No Christmas Truces

FORET MARLEY EN HIVER©2010 Felice PanagrossoOil on Panel12 x 8 inches

FORET MARLEY EN HIVER (Marley Forest in Winter)
©2010 Felice Panagrosso
Oil on Panel
12 x 8 inches

 

The Christmas Truces where unofficial cease-fires during the early years of World War I.  Between Christmas of 1914 and to a lesser extent 1915, British and German soldiers in the trenches of the Western Front were known to cease hostilities, then cross over into “no-man’s land” to talk with the enemy, exchange food, sing carols and play football.

Two weekends ago I had the honor of participating in an Eagle Scout project with my son Sam’s Boy Scout Troop (Troop 112 in Paris).  Our task was to build a campsite, including two fire pits, at the American Cemetary at Oise-Aisne, France, about 90 minutes east of Paris.

The Oise-Aisne American Cemetary and Memorial is one of eleven cemetaries operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission.  Normandy is the largest of these.  Oise-Aisne  contains over 5000 graves of American soldiers.  There are three women who served as nurses, and three French Soldiers (one unidentified).  Included are at least five sets of brothers, buried side by side.  When I asked the Superintendent the average age of the men here, he answered “about 18 to 20.”  An exception is Joyce Kilmer, the Poet.  Not required to serve, he enlisted as a private.  On July 30th, 1918 he was killed at age 31.  You will remember his poem “Trees”.  The campsite we built is now called Kilmer Campsite.

Close by this solemn place a dozen of us camped, in the cold.  On one side the beautiful French farmlands, and on the other side the cemetary.  We had a full moon, but the forest at three o’clock in the morning was filled with mist.  Thankfully our group was allowed the use of kitchen facilities a short walk away and through the woods.  As I walked alone through the fog and trees, I could, just for a moment, imagine what happened here one hundred years ago.  Paris, just a few kilometers away, was threatened.  The Americans had entered the war, and the fighting was desperate, intense and deadly.

At this point there were no more Christmas truces.

 

“Trees”

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing
breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

By Joyce Kilmer

 

I wish you a safe and peaceful Holiday Season, and a Happy New Year.

-Felice

 

 

8 comments to No Christmas Truces

  • Tom

    Phil,
    Thanks for the poignant remembrance of the oft forgotten WW I soldiers and especially Joyce Kilmer. Thanks also for capturing the stark unshackled beauty of the trees. The campsite you and the scouts built also deserve a mention. Nice to know inspiration comes in many forms. Keep painting buddy!
    Tom

    • Thank you, Tom!
      I’ll do my best. The great thing about the American Battle Monuments Commission is that the men who fought here will never be forgotten. Especially not in France.
      -Phil

  • Marylou

    Great tale, I could really imagine it with your description. Also great painting: hopeful and creepy at the same time ☺️

  • Herb

    Felice,

    I really like much of the work you display but was struck by the bare tree.

    As you probably remember, I think much of what we are taught about nations, patriotism and the arguments for war are bare of any reason. The Christmas truce you refer to should remind us all that most people in the world have far more in common with one another than they have with the narrow cliques who have the political and military power to lead us into the kind of cataclysms that World War 1 and by extension nearly all the wars fought in the past and future.

    The ominous rise of the Right in Europe makes me shiver for the future as the tree you painted makes me tremble for the past.

    Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

    • Herb,

      Thank you for your message, and for enjoying my paintings. I agree that war is a terrible waste, but I still believe that the more than 5,000 men who died here sacrificed their lives to preserve the values of common humanity that you mention.

      “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity”.
      -Dwight D. Eisenhower

      -Phil

  • catherine thibault

    Hello Phil,
    This is a beautiful painting, beautiful poem, and beautiful testimony. Both my grand fathers fight this war. And one dieda few years later from the gas inhalations. Then their sons had to do it again in 1939. And wherever is done, one has to wonder the efficiency of those wars , since all peace treaties seems to be only cease fire. very desheartening.
    But Thank you very much for your good wishes. I wish the all dear Panagrosso family also a wonderful New Year. Best.

    • Hello Catherine,

      It is a shame that our grandfathers had to fight this war, and then their sons were asked to do the same. You are right, it’s disheartening, but that does not diminish the value of their service. These cemeteries in France are a testament to that.

      Thank you for your warm wishes and for enjoying the painting, and Happy New Year to you and your family!

      -Phil

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