Sunday, December 21, 2014

Belleau Wood

2nd Battalion 6th Marines after the battle at Belleau Wood

Belleau Wood
. Last week, a friend of mine - Sylvia - reminded me of the story of Belleau Wood. I knew the story, but had forgotten the name of the place where it happened. Terrible confession, I know, and I decided, as I usually do, to research Belleau Wood. This is a memorial at Belleau Wood:

"an aerial view of the Monument to the Marines who fought at the Battle of Belleau Wood in France during WW I. "

There is also a great video history of the US Marines in Belleau Wood. It also describes the origins of the name Devil Dogs for our Marines.

The most famous story out of Belleau Wood is what happened that Christmas: a Christmas Truce. At Wikipedia, along with a lot of factual data about the event, I found the following:

Christmas Truce Letter

On November 7, 2006, singer Chris de Burgh paid £14,400 at Bonhams auction house for an original 10 page letter from an unknown British soldier that records events and incidents with the Germans on that night describing "the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent".

The letter begins:

This will be the most memorable Christmas I've ever spent or likely to spend: since about tea time yesterday I don't think theres been a shot fired on either side up to now. Last night turned a very clear frost moonlight night, so soon after dusk we had some decent fires going and had a few carols and songs. The Germans commenced by placing lights all along the edge of their trenches and coming over to us—wishing us a Happy Christmas etc. They also gave us a few songs etc. so we had quite a social party. Several of them can speak English very well so we had a few conversations. Some of our chaps went to over to their lines. I think theyve all come back bar one from 'E' Co. They no doubt kept him as a souvenir. In spite of our fires etc. it was terribly cold and a job to sleep between look out duties, which are two hours in every six.

First thing this morning it was very foggy. So we stood to arms a little longer than usual. A few of us that were lucky could go to Holy Communion early this morning. It was celebrated in a ruined farm about 500 yds behind us. I unfortunately couldn't go. There must be something in the spirit of Christmas as to day we are all on top of our trenches running about. Whereas other days we have to keep our heads well down. We had breakfast about 8.0 which went down alright especially some cocoa we made. We also had some of the post this morning. I had a parcel from B. G's Lace Dept containing a sweater, smokes, under clothes etc. We also had a card from the Queen, which I am sending back to you to look after please. After breakfast we had a game of football at the back of our trenches! We've had a few Germans over to see us this morning. They also sent a party over to bury a sniper we shot in the week. He was about a 100 yds from our trench. A few of our fellows went out and helped to bury him.

About 10.30 we had a short church parade the morning service etc. held in the trench. How we did sing. 'O come all ye faithful. And While shepherds watched their flocks by night' were the hymns we had. At present we are cooking our Christmas Dinner! so will finish this letter later.

Dinner is over! and well we enjoyed it. Our dinner party started off with fried bacon and dip-bread: followed by hot Xmas Pudding. I had a mascot in my piece. Next item on the menu was muscatels and almonds, oranges, bananas, chocolate etc followed by cocoa and smokes. You can guess we thought of the dinners at home. Just before dinner I had the pleasure of shaking hands with several Germans: a party of them came 1/2way over to us so several of us went out to them. I exchanged one of my balaclavas for a hat. I've also got a button off one of their tunics. We also exchanged smokes etc. and had a decent chat. They say they won't fire tomorrow if we don't so I suppose we shall get a bit of a holiday—perhaps. After exchanging autographs and them wishing us a Happy New Year we departed and came back and had our dinner.

We can hardly believe that we've been firing at them for the last week or two—it all seems so strange. At present its freezing hard and everything is covered with ice…

The letter ends:

There are plenty of huge shell holes in front of our trenches, also pieces of shrapnel to be found. I never expected to shake hands with Germans between the firing lines on Christmas Day and I don't suppose you thought of us doing so. So after a fashion we've enjoyed? our Christmas. Hoping you spend a happy time also George Boy as well. How we thought of England during the day. Kind regards to all the neighbours. With much love from Boy.
Just this past Remembrance Day, November 11, 2008, Wikipedia reports:
Christmas Truce Memorial

On 11 November 2008, the first official Truce memorial was unveiled in Frélinghien, France, the site of a Christmas Truce football game in 1914. After the unveiling and a Service of Remembrance, men from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh (The Royal Welch Fusiliers) played a football match with the German Panzergrenadier Battalion 371. The Germans won, 2-1.

1st Battalion The Royal Welsh and Panzergrenadier Battalion 371 were invited to take part because their regimental ancestors from 2nd Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers and the 134th Saxon Infantry Regiment had held the Truce at Frelinghien on Christmas Day, 1914. The match was played in the presence of retired Major Miles Stockwell, grandson of Captain C. I. Stockwell, who commanded 'A' Company, 2/RWF in 1914 and wrote about the Truce in his diary. Mrs Margaret Holmes, daughter of Welsh Private Frank Richards, DCM, MM, and Oberstleutnant (Lieutenant-Colonel) Joachim Freiherr von Sinner, grandson of Hauptmann (Captain) Maximilian Freiherr von Sinner. the commander of the Machine-gun Company of the German 6th Jäger Battalion, were also present at the game.

Before the match, as happened in 1914, a Saxon soldier rolled a barrel of beer towards the Welsh while Major Stockwell offered Lieutenant-Colonel von Sinner a plum pudding and a cigar. The football, signed by all players, is now in the possession of the Arbeitkreis für Sächsische Militärgeschichte. It will be displayed in the Militärhistorisches Museum der Bundeswehr in Dresden, Germany..[Wiki here]

And then we have Garth Brooks' song called "Belleau Wood", which is where my research journey began...(Thank you, Sylvia!)

"Belleau Wood"

Oh, the snowflakes fell in silence
Over Belleau Wood that night
For a Christmas truce had been declared
By both sides of the fight
As we lay there in our trenches
The silence broke in two
By a German soldier singing
A song that we all knew

Though I did not know the language
The song was "Silent Night"

Then I heard my buddy whisper,
"All is calm and all is bright"
Then the fear and doubt surrounded me
'Cause I'd die if I was wrong
But I stood up in my trench
And I began to sing along

Then across the frozen battlefield
Another's voice joined in
Until one by one each man became
A singer of the hymn

Then I thought that I was dreaming
For right there in my sight
Stood the German soldier
'Neath the falling flakes of white
And he raised his hand and smiled at me
As if he seemed to say
Here's hoping we both live
To see us find a better way

Then the devil's clock struck midnight
And the skies lit up again
And the battlefield where heaven stood
Was blown to hell again

But for just one fleeting moment
The answer seemed so clear
Heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's just beyond the fear

No, heaven's not beyond the clouds
It's for us to find it here

May we never forget - and ALWAYS honour.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks Brat. I've not heard that before. Is funny though, I was telling The Boy about Belleau Wood just two days ago. Funny how that happens.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Brat. I knew that I could trust you to tell the story in a beautiful yet powerful way. The story of Belleau Wood has been one of my favorites since my students and I read a play about it several years ago. We ended our lesson with the Garth Brooks song which always makes me cry.