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.
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
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.