Sunday, December 2, 2012

danyelle recommends Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting by Jim Murphy

For many people, day-after-Thanksgiving activities include shopping, enjoying leftover turkey, and hanging Christmas lights.  At our house, we pack away the autumn, Halloween, and Thanksgiving books and pull out the Christmas books.  Most of these are picture books, but a couple of them are nonfiction books that center around Christmas.  One of my favorites is Jim Murphy's Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting.

Murphy begins his account by briefly outlining the political complications and ambitions that started World War I and describing the propaganda from both sides.  He tells about weapons and battles, giving just enough detail to help the reader understand the horrors of the war, describing particularly the realities of war in the trenches.  Then with the soldiers in trenches, facing each other on either side of No Man's Land, he explains how on Christmas Day 1914, defying orders from their commanders, tens of thousands of soldiers, in a series of impromptu truces, stopped fighting.  Many met on No Man's Land; some exchanging gifts, others burying their dead and holding services, and still others, taking pictures.

First-hand accounts give insight into motivations of the soldiers and show a shift in their feelings toward each other.  At the onset of the war a young British lieutenant expressed his enthusiasm for joining the fighting, "Our major anxiety was by hook or crook not to miss it" (17).  And just a few months later a German officer reported, "When the order to fire was given, the men struck  . . . the officers . . . stormed up and down, and got as the only result, the answer, 'We can't -- they are good fellows, and we can't'" (86-87).  These moments fill the story with humanity, making it personal and real.

Murphy also incorporates sentiments of those who didn't want the Christmas truce, including a young Adolph  Hitler ("Such a thing should never happen in wartime.  Have you no German sense of honor left at all?") and German and British commanders who threatened those who were friendly with the enemy ("Commander Second Army directs that informal understandings with enemy are to cease.  Officers . . . allowing them are to be brought before a court-martial.").  But above all the story is of the men who had the courage to step out of the trenches and take a chance on peace.

What makes this feel like a Christmas book to me is not the fact that the informal truce occurred on Christmas, but the miracle of the truce itself -- the spirit of forgiveness and brotherhood that triumphed over hatred at least for one day -- as expressed by a British soldier, "This experience has been the most practical demonstration I have seen of 'peace on earth and goodwill towards men'" (81).

Plenty of photographs and illustrations depict the fighting and the friendliness.  I especially enjoyed the photograph of the German soldiers singing Christmas carols in the trenches on Christmas Eve.  A timeline, notes and sources, and index are appended.

Truce: The Day the Soldiers Stopped Fighting
by Jim Murphy
published by Scholastic


  1. I haven't read this one. It looks like an interesting one to check out. It may make for an unique departure from the traditional Santa-centered Christmas stories.

  2. I learned about this in school, it was so interesting. Now, I want to read the book!