quite true that such was the case this Christmas . … (On) Christmas Eve we shout(ed) ‘Compliments of the Season’ to each other and passed pleasant remarks. … On Christmas Day after (a religious) service in the trenches, we went halfway and we shook hands. … Quite a number of them speak English (and we) …. found them a nice lot of fellows.”
Cpl. Leon Harris remembered, “the most wonderful Christmas I have ever struck. We were in the trenches on Christmas Eve, and about 8:30 the firing was almost at a stand still. Then the Germans started shouting across to us, ‘a happy Christmas’ and commenced putting up lots of Christmas trees with hundreds of candles on the parapets of their trenches. … Huge fires were going all night and both sides sang carols. It was a wonderful time and the weather was glorious.”
A Belgian solider described: “Christmas in the trenches. … Well, I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, ‘Minuit Chretiens’ (‘O Holy Night’). … When the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing 200 yards from us. … At dawn the Germans displayed a placard … on which was written ‘Happy Christmas’ and then leaving their trenches, unarmed, they advanced toward us singing and shouting ‘comrades!’ No one fired. …. I saw it but thought I was dreaming….Was it not splendid?”
Lance Cpl. J.S. Calder recalled: “At about two o’clock on Christmas morning a German band came out of the trenches and played carols … (and) ‘Christians Awake,’ (salute the happy morn whereon the Savior of the world was born).”
“At about four o’clock in the morning,” noted another English soldier, “the Germans again struck up with four or five musical instruments all of which played Christmas carols, and during all the time the music was being wafted through the air you could hear a pin fall.”
Another explained, “‘Peace on earth, goodwill towards men’ was the order of the day or rather the night”
One soldier wrote of “Holy Communion early this morning … celebrated in a ruined farm about 500 yards behind us. … There must be something in the spirit of Christmas as today we are all on top of our trenches running about. … A(t) 10:30 we had a short church parade, the morning service … held in the trench. … ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ and ‘While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night’ were the hymns.”
What a “jolly time we had” explained Cpl. A. Ashford. “We had a ripping dinner of real good hot stew, home plum pudding and other ‘goodies.’ … and exchange(d) greetings, chocolate, cigarettes, and we also sang carols and hymns (with the Germans). … It was good to have peace on Christmas Day.”
Pvt. John MacGregor opined, “Undoubtedly the strangest thing of all that happened on Christmas Day … — emphasizing in the most striking manner the power engendered by all that Christmas stands for in our religious annals — was a short service by a British chaplain … his hearers comprising German as well as British soldiers,” with “a German soldier, a divinity student … interpret(ing) the service to the German party.”
Pvt. B. Calder recalled, “a truce to bury our dead. We had a short service over the graves, conducted by our minister and the German one. They read the 23rd Psalm (‘The Lord is My Shepherd’) … We had a short prayer. I don’t think I will ever forget th(at) Christmas Day!”
Another soldier revealed, “The dead on both sides had been lying out in the open since the fierce night fighting of a week earlier. When I got out I found a large crowd of … English and Germans grouped around the bodies. … It was a ghastly sight. … The ground was hard and the work laborious. … The digging completed, the graves were filled in, and the German officers remained to pay their tribute of respect while our chaplain read a short service. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever witnessed. Friend and foe stood side by side, bare-headed, watching the tall, grave figure of the padre outlined against the frosty landscape as he blessed the poor broken bodies at his feet.”
“What an extraordinary effect Christmas has on the world,” Rifleman Ollis testified. “Peace and goodwill amongst men during peacetime one can quite understand but peace and goodwill amongst men who have been murdering one another for the past five months is incredible and if I had not seen for myself the effects of Christmas … I should never have believed them. All day yesterday the German snipers were busy and unfortunately to some effect … progressing well. …(Yet) when darkness fell all firing ceased. The Germans sang and shouted and cheered. … We called Merry Christmas. … (and all) wandered out.”
An officer in a Highland regiment recounted, “It was rather wonderful. … At this unusually miserable hour of need came the sound of … tunes well played. … Christmas Day was very misty and out came the Germans. … So there you are; all this talk of hate, all this firing at each other that has raged since the beginning of the war quelled and stayed by the magic of Christmas. Indeed one German said, ‘But you are of the same religion as us and today is the day of peace!’ It is really a great triumph for the church. It is a great hope for future peace when two great nations hating each other as foes have seldom hated, one side vowing eternal hate and vengeance … should on Christmas Day and for all that the word implies, lay down their arms, exchange smokes and wish each other happiness.”
Jesus Christ preached love for our fellowmen, forgiveness and charity toward all. His spirit is felt at Christmastime when we celebrate his birth and life. If individuals will remember Christ for who he is, the Son of God and Savior of the world; if we will follow him, then and only then, will we find lasting peace.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World.” She teaches part time at BYU. Her views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.
Here is a beautiful 3-4 minute video about what happened that beautiful night, featuring music by the BYU Men’s Chorus: