Christmas Truce of 1914

2017-08-04T17:08:47-05:00December 26, 2016|HH 2016|

Christmas Truce of 1914

“And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” —Isaiah 2:4

We are halfway through the 100th Anniversary of the First World War — “the war to end all wars.” In 1914 the nations of Europe collectively produced the greatest human catastrophe in the history of Western Civilization, the causes of which are still debated to this day. In four years of war about eleven million men died on the battlefield and twenty million were wounded, many of whom later died of wounds. More than seven million civilians died in the war. Improved machine gun and artillery technology created battlefields in which killing proceeded on an industrial scale. The bereavement and sorrow that accompanied this unnecessary tragedy still resonates today, especially in Great Britain, Australia, and Canada.

British and German troops meet in no-man’s-land during the unofficial truce

The Christmas Truce on the
Western Front, 1914

The repercussions of the war among “intellectuals,” and purveyors of cultural mores in Europe reflected in their art and philosophies a wholesale abandonment of biblical ethics, moral restraints, and hope in the future. An unrestrained moral turpitude and relativism, born in the evolutionary theories of the previous century reached their climax in the post-war era. They quickly sifted down to popular culture and produced equally unrestrained offshoots of reaction and nationalistic paganisms represented in the Fascists of Italy and Nazis of Germany, not to speak of the revolutionary excesses of the Bolsheviks in Russia. In modern parlance, The First World War was the tipping point of world-wide change, and not for the better.

On December 25, 1914, with the British and German troops facing each other in their respective trenches across the frozen wastes of no-man’s-land — over which both sides had already shed much blood — a remarkable phenomenon occurred about which entire books have been written. Almost spontaneously men on both sides began singing Christmas carols. Men so determined the day before to exterminate each other, probably for the last time in all of their lives, commemorated the birth of Christ in music. On the German side, men wore belt buckles stamped “Gott mit uns” (God with us), believing that they were on the side of right. On the English side, numbers of men came from Christian homes, and remembered the carols of safe and warm family celebrations where they sang hymns composed by German and English writers.

Unbelievably, several men climbed out of the trenches with hands up, from both sides, and met in no-man’s-land. Someone kicked out a soccer ball and they formed teams and played. Others exchanged souvenirs and talked about home and families. A few years ago, Sainsbury’s grocery chain in England memorialized that famous Christmas truce with this ad:

When the generals heard about the fraternization with the enemy going on all along the entrenchments, they called a halt to it and ordered the war to resume. Some believe up to a hundred thousand men participated in the informal truce of Christmas 1914.

In the early months of the war, the two sides sometimes agreed to bury bodies, otherwise irretrievably lying between the lines. This event was different — widespread and visually stunning, many men wrote home about it, from both sides. The Christmas truce provided a small shred of humanity in a war that would abandon any pretense of it in the coming years. Not only did that war not end wars, it provided the reason and impetus for a bigger and more destructive one twenty-one years later.

British and German soldiers play a soccer game during the truce

An artist’s impression of the truce from
The Illustrated London News

Man has sought to find a solution to war through institutions like the League of Nations and the United Nations, treaties, policies like “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD), and legislation. No attempts at eradicating the sins of men and nations nor ending their never-ending pursuit of war, through government action, can or will succeed without the true salvation and peace of Christ in the hearts of leaders and people. God promises that He will bring about His peace in history future when His kingdom shall extend from shore to shore around the world. All Christians should pray to that end; every other kind of peaceful resolution is just another Christmas truce.

Three Ships, One Hundred Forty-Four Men, 1606

2017-08-04T17:09:32-05:00December 19, 2016|HH 2016|

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord and the wonders of the deep . . . they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. . . so he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness.” —from Psalm 107

Search for Colonies in the New World

Following the major setback of Spanish ambitions with the destruction of the Armada in 1588, England entered the search for colonies in the New World in earnest. The first forays met with dissolution and disaster, especially Sir Walter Raleigh’s little settlement at Roanoke Island off the coast of what would become North Carolina. Richard Hakluyt, a Church of England minister, clandestinely collected the accounts of explorers from many European countries and distilled their knowledge and wisdom into principles of navigation and settlement which were published in book form for English sea captains venturing out to establish new plantations. He proclaimed that English settlement in the New World would be a “moste godly and Christian work” that would ultimately lead to “the gayninge of . . .the soules of millions of those wretched people,” bringing them “from darkness to lighte.” Furthermore, trade with the natives and exploiting the natural resources would make the ventures profitable and would establish a beachhead against Spanish hegemony in North America.

Reenactment of the first landing
on the North American mainland

Sir Walter Raleigh

Three Ships — One Hundred Forty-Four Men

When Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, the commitment to explore north of Spanish Florida did not die with her. Her successor James I ended English piracy against Spain, but was willing to back ventures funded by private investors to pursue permanent plantations. A royal charter was granted to a diverse group of gentlemen patentees, backed by several of the nobility, to fund an expedition. Two companies, the Plymouth and the London, divided the geographical range of the coast from Maine to Georgia. They were overseen by the royal “Virginia Council” to make sure the crown’s interests were looked after.

On 20 December, 1606 three small ships left the Blackwall docks in London and set out to plant a settlement somewhere along the Chesapeake Bay region. The heavily armed merchantman Susan Constant, captained by ex-privateer Christopher Newport, carried seventy-one passengers and crew, the Godspeed commanded by Bartholomew Gosnold with fifty-two men, and the pinnacle Discover captained by John Ratcliffe with twenty-one men, braved the most dangerous ocean in the world for the next five months before sighting “the land of Virginia.” They explored the land and the rivers and settled on a rather unhealthy spot (as it turned out) along the river they named after King James.

King James VI of Scotland and I of England

Reconstructed first houses at Jamestown

First Permanent English Colony in North America

The Jamestown Colony became the first permanent English colony in North America though it went through almost unbelievable hardship and death. The “plantation” met with hostility from the natives, some of it generated by the Englishmen themselves, starvation, discord, and disease. By the providence of God the colony survived and in a few short years, learned to thrive by the efforts of Captain John Smith and others. The birth of America was painful in the extreme.

There are many lessons to be learned from the Jamestown expedition and settlement. Even planning and perseverance will not succeed without the providential enabling of God. Hard work and healthy diet, while vital to survival, must be combined with spiritual health for ultimate prosperity. Landmark Events explores the shores of Virginia at Jamestown and we teach about some of the related issues in our Florida tour, for it all impinges on both Spanish and English settlement.

The Death of Washington, 1799

2017-08-04T17:10:16-05:00December 12, 2016|HH 2016|

New Feature! History Highlights with Bill Potter

Today we introduce a new feature authored by Landmark Events Historian Bill Potter. In History Highlights, Mr. Potter will draw contemporary lessons and applications from key people and events of the past. Enjoy!

—Kevin Turley, President of Landmark Events

The Death of Washington—December 14, 1799

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” —Proverbs 21:1

On the 14th of December, 1799, George Washington died in his bed on his estate at Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, Virginia. Two days earlier he had caught cold pursuing his favorite activity in the world, riding and working about his farm in freezing temperatures with snow and sleet coming down. He felt ill the next day and the doctors were called. They were by his bedside, bleeding him constantly, trying to drain the ill-humors that Europeans since the days of the ancient Greeks, thought inhabited the blood of a sick person and needed to be kept in balance. They took about five pints from the ill ex-President. It did not restore his health.

For a fascinating Modern Medical Analysis of the Last Illness and Death of George Washington, click here.

George Washington at Valley Forge

The Death of George Washington

And so died the man that in God’s Providence had been called to lead the newly declared United States against Great Britain, the most formidable opponent in the world. Not only did he lead the army to victory in a desperate war that lasted eight years, he then sheathed his sword and retired to his estate to live out his days with his faithful wife on his farm. It was an act that amazed the courts of Europe. Why would a conqueror not seize all the power he could? The nation did not let him rest, however, for he was called upon to lead the new nation for eight more years after the Constitution of the United States was ratified. In those two terms he established many precedents that Presidents have followed ever since. He could have been President for life, or declared himself king, but he again laid down the scepter once again, and retired to his beloved Mt. Vernon. And to what did this remarkable man attribute his victories and the creation of the Republic?

“This singular instance of Providence, and of our fortunes under it, exhibits a striking proof of the advantages which result from unanimity and a spirited conduct in the militia . . . I flatter myself that a superintending Providence is ordering everything for the best, and that, in due time, all will end well.” —Letter to Landon Carter, 1777

“Glorious indeed has been our Contest: glorious, if we consider the Prize for which we have contended, and glorious in its Issue; but in the midst of our Joys, I hope we shall not forget that, to divine Providence is to be ascribed the Glory and Praise.” —Letter to John Rogers, 1783

George Washington’s life and example to us reverberates with perseverance in time of trial, faithfulness and honesty in relations with men, and trust in the Providence of God for the outcome. His sense of God’s control of history did not weaken in the least his belief in the absolute necessity of man fulfilling his duties with all his strength and powers in this world.

George Washington Crossing the Delaware River

In our own times we need to study Washington’s example of striving for virtue in a sinful world. Though imperfect and troubled by the times, he self-consciously tried to follow the high ethical standards of the Christian faith in his personal life as General and President. There really is an eternal and true law of God for which man is accountable. Our history tour of Mt. Vernon every year reinforces the maxim that, though dead, Washington still speaketh.

Oliver Cromwell Becomes Lord Protector—December 16, 1653

“He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou has also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.” —Psalm 18:34-36

On the 16th of December, 1653, Oliver Cromwell, a leader in Parliament and former General during the English Civil Wars, became the “Lord Protector” of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland although the latter two members of that trio resisted mightily his rule over them.

“Lord Protector” Oliver Cromwell

Seeking Aid for the Swiss Protestants

King Charles I called into session a new Parliament in 1639 in order to raise money to fight the Scots, who had declared that the King was head of Great Britain but not the head of the Scottish Church. Parliament refused the funding and Charles’s military effort came to naught. While in session, the new Parliament, mostly Puritans who opposed the King’s antipathy to reforming the church and his Divine Right of Kings high-handedness, made demands on him that he refused to consider. Charles went to war against Parliament and Scotland. In the course of those wars, a little known MP named Oliver Cromwell showed a natural aptitude for the military arts and forged “the New Model Army” into an unbeatable force.

As an unabashed Puritan of broad but intense religious conviction, Cromwell sought out for his cavalry command only officers who were godly Christian men, and he allowed in his army sectaries of many stripes, as long as they would obey orders and fight hard. Cromwell became known as “Old Ironsides,” an epithet of his indomitable will and success. The English Civil Wars lasted from 1642 to 1648, after which King Charles I was captured, tried by Parliament for treason, convicted and beheaded. His son and namesake went into exile in France and Holland leaving England with only the “Rump Parliament,” who ruled till 1653 and declared England a Commonwealth. Cromwell conducted campaigns against Ireland and Scotland, bloodily subduing both to the will of England.

Charles I of England

Charles II of England

On 16 December, 1653, after being persuaded by the leaders of the army and Parliament to take executive command of the Commonwealth, Oliver Cromwell was sworn in as Lord Protector. He set as his tasks the healing and settling of the nation after more than ten years of constant warfare. Parliament kept the fires hot for radical reform, which Cromwell could not countenance. He dismissed the body and ruled almost like a monarch though he rejected the title when offered to him. Cromwell set out to reform the morals of the nation by setting up means to keep unworthy men out of the pulpits and to enforce biblical law in the shires. In 1658 at the age of fifty nine, the Protector died and received a funeral fit for a king prior to his interment at Westminster Abbey.

In our own day, a palpable hatred of the Christian faith within civil government and the public square seems rife on every hand. This is not a new phenomenon. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, he had Cromwell’s corpse exhumed, beheaded, hung in chains and thrown into a pit. Thousands of English and Scottish Puritan ministers were ejected from their pulpits and a formalistic, episcopal Church was reestablished with the King as the head. Resistance to godly government has ever been part of the war and suffering that the prophets and apostles foretold in the Scriptures, but the promise of victory, sometimes shortly and imperfectly realized in the past, will ultimately be completely and perfectly fulfilled in history future. Be faithful where God has placed you on the walls and barricades.

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