Merry Christmas - A historical article from Duisburg
Merry Christmas Duisburg is Portsmouth’s twin city. A Christmas story about fraternisation in 1914 during World War I. For one great memorable moment, there was, however peace. Wartime Christmas 1914 in Duisburg: The mood was depressed. On the Western Front, French, British and German troops had been facing each other for months. Countless soldiers had died, many families were mourning the loss of a loved one. The cemetery of honour on the Kaiserberg in Duisburg served as the final resting place for the dead soldiers as early as December 1914. The number of wounded and seriously injured in Duisburg's hospitals increased. A large military hospital had already been set up in August at the “Diakonenanstalt”. Cohesion and solidarity between the army and civil society were propagandistically invoked. There was talk of "Heimatfront" and the belief in a just struggle was also evident under the Christmas tree. For the boys in wealthy families, tin soldiers, rifles, warships, zeppelins and sabres were under the tree. The girls were given knitting so that they could make socks, hoods, and gloves for the soldiers at the front. Postcards, letters from teachers, poems and newspaper reports in the Duisburg City Archives convey a picture of sadness, longing, fear, hope and the desire for festive normality. The German Historian Dr. Jonas Springer has found through the research, reconstruction, and narration of individual’s stories a way of meaningfully supplementing a purely fact-based approach. "In Anglo-Saxon countries, the wartime Christmas of 1914 has always been seen from a biographical position, or through people's individual experiences that have been incorporated into the historical narrative," Dr. Springer says. He considers the Christmas truce as such an example, when enemy soldiers climbed out of their positions after months in muddy trenches, half-frozen to death, to celebrate Christmas together. Germans and the British traded tobacco and alcohol shared their modest food rations and played soccer together.
From today's perspective, the spontaneous truce and fraternisation was a statement against narrow-minded admiralty and the absurdity of war. But the cruel war continued. Superiors and their own artillery drove soldiers back into the trenches. The Daily Mail of Dec. 31, 1914, reported this event with the headline "Christmas truce at front". The newspaper report also showed original photos of the fraternisation.
Later, documentaries and feature films told this story. The film “Joyeux Noël” (2005) chose an emotional approach to touch the viewer’s heart through the story. The trilingual film aims to spread international understanding. It is an oppressive film that impresses despite the fictional elements therein. It is a piece of contemporary history, according to film critics. Since 2015, there has been a monument to Christmas peace in Artois near the city of Arras (France), which was erected on the initiative of the French film director Christian Carion.
About the author Harald Küst is chairman of the board of the Duisburg Portsmouth Friends and Author for the German newspaper Rheinische Post. The partnership between Portsmouth and Duisburg has existed for 71 years. Andrew Starr co-ordinates the mutual contacts on the English side. The Portsmouth Friends are planning to visit Portsmouth in August 2022. Anyone interested in the partnership can contact Mr. Andrew Starr.