Murphy, Jim. 2009. Truce. New York: Scholastic.
"[I]f I had my way, some person in authority would proclaim that Christmas will not be celebrated this year....Enemy, Death, and a Christmas tree - they cannot live so close together." German Captain Rudolf Binding (from Truce)
Jim Murphy's Truce, tells the remarkable true story of the spontaneous truces that broke out all along the entrenched battle lines of Europe in December, 1914. It is estimated that tens of thousands of British, German and Belgian soldiers took part in the cease-fires that lasted, in some instances, for several weeks. More than a cessation of hostilities, the hiatus was almost joyful as soldiers fraternized with each other - singing, exchanging gifts, and taking photos.
In six chapters, Murphy provides ample background information to give meaning and context to the remarkable occurrence of the many spontaneous truces and celebrations. One chapter recounts enemy soldiers praying together, translating the sermon from English to German, and burying their dead in solemn ceremonies. In another instance, German and British soldiers sing Christmas carols, alternating verses, one in English, one in German, and then joining in Latin to sing Adeste Fideles.
The truces ended, not because the men desired to resume fighting, but rather, because they could no longer hold out against the will of their commanders.
The German High Command ... issued a terse order: "Commander Second Army directs that informal understandings with enemy are to cease. Officers ...allowing them are to be brought before a court-martial." In some areas, these orders had immediate results. British private Bernard Brookes was standing guard at midnight on December 25 when "our artillery sent over ... four shells of small caliber to let them know that the truce, at which the whole world would wonder, was ended, and it its place, Death and Bloodshed would once again reign supreme." The Germans countered with an artillery barrage of their own.
The award-winning, Murphy, has meticulously researched his topic, and includes a Timeline, Notes and Sources, More about World War I, an Index, and a wealth of photographs, maps, period art and newspapers. The Epilogue, while factual, is more editorial than informational in nature.
The text is large and sepia-toned, to match the many accompanying photographs. Photographs of the desolate and razor-wired No Man's Land and the hideous trench conditions offer a stark contrast to those of smiling enemy soldiers posing for posterity.
To read this story in the men's' own words, is both compelling and thought-provoking. Readers will not come away unaffected.
Best for ages 10 and up. Truce should be a Sibert Medal contender.