It’s only natural that when governments clamp down on news from the front that citizens take the slightest tidbit and make it into a story. In other cases, the truth stands as a story so amazing, it doesn’t need embellishment.
This is particularly telling for the Christmas Truce of 1914. The Great War was supposed to be over by Christmas. Instead, soldiers found themselves settling into their trenches for 5 years of hard fighting. Still on Christmas Eve, nearly 100,000 soldiers participated in a truce along the western front. While in some parts, the truce was only for the collection of the dead or the swapping of prisoners. Other areas saw soldiers exchange rations, cigarettes, newspapers, and even engage in football game (The British version, not the American one). Throughout the war, both sides would call greetings to the other side or as the war wore on, taunt the other with songs. There are instances where such truces occurred on the Eastern front, some of them around Easter. Naturally, the leadership frowned upon these actions. FMI
Others had their roots planted firmly in fiction.
The Angel of Mons—Sleep deprivation has side effects, add in the stress of a pell-mell retreat in the face of an overwhelming enemy force, and there’s plenty of fodder for the imagination to take flight. During the long March, many of the British soldiers and officers reported seeing calvary marching in the fields beside them. About this time (and to boost morale) Arthur Machen wrote a fictional short story called The Bowmen. In it, the long bow archers of St. George of Agincourt let fly a flurry of arrows and slew the approaching Germans, saving 80 thousand retreating British soldiers. From this emerged the legend of the Angel of Mons—a less lethal version turning the archers into angels who didn’t kill the enemy, just merely made them retreat. FMI This legend had the added benefit of showing that God was on the side of the Allies. A different variation of this myth is the Comrade in White. The Christ-like figure with freshly bleeding crucifixion wounds who tended to those gravely ill, carrying them off the battlefield or standing watch over them until help arrived.
The Lost Battalion—During the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, eyewitnesses said a company of ANZACs advanced toward the Ottoman lines. The soldiers were shrouded by loaf-like clouds then disappeared, never to be seen again. Sadly, the true story is much worse. The soldiers and officers found themselves behind enemy lines, were cut off, then cut down by the well-entrenched enemy. FMI
The American Expeditionary Forces have a similar story without the clouds and thankfully the entire company wasn’t wiped out. FMI
And lastly, there’s the Hidden Hand. No, not the alien-government conspiracy. This was the German-Allied government conspiracy. In it, high ranking members of the British government were spying for the Germans. This network also infiltrated civil service, industry, and the military, preventing the prosecution of spies by the allies, making it self-sustaining because of the lack of evidence. Click here for a list of conspiracies. The Hidden Hand is the main antagonist of my favorite Hitchcock movie, The 39 Steps. The story was original set in 1915 during the First World War, not the second as in the movie.
Until Next Time.