ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For decades, stories of the Christmas Truce of 1914 were dismissed as myths amid the horrors of World War I.
But pockets of impromptu truces surfaced between the opposing armies on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Performances of “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” have surfaced across the country with the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. On Thursday, the Lensic Performing Arts Center will host a touring production of “All Is Calm” from Theater Latté Da in Minneapolis. The theater’s co-founder and artistic director Peter Rothstein created the a cappella musical.
The folk ballad “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon first kindled his interest. Then the 2014 book “Silent Night: The Remarkable 1914 Christmas Truce” by Stanley Weintraub documented the event.
“I got that book, and I thought I needed to build a theater piece about that,” Rothstein said in a telephone interview from Minneapolis. “I was equally struck that I didn’t know anything about it and nobody I knew knew anything about it. I was moved by the fact that it never appeared in our history books.”
The Allies’ propaganda machine ensured its silence. Government officials were already opening and censoring letters home.
“The last thing they wanted was the story that Fritz and Tommy spent Christmas together,” Rothstein said. “I think it was very intentional.”
To dig deeper, Rothstein flew to England, France, Germany and Belgium to scour archives in those countries for additional documentation.
Capt. Sir Edward Hulse penned the story of the truce in letters home to his mother before he was killed in France in 1915. Those letters were only released within the last few years, Rothstein said.
“The mantra out on the Allied side was that everybody would be home by Christmas,” he said. “The men felt they had been lied to early on; they weren’t going to be home for Christmas.
“We think there were multiple truces along the line. We have several documentations of a soccer match. And they buried each other’s dead.”
The soldiers exchanged small gifts such as food, tobacco and alcohol, as well as souvenirs such as buttons and hats.
Several accounts describe a British soldier named Albert Moren who stepped into No Man’s Land to sing “Silent Night.”
“His great-grandson was in the audience last week in Canada,” Rothstein said. “The cast was obviously blown away by it.”
Fraternization had occurred from the beginning as the soldiers built a camaraderie with the enemy. By 1915, commanding officers were ordered to execute anyone who fraternized, a decision with repercussions today, Rothstein said.
“Their ancestors are still suing the British government for executing them.”
“All Is Calm” weaves World War I trench songs, patriotic tunes, medieval ballads and Christmas carols from England, Wales, France, Belgium and Germany with texts lifted from letters, autobiographies, poetry, gravestone inscriptions and radio broadcasts.