Banana Don’s Slice of Americana – The Song “Belleau Wood” – The True Story
There’s a great Christmas song by Garth Brooks called “Belleau Wood”. It’s a song about soldiers from opposite sides laying down their weapons and singing “Silent Night” together, on Christmas Eve, during World War I. Belleau Wood, 40 miles east of Paris, WAS the site of a huge battle, in June of 1918, involving the U.S. Marines. Two U.S. Navy ships have been named the “Belleau Wood” because of this battle, where the U.S. Marines were told to turn back by the French, in the face of a massive German attack. To which Marine Captain Lloyd Williams of the 5th Marines said, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
And, as our biker buddies, the “Leathernecks” will attest, it was after THIS battle that the Germans started referring to the Marines as “teufel-hunden” – “devil-dogs”.
Always appropriate to wear when you meet your daughter’s new boyfriend.
However, the “Christmas Truce” didn’t happen at Belleau Wood.
But, it DID happen. 99 years ago tonight. On Christmas Eve of 1914. And it was even better than the song.
Apparently, near the end of 1914, the front line of the war was in a stalemate. The Germans on one side and British and French on the other lived in trenches, dug not far from each other. Occasionally there would be an “unofficial truce” so each side could recover and bury those killed in battle.
On Christmas Eve 1914, the Germans were obviously bored, so they decorated their trenches with candles. Then they put out decorated Christmas trees. And then they started singing Christmas carols, and the British started singing carols back to the Germans. And crazy as it seems, many of the soldiers then climbed out of the trenches, ventured into “no man’s land” and exchanged gifts of food, booze, tobacco and clothing.
All this, and Martha Stewart wouldn’t even be born for another 27 years.
Some of the opposing soldiers got teams together and actually played soccer. And this wasn’t just in one place, this was 100,000 soldiers spread out all along the Western Front! In most places the truce lasted through Christmas night, but some places saw it last until New Year’s Day.
(And some people have problems taking their turn at four-way stops in the middle of ice storms. I’m not pointing any fingers, but you know who you are.)
Well, the Generals weren’t happy about everybody playing footsie with each other, so each side issued orders to knock it off. And it did, for the most part. It happened again in some places during the next couple of Christmases, but then some Generals actually ordered artillery shelling on Christmas Day to discourage the practice. That would do it for me.
And then the United States Marines got involved, kicked some butt, and the war was over.
Which is always the right answer kids, to the question, “How did World War One end?”
Thanks for reading. Gotta go. I think I hear Santa on my roof. Or that could be a limb falling from one of my maple trees.
Have a very Merry Christmas.