Book Review: Peace on Earth by David Boyle

For me, like many, the Christmas Day truce during the First World War is an inspiring moment of shared humanity, compassion and regular men setting aside the machinations and orders of the higher ups to silence the guns and enjoy a brief peace. In this book David Boyle looks at the truce and how it came about and raises an interesting point, that it has been romanticized and it’s significance grown due to what came later.

In December 1914 the First World War was still in the early stages, and while the grim realities of trench warfare was starting to take hold it had yet to become the slaughterhouse it would. Chemical warfare had yet to arrive and it was before bloodbaths like the Somme. Boyle argues that this is why the truce was so widespread and not repeated later. Simply, that later in the war the horror had become to great.

He also discusses the fact that the higher ups weren’t too happy about things, fearing that the fraternisation might sap their men’s will to fight. That the “live and let live” attitude would stop armies from attacking. I get this and the fears of morale being weakened, but can’t say I see it in a bad light. The soldiers, reluctant to kill men who were so like them may have found some way forward without bloodshed.

As was, the war resumed and the dead piled up.

Boyle draws extensively on letters, diaries and interviews by those involved which shows an odd situation. Stories of kindness, comradeship and humour seem out of place with the front line.

Not all of those who are featured are keen. Some lament the truce for softening the men, or see it as a waste of time. Hitler and De Gaulle find themselves in agreement on this. There are also those who refuse to take part, like “war hero” Billy Congreve who opens fire on Germans trying to leave their trench.

For a Kindle Single it manages to fit in a lot and provides more context to the truce and the First World War in general. Boyle’s writing is balanced, no nonsense and he presents the evidence well.

Verdict: An interesting read about an iconic momemt in history and well researched. Short, but detailled. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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