As Christmas approaches in this centenary year of the end of the First World War, it is a poignant moment to reflect on what Christmas would have meant to those serving during the war, and immediately following its conclusion.
Many will be familiar with the Christmas Truce, observed particularly in 1914, when British, German and soldiers from other nations took part in unofficial ceasefires along the Western Front. Soldiers sang carols to each other, and eventually ventured out of their trenches and into No Man’s Land, to exchange food and fags. There are also tales of enemies coming together to kick about footballs in No Man’s Land at Christmas.
One can only imagine the profound impact this moment of respite must have had for those on the front line. It goes to show that even in the middle of such confrontation and carnage, common themes of faith, kinship and respect in adversity can prevail.
Given Christmas is a time we look to spend with loved ones and friends, or comfort the lonely, the end of the war and the first Christmas following the Armistice must have been a moment of intense relief for families reunited, but also profound sadness for those missing from family tables.
Just one village in Shropshire – Harley, outside Much Wenlock – was a ‘Thankful Village’, having all men return safely from the First World War. In all, 5,286 men from Shropshire were killed during the War, touching almost every community, however small.
In towns and villages across South Shropshire, our war memorials stand testament to those who gave their lives for their country and their friends. I was pleased to attend a tremendously moving ceremony in Ludlow last month, but there were amazing Remembrance events and services with huge turnouts across the county, showing the passing of time has not dampened our commitment to remember those who fought and died.
Today we face different threats as a country. But the hard work and commitment of our Armed Forces remains as strong as ever, providing a continuous defence against those who would seek to undermine our country and cause us harm.
As we celebrate this year, it is fitting we reflect on those who sacrificed so much, and those who continue to serve our country 365 days a year, to uphold the sustained peace we enjoy at Christmas today.
I shall conclude with a quote from a Canadian soldier who had served three years in France, writing home in December 1918: “I will wish you all very happy Christmas and because of the fact that the war is over and peace once again restored to the world one can, in wishing a merry Christmas, know that such a thing is possible.”
I wish everyone across South Shropshire a very Happy Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.
MP for Ludlow